Thinking short term can leave a business behind

Focus on short term risks missing out on breakthroughs, says Brian Quinn of Intel

Mon, Jul 14, 2014, 01:15

Short-term competitiveness is important, but companies who lose sight of long-term industry developments risk getting left behind. That’s the warning from Intel programme director Brian Quinn, who spoke to The Irish Times about the critical issues facing organisations involved in commercially focused funding.

“You need a balance. You need targeted, incremental innovation. You stay competitive and drive your business that way, but you’re also looking at things in the longer term – the bigger trends and potential breakthroughs; the bigger challenges; and how things might fundamentally change,” he said.

“In a nutshell, overemphasis on the longer term can lead to a loss of short-term competitiveness, but overprioritising short-term competitiveness can make you miss major turns technologically and software-wise that are coming up in the market.”

Quinn, a native of Co Monaghan, is director of strategic programmes for Intel’s lab operations in Europe, which spearheads cutting-edge research in Intel’s European lab programmes across centres in Leixlip, Munich and the company’s newly opened Istanbul facility.

He addressed the Fujitsu World Tour event in Convention Centre Dublin last week, his presentation preceded by that of John Brooker, chief executive of the Yes! And management consultation company and a former senior vice-president of Visa who oversaw the implementation of the company’s ATM network.

Focusing on the cultivation of innovation within organisations, Brooker stressed the need for companies to “introduce a measure of randomness into opportunity-finding”, saying it was the role of leaders and management to “reduce the fog of complexity” surrounding innovative solutions.

On the topic of education, Quinn gave a glowing appraisal of the country’s efforts to supply high-calibre graduates that have precipitated the creation of 5,200 Intel-related jobs at its bases in Leixlip, Shannon, Cork and Belfast.

“There’s an awful lot right about the Irish education system. The amount of foreign direct and IT investment here and the incredible amount of ICT startup activity means we’re doing something right, but you can’t sit still, so we would absolutely advocate change in a progressive manner,” he said.

“We have nine of the top 10 ICT companies globally based in Ireland but, equally important, we’ve got incredible energy in the startup sector. All those things are good bases and if we can keep producing people into the sector we can continue to sustain and grow.

“There’s lots of things about Ireland that people like, and Ireland is well set up for prospective success,” he said in the wake of Intel’s announcement that it had spent in the region of $5 billion (€3.7 billion) upgrading its Leixlip operations over the last three years in preparation for production of its new, ultra-compact 14 nanometer transistors in the coming months.

Reinvestment

It marks a continuation in the multinational corporation’s dedication to reinvesting vast swathes of its $50 billion annual revenue stream into product development as well as research. Of that figure, some $10.7 billion (€7.9 billion) was diverted towards research and development programmes globally, according to Quinn, who also praised EU research funding projects such as Horizon 2020 and the various incarnations of EU framework programmes that he says have prompted 76 Intel projects since 2007.

While lauding Ireland’s progression in the field of third-level courses with significant ICT components, Quinn was of the opinion that informal tech education programmes during students’ more formative years represent an essential component to maintaining a flourishing industry for future generations.

“People tend to look upon the education discussion as nine o’clock to three o’clock in the Leaving Cert or Junior Cert classroom, but the other informal education channels are so important, and events like the BT Young Scientist exhibition and our own mini-science competition, things that have an informal approach for children as well beyond the classroom are very important,” he said.

Open Interconnect Consortium

Referring to Intel’s recently announced Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) with Dell and Samsung, he pointed to the example of standardisation of mobile phone chargers across Europe as indicative of the consensus-based model that companies within the tech sector must embrace as we approach an age of greater interconnectivity.

“Companies realise that no one tech player can operate independently, and the OIC is important because you need some kind of framework. When you have a tonne of new devices you need some consistency around the communications, standards and frameworks, so it’s about trying to drive a standard, interoperable approach to internet-of-things comms in the future,” said Quinn.

The internet-of-things concept pervaded the Dublin event and proved a focal point of many of the tour’s most influential speakers’ addresses. Far from an abstract, notional idea, Quinn sees its development both as tangible and eminently relatable for non-tech individuals, with plans being put in place to connect everyday items to complex information systems.

“Smaller processors . . . will attach themselves to loads of things and they’ll all connect. It’s very close. Older legacy items like chairs and pens will be slower to adapt to the system, but there’s a lot of stuff that will connect within the next three to five years and drive that connectivity up,” said Quinn.