Thought for the day: Team up for innovation

Cut through the hype and tell suppliers what you want, says Rob Glenn

Cut through the hype and tell suppliers what you really want to help you stay ahead of the game, says Rob Glenn.

Research and development got a shot in the arm from the chancellor in his Budget speech last week when he extended tax breaks to include software. That was a good start but more can be done beyond offering financial incentives to make UK companies truly innovative.

Innovation should be organic - it needs to start with the end-users. How many IT directors face the disappointing prospect of choosing products that do not really match their needs? If suppliers want to get their products right first time they need to talk to the people who will be using them.

Suppliers look to their existing customer base for feedback on a new product or upgrade, but this limits the potential for true innovation. IT directors from all types of private and public sector organisations should be encouraged to work with suppliers on R&D projects.

The aim is to inform developers about what end-users really need, not what suppliers think will sell.

The government can help by supporting forums and providing incentives to companies to form partnerships with commercial developers, laboratories, universities, centres for R&D and research charities. This would extend opportunities for discussions and trials to encompass a greater diversity of IT directors from all types of businesses.

A good starting point is the 10-year strategy of investment in science and engineering. The chancellor is using the scheme to pledge his support for making the UK a leading competitor for R&D and technology advancement. Talks are already under way with large corporates about how their commercial spend on R&D can marry with public investment.

This is a worthwhile objective and should help to galvanise high-level research. However, more could be done from a grass-roots level. We should not ignore small and medium-sized companies, which are often at the forefront of pioneering developments.

An innovation environment should be as inclusive as possible - it needs support as well as investment to encourage technology proponents to learn from one another.

Drawing boards are no substitute for exchanging knowledge and real-world experience. When it comes to investing in new technology, IT directors are in the best position to cut through the marketing hype and explain what really matters to them and their customers.

Their feedback will bring products to market that are more robust and viable and will ultimately give end-users a greater choice of relevant products - which will deliver real return on investment to their businesses.

What do you think?

What are the biggest barriers to innovation? Tell us in an e-mail. reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Rob Glenn is managing director of Staffware

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