EMCC European Monitoring Centre on Change

The future of KIBS in Europe: Unlocking the potential of the knowledge-based economy, Helsinki, 23–24 November - EMCC Anticipatory Workshop

This is a summary of the main points discussed in the concluding debate of the workshop. The final session focused on the definition of an agenda for change for the KIBS sector.

Defining an agenda for change

Agreement had been reached in the earlier debate on the importance of the sector as a growth sector and as a contributing factor to competitiveness and growth in other sectors. The main challenges faced by the sector were defined as:

  • unclear definition of what constitutes KIBS;
  • weak statistics and/or lack of statistics on KIBS;
  • unclear skills requirements due to lack of systematic mapping;
  • imminent danger of a skills gap;
  • uncertainty about the number and kind of jobs that could be outsourced to countries outside of Europe in the future;
  • actors who are not well organised and therefore are not able to speak with one voice.

Points for action:

A laissez-faire approach is not appropriate. There is a need for policy action in two areas:

  • Action that improves the quality of the supply side
  • Action that encourages demand for KIBS

A top-down approach in policy development is to be avoided.

Acting on the quality and quantity of supply:

  • KIBS need favourable framework conditions. To enable growth in the sector, policy makers have to ensure open markets for services and protection of intellectual property rights (IPR).
  • The quality of KIBS needs to become more measurable for the customer. The industry should introduce methodological and quality standards through self-regulation designed to make an assessment of the product delivered easier.
  • KIBS providers need to adapt their offers to the needs of SMEs in order to tap this underutilised source of business. Products such as CRM or SAP may not be very well suited to the daily practices of SMEs. These would require a more tailor-made approach where the involvement of the end user in the design of the services provided is essential.
  • KIBS providers need to develop a closer network and stronger sector associations if they want to make their voice heard and influence policy.
  • KIBS providers need to join forces with academia. Partnership agreements should be signed between universities and KIBS in order to create ‘universities of innovation’, as a way to foster creativity.
  • University education has to address more explicitly the requirements of KIBS, as it is presently still almost exclusively looking at big manufacturing companies as the model.
  • Education systems have to encourage creativity from an early age and lay the basis for the intellectual and social skills required by KIBS.
  • Individuals are the source of creativity and innovation and need to take responsibility for strengthening their skills and keeping them up to date.
  • Measures aimed at supporting the growth and internationalisation of SMEs in general are likely to have a positive effect on KIBS providers too as many of them are SMEs themselves.

Acting to encourage demand for KIBS:

  • Priority needs to be given to measures designed to increase the use of KIBS among SMEs. This is where Europe’s productivity gap manifests itself and where there is large room for improvement. This objective could be reached through introducing tax incentives for SMEs making use of KIBS. As the costs associated with using KIBS are often mentioned as an obstacle by SMEs, they should be encouraged to form networks sharing the services of KIBS providers and sharing the costs.
  • Actors at the local and regional level, for example development agencies, must play an active role in bringing providers and potential customers together, as well as encouraging contacts between big and small companies which could help SMEs see the benefit of using KIBS.
  • Public procurement could be used to encourage uptake of KIBS.
  • Trade unions have to become themselves providers of KIBS for their members (conflict resolution, training, mobility services etc.) and have to understand better the needs of those members with increasing customer contacts.
  • Public policy in the area of innovation and research and development can have a knock-on effect on KIBS providers and increase demand for their services. Also, demand in civil society can be increased, for example through technology policy (i.e. general measures aimed at fostering the use of computers and the internet).
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