The regional work done in ESIC has reached the peer review phase. The aim of the ESIC activities carried out in all model demonstrator regions has been to assist regional policy-makers to test, update and improve their existing policies as well as to boost emerging industries by transformative service innovation. Via the expert analysis and regional self-assessment the summary assessment reports have been finalised by the ESIC consortium. The peer review phase, in turn, encourages policy learning and provides external input into the policy development of the region and leads eventually towards regional policy recommendations.
The Northern Ireland ESIC peer review meeting, held on the 28-29th January 2014, gathered about fifteen regional stakeholders for one-and-a-half days, where presentations of key examples of service innovation in operation within the region were given. The event was hosted by Invest Northern Ireland as sponsor of the ESIC, and it brought together regional stakeholders, external experts as well as the ESIC team. Representatives from Luxembourg, also an ESIC demonstrator region, also attended with a shared interest in the healthcare sector.
Northern Ireland faces considerable challenges. Since 2009, the global recession has led to a significant deterioration in the regional labour market and increasing unemployment rates. Northern Ireland’s economy remains dependent on its traditional industries. Over the last decade, the manufacturing sector has altered markedly as a result of technological changes and pressures from global competitors. When applying the role of a demonstrator region in the ESIC, Northern Ireland originally emphasised a holistic stance: it expressed a wish to develop a strategy and policy that focuses on smart specialisation at market level, using service innovation as a catalyst for regional structural change.
The aim of the meeting was to explore and discuss the opportunities for service innovation based on existing examples identified during the ESIC team's earlier study visit. ESIC’s expert assessment initially identified three application areas in which a large-scale demonstrator (LSD) strategy could be implemented in Northern Ireland: 1) the food and drink sector, 2) the health and social care sector, and 3) the combination of both. In the peer review workshop in Belfast, also the sustainable energy sector was discussed as an option. The focus of discussions was centred towards identifying a project around which to build a LSD strategy for Northern Ireland. All four sectoral suggestions include opportunities for systemic innovations in addition to service innovations.
Prof. Bernie Hannighan, Director of R&D at the Department of Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland (HSC) showcased work done using big data analytics in personalised healthcare. This highlighted the importance of using secure networks to exchange personal health data, a topic which was then developed by Stephen Wray who presented the advances in encryption and secure networks. Northern Ireland has developed deep applied expertise in Health Informatics and Analytics as well as industry connections. On the research side, genomics data is used to infer molecular interactions to generate novel biological hypotheses, to visualise gene expressions and to identify biomarkers on individual patient profiles. On the patient side, existing Connected Health systems have raised concerns on what patient information is divulged and to whom, what are the risks of access to information, how information is shared and how to guarantee the integrity of data. Service innovation and new technologies are thus needed for user and device identification and threat detection.
Sam McClosky from the Centre for Advanced Sustainable Energy (CASE) then presented the role of servitisation in renewable energy. She highlighted the increasing servitisation of operations and maintenance within the sector in Northern Ireland. In particular she discussed the EnTERNI project, supported by Invest Northern Ireland funding R&D in a Tidal Turbine Commercial Demonstration Site. This type of renewable energy sites requires data to be delivered for characterisation, consenting and operational purposes, which raise opportunities for service innovations for new modelling techniques for verification, design and specification of the site, and monitoring and survey techniques. Prof. Augusto Medina, expert from the European Business and Innovation Centre Network (EBN) then presented a view of service innovation in China drawing on the evidence from Chinese policy and strategy documents. He highlighted regional cases, such as the Jiangsu Province that has a mix of regional policies that directly and indirectly address service innovation. The Jiangsu government promotes innovation service organisations that support innovation in terms of technology, management and mechanisms; and promote the standardisation and branding of service organisations. Other examples include the Hong Kong and Macao (Chengdu) Modern Service Industry Park, focusing on companies and providing commerce, finance and leisure services, and with investment projects already in line.
The group, with contributions from regional stakeholders then discussed the ESIC's team's assessment of the wider conditions for service innovation. While there was recognition of the constraints placed on using secondary data from the European Service Innovation Scoreboard, the group could see the role that these wider factors had. There was some concern raised regarding how productivity with the public sector was reflected, especially in the context of Northern Ireland where the role of the public sector in the regional economy is large.
The second day focused on the appropriateness of the policy mix. The ESIC team presented their mapping of the various policy and funding instruments available within the region, also discussed in-depth in the ESIC’s summary assessment of Northern Ireland. The presentation showed that the current policy mix has the potential to stimulate service innovation, but in operational terms there is not a sufficiently clear focus on this type of innovation. This was followed by a presentation on the importance of systems thinking in policy with examples from Finland from Dr. Marja Toivonen from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and expert of the European Association from Research on Services (RESER). She discussed the important role of Knowledge Intensive Business Services (KIBS) in supporting innovation in regional innovation systems, and how the perspective of socio-technical transition models have helped Finland in creating structural changes and adopting a service-oriented thinking to innovation and growth. The models presented gave the group a string framework in which to explore possible demonstrator strategies.
According to Richard Christie, Head of Design & Commercialisation Services at Invest Northern Ireland, the ESIC work done in the region has helped to identify cross-priority synergies within existing EU structural funded programmes and is developing a clearer picture of how the various policy measures and organisations could support the selected priorities for service innovation in the region. The ESIC initiative carries the potential to upgrade significantly the effectiveness of Northern Ireland’s macro-economic development policies by enhancing both their content and process and thereby make better use of EU funds.
Taking into account the expert assessments and the views exposed by regional sectoral stakeholders, over the next weeks, the ESIC team will work together with Invest Northern Ireland to concretise a LSD strategy for the region.