Investing in Innovation

CIOs have long shouldered the burden of raising the awareness of technology and innovation in driving profitability and economic growth. But they no longer have to go it alone.

A growing number of leaders nationwide are turning their attention to many of the same IT issues that have furrowed the brows of CIOs for years.

Thanks in part to the efforts of the Council of Competitiveness, technology, and its future, is becoming a national priority. The council is an organization of the top U.S. business, university, and labor leaders. Founded in 1986, its mission is to elevate national competitiveness to the forefront of the national consciousness.

The organization’s most recent message echoes that of CIOs across the country.

“Innovation fosters the new ideas, technologies, and processes that lead to better jobs, higher wages, and a higher standard of living,” reads the Council’s vision statement. “For advanced industrial nations no longer able to compete on cost, the capacity to innovate is the most critical element in sustaining competitiveness.

“The United States stands apart from the rest of the world in its record of sustained innovation over decades, across industries, and through economic cycles. But the United States now finds itself at a potential inflection point—facing new realities that pose significant challenges to our global innovation leadership.”

Today, in the wake of the publication of the Council’s National Innovation Initiative Report and subsequent recommendations, new efforts are being made the federal level to foster innovation and help the U.S. preserve its competitive lead in the global marketplace.

The first is the American Competitiveness Initiative, announced by President Bush during his State of the Union address on January 31st.

This strategy will increase federal investment in critical research, ensure that the United States continues to lead the world in opportunity and innovation, and provide American children with a strong foundation in math and science.

It also commits $5.9 billion in fiscal year 2007, and more than $136 billion over 10 years, to increase investments in research and development (R&D), strengthen education, and encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.

Another effort is proposed the National Innovation Act of 2005, or NIA. On December 15, 2005, Senators John Ensign (R-NV) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) introduced historic bipartisan legislation based on the Council of Competitiveness’ National Innovation Initiative.

The goal of the NIA is to make improvements in research, education of science and technology talent, and innovation infrastructure to enable the country to maintain the global leadership it held in the last century.

The NIA encourages R&D risk taking. It will establish a grant program that encourages federal agencies funding research in science and technology to allocate a percentage of their R&D budgets to grants directed toward high-risk frontier research.

The NIA also proposes doubling R&D funding for the National Science Foundation and, to further encourage research investment by the private sector, it would make permanent the Research and Experimentation (R&E) tax credit.

The legislation also offers a framework for a national education strategy to meet the need for more highly skilled workers. The NIA will expand current physical science and engineering scholarship and grant programs for graduate and undergraduate students. And new training opportunities would be provided for such students. Graduates would, in turn, be able to apply these technological and entrepreneurial skills toward creative advances in the workplace.

To strengthen the nation’s innovation infrastructure and spur growth, the NIA will authorize the U.S. Department of Commerce to encourage the development and implementation of state-of-the-art manufacturing systems and test beds.

It also promotes the development of technology innovation hot spots and fosters the adoption of technologies and processes aimed at improving the productivity of the defense manufacturing base.

As the American Competitiveness Initiative, the NIA, and other legislation winds its way through the legislative process in Congress this year, it will behoove CIOs to keep a close eye on the latest developments.

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, an innovation-friendly environment promises to foster the cutting-edge talent required to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. At the same time, it also helps ensure a national commitment to fundamental research and establish the creative infrastructure needed to thrive in a global economy.

David Thompson, who recently replaced Mark Egan, is CIO of Symantec. Prior to joining Symantec, Thompson was senior vice president and CIO for Oracle and oversaw the Global Information Technology group.