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New ISO Innovation Management Standard key to unlocking potential of Irish SME sector

Irish SMEs are underperforming in key areas such as productivity and innovation, an OECD report has found


Around 99.8 per cent of Irish firms are SMEs and boosting productivity levels amongst them is critically important. Photograph: iStock


Irish SMEs will soon be able to play an even bigger part in Ireland’s economic success story. The National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) and Skillnet Ireland have joined forces to launch a  new ISO Innovation Management System Standard and an Aligned Innovation Excellence Programme (IEP), to help boost productivity levels in the sector.

In a unique dual launch of both the ISO Standard and the Innovation Excellence Programme, organisations will learn how to implement and manage innovation successfully by providing solutions that address real customer needs. The ISO standard is the foundation upon which this exciting new programme is built.

As organisations are challenged to innovate, scale and grow their bottom line, standards can have an important part to play in that journey. The combination of both these frameworks affords small and medium businesses the opportunity to move up the value chain.

An organisation's ability to innovate is widely recognised as a key factor for sustained profitable growth and economic viability, enabled by increased sales of innovative solutions for customers across competitive global markets. The innovation capabilities of an organisation include the ability to understand and respond to changing conditions, to pursue new opportunities, and to leverage the knowledge and creativity of people within the organisation, and in collaboration with external stakeholders and partners.

Organisations that proactively manage innovation activities will be faster to pursue opportunities, react to challenges and manage related risks, and will ultimately be more likely to take effective actions and achieve sustained success. The ISO framework promotes entrepreneurship and innovation, while also giving business owners the confidence to manage uncertainty.

This offers a huge opportunity to small and medium businesses of all types in every region of the country. ISO 56002 can also be a valuable platform to facilitate the interactions of SMEs and foreign-owned multinationals, thus enhancing productivity spill overs.

A recent report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) identified problems with productivity in the Irish SME sector. It found the gap in the productivity of large companies here versus SMEs is growing. Around 99.8 per cent of Irish firms are SMEs and boosting productivity levels amongst them is critically important. 

Currently, fewer than 7 per cent of Irish SMEs export their products and services, a low number compared with the European average, according to OECD deputy secretary general Ulrik Vestergaard.

The findings of the OECD review have also fed into the formulation of policies to help the growth of the SME sector as laid out in the Government’s Future Jobs Strategy.

NSAI senior standards officer, Paul Killeen believes the launch of the Standard and the Innovation Excellence programme will help Ireland address the SME productivity and competitiveness challenges outlined in the OECD report.

Paul Killeen of NSAI
Paul Killeen of NSAI

“The new ISO series of guidance standards on Innovation Management, developed by innovation experts from across the world, provides international best practice on the systematic management of innovation activities in organisations of all types, including SMEs.

“The standard provides practical tools and methods, on how SMEs can effectively and consistently deliver new products and services to their customers on an ongoing basis.”

The Innovation Excellence Programme has been designed by Skillnet Ireland in partnership with NSAI and is based on the foundation of best practice outlined in the new ISO 56000 family of standards. Over the 12-week programme companies will be helped to  develop their innovation capabilities in a structured, sustainable and measurable way.

Chief technologist at Skillnet Ireland, Mark Jordan says the introduction of the new ISO guidance standard will lay down some best practices for testing theories, measuring impact, and executing the ideas that bring true innovation to life.

Mark Jordan of Skillnet Ireland 

“The Innovation Excellence Programme will deliver the necessary tools, skills, and working practices directly into Irish business - developing a process and platform for the generation of new ideas and strategies. This programme will allow companies to become more creative and impactful in their approach to solving business challenges.

“At Skillnet Ireland, we see a future of intense change, and innovation will be at the core of everything we do. We are delighted to support this collaborative initiative, which will facilitate the connections that propel people and companies to find new ways to thrive in a fast-paced, ever-changing world.”

To find out more about the Innovation Management Standard ISO 56002, contact or follow on Twitter . 

To register your interest in the Innovation Excellence Programme (IEP) email