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October 18, 2006

"Experts are saying that today, technology innovation is crucial to a high-tech company's survival and long-term success" and that "Google is a great example for successful innovation" said a panel of technology executives on October 17.

This high-tech discussion was part of the opening session at The Centre for Advanced Studies 2006 Conference (CASCON 2006) being held in Totonto this week.

Organized by the IBM Centers for Advanced Studies, CASCON is an annual event that brings together computer scientists, students, IT entrepreneurs, programmers & developers, eCommerce industry analysts and high-tech experts.

Conference participants share ideas, shortcuts and best practices in a series of workshops and forums. Panelists this year noted that Google had largely succeeded in creating a strong company that fosters innovation.

"About the best place to be for an innovator is Google," said Elliot Noss, CEO of Internet software developer Tucows Inc. in Toronto.

Another panelist echoed the same sentiment. "Overall, Google has managed to create an environment that's both challenging, while being fun at the same time," said Andrew Trossman, co-founder of Canadian automation software maker Think Dynamics Inc., acquired three years ago by IBM.

It's largely innovation that enables start ups to compete effectively with much larger companies that have been around a lot longer, and with far greater resources, many panelists underlined.

Technology innovation is essential for the survival of many start ups, said Pierre Berini, founder of Spectalis Corp., an optical sub-systems provider based in Napean, Ontario. Berini said "New firms that innovate often manage to get around older patents set up by larger companies, and this helps startups adjust to a rapidly changing market".

While many panelists mentioned Google as the paradigm for innovation, keynote speaker Steve Bourne, chief technical officer at El Dorado Ventures in Menlo Park, CA. had a word of caution: "The pace of innovation at Google might not be appropriate for other smaller organizations", he said. Bourne added "Some companies may have risk adverse clients who want to stick with tried-and-tested technology".

Bourne, whose company offers venture capital funding to technology-based firms, said he also noticed that investment on R&D and technology innovation has been slowing down a lot lately and that "VC funding has not been as significant as it was less than ten short years ago."

Noss and Trossman agreed, and added that some recent innovations are actually re-applications of existing technology or the amalgamation of several similar technologies, but that attempt to address new needs in today's environment.

Bourne said industries might be concentrating on "innovations of yesterday that have become the platform of today." For instance, he said, the Internet has become the take off point for a lot of products and services that are flooding today's marketplace.

Bourne mentioned open source technology as "one of the most significant innovations in recent years." Open source, he said, has greatly changed the cost structure of today's global markets and the way things are being developed.

To foster innovation, conference panelists suggested that even larger organizations should think like a small company. "It's harder for large companies to innovate as they have lots of innovation anti-bodies-- people who tell you a flat no," quipped Brian Barry, CEO of Bedarra Research Labs Ltd., an Ottawa-based computing research and development firm.

Other panelists echoed the same observations. "You almost have to force innovation in large organizations because everything goes through a longer process," said Mahshad Koohgoli, CEO of Nimcat Networks Inc., a peer-to-peer software company acquired by Avaya Inc.

Trossman of ThinkDynamics called upon organizations to create a sharing and collaborative environment. He said one way to do this is to open up a portal where developers can exchange ideas and discover opportunities to join a project that might appeal to them.

Overall, panelists also emphasized that innovation must be made a fun thing and should be well integrated into a company's culture. Innovators, they said, need to be challenged as well as supported, and money is not the only reward.

Berini also cautioned against overplanning, which he said could sometimes be an obstacle to timely action. "Just do it, and push things as far as you can go."

His advice for IT managers: "Assemble a good team, point it in the right direction and get out of the way as fast as you can."

Source: IT World Canada

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