The Expert's view
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Technology and innovation in times of crisis


Some of the main Basque R&D&I organisations address the issue of how COVID-19 poses more challenges for the industry

Several leading players of the ecosystem comprising businesses, production facilities and educational organisations discuss how important innovative technologies are when it becomes necessary to carry out an economic reactivation by properly addressing all the uncertainties arising from COVID-19.

We are currently witnessing an unprecedented time of uncertainty as COVID-19 has not only disrupted the customs and habits of our contemporary society but has also brought about a severe economic crisis that has affected all production sectors.

This exceptional situation requires a change of paradigm. Consequently, technology and innovation must provide the levers required to reactivate the economy. R&D&I investments, on the other hand, must play an outstanding role in an attempt to support business activities.

In a matter of only a few months we have witnessed how mobility restrictions have successfully boosted digitisation in a number of such as, educational centres, dwellings and health care facilities just to mention a few. Although spectacular progress has been made, this is but the beginning of a far more ambitious development that will have to take place immediately in different production and business sectors by resorting to advanced digital technologies, economic, social and environmental sustainability actions, etc., all without losing sights of, among other things, Sustainable Development Goals and advanced manufacturing actions.

In our environment, this diagnosis is shared by most of the key players they are currently addressing technological development and innovation. Such is the case of Guillermo Dorronsoro, one of the most outstanding references in the field of R&D&I. Mr Dorronsoro is a member and advisor of the Management Board at Zabala Innovation Consulting.

Dorronsoro is perfectly clear about this issue when he states that if we aim to cope with the current crisis, “innovation must be incorporated to a company’s strategy transversally to eventually become a culture that must be followed by all the members of an organisation”.

During an interview he gave for the Diario de Navarra newspaper, Dorronsoro pointed out that this this crisis has quickened digitisation processes. This will produce major socioeconomic changes such as closer monitoring of private data, a return to manufacturing goods in one’s own country and a positive environmental impact. He then added: “In view of this situation, companies will be forced to speed things up and address these digital transformation processes over the next few months”.

This view is also shared by the Innobasque Chairman Manuel Salaverria, who believes that we must all invest in innovation to overcome this crisis. “The time has come to not only innovate but also stress the importance of R&D&I as a driving force to deal with the crisis». In his opinion, and as mentioned during the opening of the Global Innovation Day, the public and private sector must not only maintain but also increase their investments in this area regardless of the current unfavourable economic situation.

The need to bring public investments into this arena and also make them available to universities is another powerful message from the rector of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), Nekane Balluerka, in the midst of this healthcare crisis: “I must ask the Ministries responsible for Research, Science and Innovation to invest in research and compensate researchers for having wasting their time”. Balluerka also urged them “to invest in science and basic and applied research” after expressing her concerns with regard to how harmful the pandemic has been for the University’s research fabric.

The role played by technology to allow socioeconomic reactivation to happen

As regards possible solutions to be used to overcome this crisis, it has to be stressed that technology has become a major driving force and in which digitisation has been rated as a business opportunity and cybersecurity an absolute necessity. This is what the director of BIC Araba Manuel Montero de la Torre also believes. At a recent CITA-Emprende event he stated that “as the pandemic has quickened the digital transformation of many companies, cybersecurity must be developed equally quickly. Whatever we do in the digital world must be fully secure and society must be cyberprotected”.

Medicine is another area in which this technology is expected to play an outstanding role. Eider Sánchez, CEO of Naru Intelligence was also attending the aforementioned event where she explained how artificial intelligence and digital tools have made it possible to design solutions and treatments that can improve medical outcomes and quality of life for patients. Proof of this can be found in the fact that, as long as you have the right kind training in place, a specific algorithm can be designed to treat COVID-19 patients and help the healthcare system learn more about this disease.

When seen from a more global perspective, the cofounder of the Mondragon Team Academy, José Mari Luzarraga, believes that the COVID-19 crisis has “sped up” the changes that are already underway with regard to “the digital dimension” for instance. “What we’ve been saying until now is that our business is on the road and that anything digital was just anecdotal. Now that the crisis is here, anything digital has become a crucial infrastructural element for all sectors whether it be education, services or international trade”, as explained during an interview with the Deia newspaper.

Another key player of the Basque industrial sector, Carlos López de las Herasgeneral director of Tubos Reunidos, stated that “nobody can dispute the benefits brought about digitisation, not only because you can increase productivity doing the same amount of work with less resources, but rather because there are now a number of intangibles that have enhanced communication and collaboration capabilities have allowed companies to achieve higher levels of success with their projects”. During this interview with the Deia newspaper, he also stated “that investments in advanced technology, digitisation, artificial intelligence and data processing are allowing industrial companies to operate more efficiently and reach the market quicker than their competitors.”

In this regard, Tekniker, a member of the Basque Research and Technology Alliance (BRTA), has extensive expertise that has placed the organisation at the forefront in terms of developing advanced digital solutions. The technology centre also has in-depth knowledge in the area of advanced manufacturing technologies. The economic and healthcare crisis caused by COVID-19 has significantly increased the demand for solutions of this kind whose ultimate goal is to address challenges arising from digitising the industry and any issues related to economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Tekniker’s role in this crisis has focused on developing innovative tools to help improve business efficiency and competitiveness so they may eventually be transferred to our industrial fabric.

In order to address this challenge, Tekniker is now developing digital tools that can manage massive amounts of data and guarantee cybersecurity to eventually design learning algorithms for artificial intelligence and study technologies geared towards furthering sustainable development such as eco-design and clean production.

Although without ever forgetting the core and strength of the Basque industry: manufacturing technologies, a sector in which Tekniker is a reference and is making a significant contribution, particularly with regard to the science industry and in sectors such as automotive, aeronautics, renewables and machine tools.