This spring IBM celebrates its 40th anniversary in Research Triangle Park.
My company’s long-time success here, and that of many other companies in the
park, underscores the foresight of RTP’s founders.
They knew innovation would
be a key to the state’s economic future, and clearly understood that it
would require a concerted effort, focus and regional cooperation among the
public and private sectors and academia.
This is as true today as it was
40 years ago, perhaps more important than ever.
Unfortunately, the confluence of
the information economy and globalization has created an environment of
uncertainty for businesses around the world.
Companies everywhere are
searching for a path through this maze of uncertainty — about what will spur
job growth, how to maximize return on investment, and which business
processes to implement.
And yet, often the answer can be
found in one word: “innovation.”
Innovation is the intersection of
invention and business insight. It creates new industries and national and
global markets, spurs productivity and economic growth, generates
high-value, higher-paying jobs. It raises the standard of living for
On the other hand, America’s
generations-old worldwide leadership in innovation and technology is now
We at IBM are extremely proud
that IBM leads the world for the 12th straight year in the number of patents
awarded. Of the company’s total of 3,248 patents, about ten percent (355)
came from IBMers who work in North Carolina, mainly in the Triangle area.
Yet, a sobering statistic is that
a mere four U.S. companies are among the top ten in patent awards.
With America’s loss of worldwide
technology leadership at stake, leaders from many disciplines have joined a
National Innovation Initiative (NII), co-chaired by IBM CEO Sam Palmisano
and Georgia Institute of Technology President Wayne Clough. The group’s
mission is to identify and implement new policies and programs that will
ensure a rich, fertile environment for future innovation.
The effort won’t come easy, but
it certainly is critical — and timely. One recent study projects that 91
million new jobs will be created worldwide over the next decade. The most
pressing question is: Where? Europe? The U.S.? China and India?
Elsewhere? What does this mean for North Carolina. . . . And RTP?
Jobs will emerge in those regions
that create a fertile environment for innovation. But what will be the
Skills: Businesses must
invest in training the workforce in new, cross-disciplinary skills, and
universities will need to modify curricula to ensure a steady pipeline of
talent versed in emerging disciplines.
IBM is heartened by a new, closer
partnership we’ve forged with Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State
University and N.C. A&T. Through this pragmatic relationship called the IBM
Academic Initiative, IBM and these schools are working together to create
new programs to better prepare students for technical jobs in the real
world. It is vital for our state and nation that every member of the
business community becomes involved in a closer linkage with our schools.
At all levels.
Investment: Innovation —
and the entrepreneurial spirit behind it — needs financing, proper
incentives, and a willingness to support calculated risks. While businesses
need to invest, government must play a key role by publicly funding
research, setting appropriate intellectual-property rules, and establishing
financial regulations and tax policies that encourage innovation and
infrastructure investment. This last element is especially important for
attracting and retaining the best and brightest to a new nanotech lab or
biogenetics facility, and encouraging them to live and work here in North
Openness: Although global
economy firms must compete on the basis of innovation, this competition may
often turn, paradoxically, on how well an organization embraces openness and
collaborates across industries. Business leaders must master the art of
“coopetition” with their corporate rivals — simultaneously cooperating and
competing to innovate and thrive.
That’s why IBM recently announced
that it is opening up to the technical community some 500 patents. The
Information Era in which we find ourselves requires more of a balance
between proprietary innovation (for income and competitive advantage) and
collaborative innovation (for interoperability, open standards and public
This new focus on
collaborative innovation holds the greatest potential to spark economic
growth for our country and this region.
Economic development issues are
being addressed locally through initiatives such as the Research Triangle
Regional Partnership’s “Clusters of Innovation” work. It is a fine example
of concerted economic development effort at the regional level, supported
strongly by government, education, community, and business leaders.
Much more needs to be done to
ensure that innovation can flourish statewide. North Carolina would benefit
from a state equivalent of the National Innovation Initiative to help ensure
that our fair share of jobs and economic growth comes to this region, and
Together, all of us can
make an impact that will last for many generations to come. The future