To promote innovation is a key issue at political, economical and professional levels and has become a critical effort across Europe. That´s why 13 European countries are currently collaborating to create a European standard that will provide guidance and good practices to beginners as well as a systematic method to strongly innovative companies. asked Fernando J. Utrilla, Secretary of the committee about the work in progress.

What is the purpose of this initiative?

As the business plan of the committee states, its purpose is the European standardization of tools, methods, approaches, processes, etc, that will help SMEs, companies and other public and private organizations to establish and develop their innovation management under a systematic approach, improving at a long term their competiveness.

What are the most important drivers (or reasons) behind the initiative to develop a standard for innovation management?

To promote innovation is a key issue at political, economical and professional levels and has become a critical effort across Europe. Any help is consequently welcome to push in this direction. Standardization can play an important role in support of innovation management, as it plays for safety, quality, environment and interoperability, for example. This role has also been highlighted from the European Commission, who is very interested in this initiative.

Existing national standards related to this topic in Europe have been working well at national level

Furthermore, some existing national standards related to this topic in Europe have been working well at national level. Among them, the ones published in Spain since 1996, the UNE 166000 series. This fact entrusted AENOR, the Spanish Standardization Body, to propose this new standardization field to CEN, the European Committee for Standardization, in 2007, and to lead it. The contributions from the rest of participants have enriched and increased the first aim of the proposal leading not only to a standard on innovation management, but to a whole family of documents covering related aspects.

What are your expectations on this, what do you think will be the most important result of the work that you are doing in this group?

Innovation is a matter of survival at the medium or long term for the majority of companies, which shall not be overtaken by the market but to keep or improve their position on it. However, individual acts of innovation are not enough to achieve the sustainable long term competiveness and success.

Organizations need to ensure a steady flow of innovation

Organizations need to ensure a steady flow of innovation, and therefore they have to continually and systematically manage all the aspects fostering the innovation capabilities. Probably, it is not necessary to develop a family of standards to understand that idea. But I am sure standards can represent a helpful tool to achieve this objective, as they have been in other fields or even in the same field in individual countries.

In your opinion, what impact will this have on European businesses?

We should not forget determining factors such as that standards are voluntary documents, that innovation is a field that requires much effort and resources as well as a large amount of mind openness to changes, and that there is a really variable level of development of innovation management across Europe.

But if the outputs of this committee could become helpful for some organizations, providing guidance and good practices to beginners as well as a systematic method to strongly innovative companies, growing the number of users through time and reaching the acknowledge of the involved actors, they will be powerful tools for the European economy.

…they will be powerful tools for the European economy

You have been working with this initiative since a year now. Has it been developing the way you expected it to? Please elaborate.

The works related to this standardization field actually begun two years ago. During 2008 a reduced working group inside CEN worked to assess the feasibility of this project and to establish the guidelines for a future committee. On that basis, the committee was created by CEN at the end of 2008 and effectively constituted at the beginning of 2009. This year we have held two important plenary meetings, in which delegations from 13 European countries, the SMEs and the European Commission, have been involved in the planning and organization of this standardization activity.

The committee in plenary meeting in Brussels

To start a new standardization activity at European level is never an easy path, as standardization always tries to reach the agreement and collaboration between all the interested parties and countries. However, we have reached a high level of consensus and we made strong advances in these two meetings, as the agreement on the general view of the committee or the creation of six different working groups by the moment. The high number of proposals of topics to be dealt in those groups is the best sign of the interest raised by this activity across Europe.

What is your role/responsibility in the committee?

AENOR holds the Secretariat of this technical committee, and I have been designated as the Secretary. The tasks of the Secretary of a TC (technical committee) are to develop all the CEN standardization works related with the committee and with the writing of the standards, to maintain and coordinate all the documentation required, to organize the meetings… Basically, to keep everyone inside the committee well supported and coordinated in every moment, and to act as the contact point between CEN, the members of the committee, the working groups inside it and the different national standards bodies.

Besides the work in the committee, what is your occupation and how is it connected to the field of innovation management?

I am a mechanical engineer who after some years in the industry sector, started to work in standards nine years ago. Along this time, as standardization project manager I have been responsible for several technical committees in AENOR, and also for their European and International relationships. Definitely I am not an innovation expert, compared to those who participate in the committee coming from all across Europe. But this is not my task in this project. I shall be their “standardization expert” who helps to translate their knowledge into standards, and that is what I am trying to do now!

Click here for pictures of the committee members meeting in Brussels.