The First MATRIX Report
In February 2007 MATRIX was asked to offer focused advice on the future policies necessary for Northern Ireland to ensure economic growth and wealth creation through greater commercial exploitation of its science and technology capabilities.
With DETI support, the panel embarked on an ambitious programme – working with Northern Ireland’s leading high technology businesses and senior academics as well as consulting with the wider stakeholder community.
An eight volume report was produced with a suite of recommendations at both the macro and microeconomic levels which had the scope to break new ground in enhancing science and technology exploitation policy for Northern Ireland. The panel concluded that the overarching challenge for Northern Ireland was to effect a permanent cultural change so that the responsibility for leading the innovation agenda lies not with government or academia but with business.
They found that in order for Northern Ireland to compete effectively, market-led, cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary innovation must become at least as important over the coming decade as technology based or supply push innovation was in the last.
The report highlights the need to create and maintain a new working environment for business, government and academia where they can combine their resources in a market led approach to innovation. Within these innovation communities the risk and the tension between technology push and market pull can be better managed to achieve greater economic benefit.
Imperatives for the future Northern Ireland economy
MATRIX has identified 4 imperatives for Northern Ireland if it is to rise to the challenge of the 21st century:
Near to medium term market opportunities
A clear and evidence based overview of future Technology to Market possibilities has emerged from the MATRIX Horizon Technology and Market Foresight programme.
This process identified an immediate series of specific near and medium term market focused opportunities for the 5 key technology sectors considered to be of highest economic significance in the Regional Innovation Strategy for Northern Ireland, taking account of the UK’s Technology Strategy Board priorities, the EU Lisbon Agenda and in relation to the findings of previous Northern Ireland foresight exercises. The sectors identified are:
- leading differentiated / functional foods
- innovative process and packaging
- enhancing customer knowledge
- leveraging computational science
- multifunctional land usage
- releasing embedded energy
- environmentally optimal products
- design for passenger safety & security
- use of lighter, stronger and more affordable materials
- efficient supply of more complex, customised and innovative solutions combining products and services
- application of biomaterials
- nano-structured materials and multifunctional materials (including catalysis)
- packaged product software
- near-shoring aimed at large providers of Financial Services, telecommunications, human resources and ICT
- research into high performance embedded systems targeted initially at the financial services and telecommunications
- precision diagnostics and medicines
- Home-based Care
Future markets identified
MATRIX concluded that the real opportunities for the future knowledge economy lie not so much within key technology sectors as in the overlaps and spaces between them. Consequently, Northern Ireland has the opportunity to secure strategic market advantage and to compete internationally in a range of future focused, multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral technology exploitation areas.
In order to compete and win in strategic areas of the global market Northern Ireland needs an ongoing process of foresight and horizon scanning to inform policy development and to assist the wider business and academic communities to seize specific market opportunities as they arise.
Based on global trends and drawing on the collective expertise of panel members, MATRIX mapped out four distinct future world market opportunities in which Northern Ireland can realistically hope to secure a distinct role to play.
The MATRIX Panel developed a series of recommendations on key elements of the innovation ecosystem in Northern Ireland to address the challenge outlined above. The panel arrived at an overarching recommendation to deliver growth in the Northern Ireland economy based on an enhanced capability to innovate. This can be summed up as follows: Connect science to exploitation through market focussed technology innovation communities that are targeted at Northern Ireland specific roadmaps.
This model builds on the existing fundamental capabilities within the science and technology base in Northern Ireland but seeks to achieve a greater level of connectedness through multidisciplinary industry-led communities and enhanced routes to market for science and technology. To deliver this model the MATRIX panel made these key recommendations:
These communities should build on existing innovation activities by coordinating and aggregating their innovation resources and by bringing together existing Northern Ireland, UK and EU innovation support programmes to create sustained funding and ‘flagship’ projects. The communities should aim to attract international commitment and gain recognition nationally (within 2 year), continentally (5 years) and globally (ten years). Such ‘flagship’ projects must ultimately seek to attract resources from other markets if they are to succeed and will then enhance the development of the Northern Ireland knowledge economy still further.
These roadmaps should aim to facilitate better exchange of information, assist with technology brokerage and allow members to aggregate existing resources and support programmes for maximum effect, especially to increase the absorptive capacity of new ideas.
There needs to be increased awareness in Northern Ireland of the potential to exploit the value of IP while avoiding any counter productive tendency towards over protection. Firms need improved capability to recognise the inherent value in their own business (in their people, processes, products, techniques, etc). It is evident that Northern Ireland needs to attract and retain top class researchers (international calibre) to develop deep IP capability which can be used to grow indigenous capability.
The ability to adapt or repurpose IP is also a critical ingredient of an effective IP Business Infrastructure.
Skills are the heartbeat of the economy and the quality and depth within the Northern Ireland skills base is key to the region becoming globally competitive. All key technology sectors in Northern Ireland recognise that the current skills balance in the workforce is not sufficient for the economy’s needs. The entire supply chain of skills must be addressed from primary schools, secondary, third level and within the workforce. The review of STEM within Northern Ireland positions the science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects as the foundation of the future skills system needed for a knowledge economy. However, it must be clearly recognised that as a small region, flexibility in education is essential for Northern Ireland to be able to align the skills supply chain to market need, a need that is changing fast. Such flexibility and responsiveness can then become a source of competitive advantage for a small region such as Northern Ireland.
Leaders must be empowered, through the recognition that Northern Ireland must operate in a different way to support innovation and to accept and manage higher levels of risk (with a focus on the resultant higher levels of return to the economy). Developing a more flexible approach to risk management for public sector funding support to R&D and Innovation based firms would mark a significant step towards a more creative incentive system.
Northern Ireland needs to increase the emphasis on private sector investment in R&D & Innovation and the portfolio of firms that are suitable for investment. Venture Capital, Banking, and other financial support services for high- technology firms and related projects have to be encouraged, including through mechanisms such as tax credits, vouchers etc. Funding for R&D and Innovation activities should reflect the medium to long term nature of securing returns from R&D and Innovation based investments (up to 10 years if necessary).
Outcomes of the report
DETI Minister Arlene Foster undertook to give the report detailed consideration and to bring forward an appropriate plan for implementing its findings. She said, “What I hope and expect to get from the outworking of this MATRIX report is a blueprint for accelerating our economic growth, to give us a genuine step-change in the effectiveness and competitiveness of our economy over the medium to long term.”
Comments on the report
“This is not a case of Government speaking to Government, nor is the report an academic study. MATRIX was deliberately created to represent the voice of high-technology industry in Northern Ireland. It is of the utmost importance that we in Government listen to and act upon what our leading business people have to say.”
The Government response to the first report
The formal Government Reponse paper, which has been agreed by Ministers across the Northern Ireland Executive, now represents a coordinated and joined-up action plan which will ensure that the Government strand of the MATRIX work will be taken forward in the most effective way.