DTI perspective on European Collaborative research
David Hendon Communications & Information Industries Directorate
I am going to say a little about the Framework programmes in general, rather more about ACTS - in particular the lessons that I think can be learned for Framework 5, and then look forward to Framework.
From a DTI viewpoint, in terms of participation, the Framework programmes have been worthwhile. For example in Framework 4, UK organisations ;ne involved in around 65% of all ICT projects (ACTS, ESPRIT and TELEMATICS) taking an estimated 1 15M per annum in project contracts. But such statistics; only reveal a small part of the story.
The real benefits are clear:
-the pooling of funding to share the costs and risks; -new IPR is generated and access gained to leading edge teclmology. -an opportunity to influence standards and other strategic decisions. -participants gain experience of working with EU partners, make alliances in their supply chains, and find opportunities to exploit their skills in other sectors. -help companies to access to European and global markets for all their products and services
In this respect, we view RACE as a largely successful programme. Ik brought together a range of European players and produced valuable technology outputs particularly those related to the development of ATM. More than one company has said to us that their current ATM technology and expertise has its roots in RACE ]projects.
But there are criticisms that can be levelled at the programmes::
A strategic failing in some areas of the current framework where there appears to be a lack of focus or leadership
- for example the success of RACE was founded on a clear and ambitious objective - the deployment of integrated broadband commuinications - that it fell short of this is not a criticism; its goal focused and challenge Europes researchers.
This is not true of ACTS - there is no clear mission. Consequently, we have a rather diffuse programme trying to tackle communications technology on a broad front with insufficient resources.
71 1 0 1997 The Institution of Electrical Engineers. Printed and published by the IEE, Savoy Place, London WC2R OBL, UK.
Near market positioning of Framework 4
Another strategic failing is in the positioning of programmes in the research and development spectrum.
RACE was clearly positioned far from market and this was reflected in the collaborations which developed - competing companies were often to be found working closely together because the work was sufficiently far from commercialisation that competitive pressures did not influence the degree to which results were shared.
In at least one area, Interactive Multimedia, ACTS has strayed too far into the market.
Examples of Near Market ACTS Work
Information Brokerage - there are no fewer than seven ACTS projects working on information brokerage systems (ABS, COBRA, CODIS, GAIA, MULTIMEDIATOR, OSM and SEMPER). Information brokerage is a key area in electronic commerce and companies are already offering commercial services (e.g. Reuters, BT). The leader of one of these launched commercial service in October 1996. It is doubtful that there is a case for any publicly-funded work in this area (apart from some pre-standardisation work) and certainly no justification for seven projects.
A trial of interactive and distributive multimedia applications aimed at demonstrating the commercial viability of such services. In UK there is the BT Ipswich trial and the OnLine Media trial in Cambridge doing exactly the same thing (there are other UK examples and this can be multiplied many times in many countries). None of these national trials to my knowledge receive public funding.
Public multimedia kiosks trial at 20 sites in Ireland. BT has recently rolled out 200 multimedia kiosks in London without public financing.
Development and launch of attractive multimedia services with an emphasis on content creation - UK has a very active sector in content creation which is doing this now as part of their normal commercial activities.
User acceptance trails for a digital set top box - probably cant get closer to market than this (although this project was stopped recently at audit it should not have even been started).
Development of a cost effective user friendly storage system for home use based on magnetic tape with a view to investigating disc storage. Whilst I personally would like such a system to tidy up my videos and CDs it does not seem an appropriate piece of work for an R&D programme.
A software multimedia terminal using a modular architecture based (on a PC and a set top box. Sounds a bit like Windows (or possibly a Network Computler) to me.
A project is looking at ways of protecting authors copyright on digit(a1 formats - e.g. labelling and watermarking. Now EM1 put a watermarking product on the market about three years ago. In addition, in FP3 ESPRIT funded project CITED appears to cover the same ground. CITED started in 1990 - why is ACTS covering the same ground six years later?
What is wrong with near-market?
This point is not made simply to reinforce some bureaucratic rule about funding of pre-competitive research;
Public subsidy for this type of work is wasteful and distorts companies behaviour by encouraging them to chase grants rather than look at commercial realities.
This is not wholly intended as a harsh criticism; when ACTS was being formulated it would have needed a very prescient view to predict the rapid market developments in multimedia technology and of course the emergence of the Internet.
ACTS was overtaken by events but it does provide lesson for Framework 5.
The nearer to commercial exploitation, the less comfortable companies will be in collaboration.
Public subsidy to successful bidders will distort the development of the market.
Over-emphasis on key technologies
It also suggests that the debate about what Framework 5 should tackle should not be cast in terms of a wish list of key technologies - rather it should focus upon the general technical problems presented by the evolution of the inform.ation society.
For example the adopted Commission position highlights bio-electronic and quantum circuitry as key technologies for our sectors - whilst I would not dissent from the view that a research programme should investigate technologies with very distant commercial potential, to highilight them in the way suggested leads me to conclude that insufficient strategic thinking may have gone into the Commissions proposal.
Also we are still over two years for implementing the new programme. Who is to say what technologies will be important then? We must avoid tying ourselves to todays fashions else we will find that our room for manoeuvre will be lost. The programme will be overtaken by events arid therefore become irrelevant even before it begins. And irrelevant means destructive.
Management of Framework 4
Before completing my review of the current Framework you would expect me to comment on management and I will. FP3 and FP4 were dogged by bureaucracy:
-long time elapsed between submission and work commencing -considerable delays in payment -difficulties in settling on a model contract -duplication of effort between the three I&CT programmes.
I will take an example from ESPRIT.
This programme has introduced a wide range of mechanisms for submitting proposals, which has brought welcome flexibility but has perhaps resulted in too much complexity .
There have been 9 different types of action in addition to the usual shared-cost R&D (Actions for best practice, awareness, working groups, small company actions, networks of excellence etc.).
Calls can be open continuously or for a 3 month period.
Evaluations can be single stage or 2-stage. On average the evaluation and contract procedure takes 6-9 months to complete and payment of claims takes 2-3 months.
No wonder that the overwhelming majority of complaints we receive relate to programme management and this affects small companies in particular.
Looking towards Framework 5
The adopted Commission position on Framework 5 calls for the main I&CT programmes to be merged. In view of the convergence of technologies currently taking place this is a rational position. In itself, however, it is insufficient to ensure a relevant and effective research and development programme.
The positioning of the programme in the R&D spectrum is crucial.
Member States are reducing their expenditure on basic technologies to the extent that Europes companies are living off technology developed five and ten years ago.
It is vital therefore that the next generation I&CT programme is positioned clearly in basic R&D.
This is not to imply long term curiosity driven research. It is quite plossible to formulate short term, fundamental and market driven research programmes and this should be our aim.
Exploitation under Framework 5
In doing this we must not loose sight of exploitation. It is a truism that Europe produces more technology than it exploits. It should be a priority that the new programme looks for robust methods of exploiting technology developments.
Maybe we need to revisit IPR arrangements Perhaps we should look at new structures and methods. Whatever actions we take however, must be done in agreement with the key players.
Management of Framework 5
As I mentioned earlier, cross-programme management is a cause of concern in the current Framework. I have no doubt that Commission staff try to ensure that related work is synergistic but this has not been evident to the outsider.
There are numerous examples of similar research being undertaken lor initiatives promoted in the same area but from different DGs.
Whilst the merging of the current three programmes may help, the Commission must think hard about how it is perceived by industry and not become involved in inter- Commission rivalries.
It is incumbent upon the Commission to ensure that the I&CT work in Framework 5 is coherent and draws together Europe's researchers in well targeted actions.
Education and Training in Framework 5
Education and training (E&T) is a key element. It is fruitless to produce great quantities of technology if companies do not have the skilled persoimel to exploit it.
RACE did a little in E&T and ACTS and ESPRIT noticeably more.
However, what is being done now is still insufficient. We should look for new ways of expanding the E&T impact of Framework 5 through specific programmes.
SMEs have great potential to move into market niches quickly, supplanting larger companies which are generally much slower to react to new opportunities.
This is not a call for SME measures of the kind currently employed - I am not a proponent of paying companies to make applications nor do I think that we should encourage large numbers of potential SME users.
Our target should be tomorrows IBMs and Microsofts. We do have need to find ways of lowering the cost of entry in to programmes.
ACTS has taken a step in this direction by allowing SMEs to join existing consortia - this clarifies the negotiating target for SMEs and reduces the travelling overhead.
But I am sure we can do more. Perhaps by encouraging clusters of high tech SMEs supported by one or two larger players; perhaps by further reducing the bureaucracy faced by applicants. More thought is needed.
There is currently much debate about closer involvement of the Standards bodies in the R&D programmes. RACE and ACTS have certainly tried to link outputs to standardisation but the performance is patchy.
SOGITS has acknowledged the need for better co-ordination and ETSI also has recognised the need for thought in this area thorough the New Business Development Group.
The time is ripe for a thorough discussion of this issue and I hope the Commission is ready to be creative in this.
For this requires not a one way street from R&D programme to standards body but a dialogue, with standards bodies being able to influence some work within R&D programmes which will lead to future standards.
EUREKA & COST
Whilst on the subject of co-operation I should mention here two other European . _ collaboration fiameworks - EUREKA and COST.
EUREKA provides a natural route from pre-competitive R&D through to commercialisation.
Whilst it is important that this link is strengthened we must avoid blurring the distinction between the two - it would not be appropriate for the Framework programme to fund EUREKA proposals. ..
Such funding is the province of Member States who are better placed to judge the case for supporting such near market work.
The link with COST is of a different nature.
I think COST has a clear role to play in helping to set the longer term objectives at which the Framework should aim. At present thle division between COST and Framework 4 is wasteful of a valuable European resource - namely the visionary thinkers in our technologies.
I think it right that Framework 5 includes demonstration projects, but should support only demonstrations which are appropriate to a publicly funded Programme i.e. not too near to commercial applications - which I believe is the case with many existing demonstrations.
The role of Public Servants
Finally, I will reiterate a point made over several years to various parts of the Commission - it is imperative that whatever technologies are addressed that the administration of programmes is streamlined and made more efficient - Europes researchers deserve a professional and efficient service from their public servants.
There is everything to play for. The ICT world is moving ever-faster and our companies need to be able to move quickly just to hold their position in the world. Framework 5 will not be neutral in this respect. The margin betweein success and failure is a very narrow one. The 4 Billion ECU for I & CT in Framework 5 will distort the decision-making process. It behoves all of us to make sure that the distortion works to help European Industry move into the new millennium.
12 May 1997