Some questions on the first results of Horizon 2020 calls and 7 good reasons to participate in upcoming calls

September 23, 2015

H2020_blog_SigmaOrionisThe European Commission has released an analysis of the results of the first 100 calls (with a deadline not later than Dec. 1, 2014) of Horizon 2020 (H2020), the current EU’s research and innovation funding programme covering the period 2014-2020.

These results can be synthetised as follows. First, a total of 31 115 proposals have been submitted, out of which 4 315 have been selected for funding (€5,5 billion in total), which gives a success rate of 14% (compared with 20% for FP7, the H2020’s predecessor). Then, 38% of successful applicants are “newcomers” (not involved in FP7 projects), with an increased participation of SMEs (the EU’s 20% budget target for SMEs being reached). Last but not least, most (95%) of “grant agreements” (i.e. funding contracts) were signed within 8 months following the call closing date.

These facts and figures have obviously to be considered as positive as a whole. FP7 yesterday, H2020 today indisputably are key instruments to support the development of high-level research and innovation in Europe and clear improvements in its processes are made year after year. And we can only praise the European Commission for providing such statistics quicker than during the FP7 programme and making now publicly available in real time, through its EU open data portal data, information related to all selected projects.

We can however raise some questions, which answers could probably help further improving H2020 processes and impact:

  • A decreasing success rate is a positive trend since it should lead to higher quality projects. But when the success rate reaches such levels and when considering the efforts needed to prepare a proposal, this can also demotivate many organizations to be involved in proposals and contingency plans (such as extending the proportion of two-stage proposals) have probably to be implemented in the short term.
  • Newcomers are obviously needed in such a programme, including SMEs, and a ratio of 38% of newcomers (out of which 40% are SMEs) is a very good achievement. But more detailed analysis is needed here to answer some important questions: what is the percentage of SMEs involved in research and innovation projects (and not projects directly linked to market uptake). Furthermore, is there a significant increase in the participation of some stakeholders who seem more and more necessary in H2020, namely the civil society, representatives of citizens, doers and makers, social innovators, etc.?
  • Time is more and more critical in research and innovation today: reaching a 8-month target for grant preparation is good. Why not targeting 6 months now, and further simplifying administrative aspects? Does it really make sense to refer to a 656-page annotated model grant agreement and hasn’t time come to switch to result-based projects and forget some bureaucratic issues?

A couple of other questions not directly related to the facts and figures synthetised above:

  • There are also 58,2% newcomers among the 9325 experts who evaluated the first H2020 calls: good but still no process to evaluate these experts… When considering that evaluation processes are of a consensual nature, and at a time when the success rate is decreasing, this should be an urgent issue to solve in order to guarantee the highest quality of the selection process.
  • Regarding international cooperation, the participation of US organizations remains stable in H2020 when compared with FP7 (around 1% of applications) but the one from Chinese organizations (0,2%) has decreased from over 50%. Was it a target and if not, what should be the target? No data on the level of participation of African organisations (except for South Africa)? It would be interesting to track the involvement of this strategic continent!

Given its ‘research-innovation-markets’ positioning and its mission to operate internationally, Sigma Orionis has logically become, over the years, increasingly involved in EU research and innovation funding programmes and remains determined to fully contribute to these EU efforts for the benefit of the EU economy and of the EU society.

We ranked within the top 5 of European SMEs in terms of number of FP7 projects in which the company has been, or still is, involved, and are to date the most successful European SME in terms of number of granted Horizon 2020 projects.

The lessons we have learned from this active participation in EU-funded projects lead us to propose 7 good reasons for an organization to get involved in upcoming calls:

  1. At the forefront: H2020 calls are based on elaborated work programmes and projects, to be selected, have to be proposed by strong partnership and address leading-edge solutions.
  2. Partner network: these projects are definitely a key opportunity to extend its network of partners in Europe and beyond, and get stronger to develop its (non EU-funded) activities.
  3. Realise your dreams: the level of the project objectives and the quality of the consortium make it possible to really realise some projects you have been dreaming of (we can give many examples!).
  4. Reputation and image: the involvement of a company in such a programme and such projects can significantly increase its reputation and image.
  5. Building Europe: when involved in projects funded under H2020 you can really have the feeling that you contribute working for the benefit of a stronger EU economy and a better EU society.
  6. A great challenge to face: it’s a great challenge: the success rate is so low for a submitted proposal (in fact much higher if your take time to build a very good proposal…) but it’s so exciting to face this challenge and so rewarding when your proposal is selected!
  7. Funding: last but not least (and not n°1 reason however): when your proposal is selected you receive quite a substantial funding covering your research activities for 2-3 years, which few other funding agencies can offer.

 

Time has come for RRI in ICT

July 21, 2015

responsible-research-innovationSigma Orionis has the privilege to coordinate a Horizon 2020 CSA (coordination and support action), launched on January 1, 2015 for a period of 3 years, aiming at supporting the emergence of the RRI approach in ICT (detailed information on this RRI-ICT Forum project to be provided in the coming weeks through our News section).

RRI stands for Responsible Research and Innovation and can be defined as “an inclusive approach to R&I aligning the process and outcomes of R&I with the values, needs, and expectations of our societies”1. Such an approach is particularly necessary in ICT R&I since they are not only an enabler of societal evolution but also a transformer of societal conditions.

Of course, Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) are expected to bring a critical contribution to an RRI approach in ICT since they can “monitor economic, legal, and social issues related to technological developments and reframe and update the concepts, meanings, and expectations arising from the deployment of ICTs”1.

We are very proud of this new project that reinforces the portfolio of research projects and support actions Sigma Orionis has been developing since 2007 in the “ICT with and for society” area. Those projects share the overall objective of convincing the ICT research community to adopt forward-looking approaches and go for multidisciplinarity research, which will lead Europe’s citizens and businesses to truly get the most out of digital technologies. There are fully in line with our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy aimed in particular at contributing to the social and environmental development of societies.

Among those projects, several FP7 ones:

  • PARADISO (2007-2011), coordinated by Sigma Orionis and developed with the support of the Club of Rome, exploring foreseeable interactions between the Internet and societal developments in the next decades.
  • FLAGSHIP (2013-2015), coordinated by the Istituto di Studi per l’Integrazione dei Sistemi, and aiming at supporting the policy shift from adapting to changes through short-term policy responses, towards anticipating, welcoming and managing changes properly.
  • ICT & Art Connect (2013-2014), coordinated by Sigma Orionis and set up to identify new research avenues, associated challenges, and the potential impact of ICT and Art collaboration on science, technology, art, education and society in general.
  • Internet Science, a network of excellence coordinated by CERTH, strengthening scientific and technological excellence by developing an integrated and interdisciplinary scientific understanding of Internet networks and their co-evolution with society.
  • CATALYST and CAP2020 (2013-2015), coordinated by Sigma Orionis and addressing how emerging “collective awareness platforms for sustainability and social innovation” can, in particular through collective intelligence, contribute increasing the impact of grassroots initiatives addressing societal challenges (see also our blog “Can CAPS change the world?”).

Roger Torrenti – CEO of Sigma Orionis – RRI-ICT Forum Coordinator

1 How to go about RRI and SSH in ICT-related parts of H2020 WP14-15 – European Commission – 2013

Should international cooperation in research and innovation be developed?

May 25, 2015

International-cooperation_H2020_Sigma-OrionisOver the last 15 years, Sigma Orionis has had the privilege and opportunity to coordinate or take part in a wide variety of activities designed to strengthen scientific and technological (S&T) cooperation in the fields of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) with other countries and regions around the world (particularly in the context of projects supported by the European Commission via its framework programme for research and development).

The experience garnered by Sigma Orionis concerns industrialised countries (the United States, Japan, South Korea, etc.) and emerging economies (China, India, South Africa, Singapore, etc.) as well as developing countries (South-East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, etc.).

Sigma Orionis has been able to draw numerous overwhelmingly positive conclusions from these activities, as invariably they allowed us to:

  • promote the excellence of European research and attract talents from third countries,
  • efficiently support European external policy,
  • build partnerships that allow research topics with an international impact to be treated more efficiently,
  • open certain local markets up to European stakeholders,
  • move European research forward, not only from the interaction with stakeholders from developed countries, but also with stakeholders from less or little developed countries, where fewer means can often result in particularly innovative solutions that can be a source of inspiration for European research (‘reverse innovation’),
  • develop a growing ecosystem of stakeholders able to effectively meet the global challenges of our times.

These conclusions serve to highlight the inevitable emergence of globalised research and to encourage further intensive international cooperation, despite the difficult economic context Europe currently faces.

With this in mind, we can only express our delight that the new European framework programme for research and innovation, Horizon 2020, reasserted1 the fact that ambitious international cooperation remains a key aspect of the programme.

The current economic climate naturally demands increased austerity which will probably result in a positive impact as it will encourage the systematic application of measures that are valid for any international cooperation project, such as:

  • careful selection of the region or country concerned according to the considered research programme and its strategic priorities,
  • precise evaluation of the expected shared risks and benefits inherent to this type of cooperation (in the short and longer term) while maintaining high standards and remaining selective,
  • finally, the systematic promotion of reciprocal access for European players in research and innovation in the country/region in question.

A new phase in S&T cooperation is dawning, particularly in the field of ICT, an area that holds increasing importance for societies around the world. Sigma Orionis is determined to maintain its position as a key player in this exciting new phase, particularly via its recently launched projects (see the ‘News’ section of this site): ECIAO, SmartFIRE, MED-DIALOGUE, CHOICE, etc.

Ref 1: European Commission’s Communication COM (2012)497 “Enhancing and focusing EU international cooperation in research and innovation: a strategic approach”

Roger Torrenti, Karine Valin, Camille Torrenti

ICT: 30 years ago – in 30 years from now

March 18, 2015

ben-alapointeSigma Orionis has always taken great care to be “on the cutting edge” (as the artist Ben kindly confirmed it in the early 1990s through his painting illustrating this blog), especially regarding its office equipment, and this to achieve high performance levels in our research and studies, to attract the finest talents, to serve our image, etc.

Sigma Orionis was founded in 1984, which obviously evokes George Orwell’s famous novel and his premonitory Big Brother, and the very same year when Apple launched its first Macintosh (the 128K)!

This was a time when we still used typewriters (and carbon paper!), when we sometimes fed punch cards into “big computers”, when fax and even telex machines were still scarce and mobile phones not yet invented, when we had to visit university libraries to order the books we wanted to read, when we waited days if not weeks for answers to our mail (by post!)…

Considerable progress has obviously been made in 30 years in the area we now call “ICT” (Information and Communication Technologies), a progress punctuated with the appearance of terms, some of which are already forgotten or outdated: multimedia, “intelligence” (of sensors, buildings, etc.), Minitel, information highways, wireless, ubiquity, etc. Such advances most often proved to be unpredictable and disruptive, well-known characteristics of innovation in ICT.

But the outcome of these developments in the field of “business” can in fact be caricatured by a mere “contraction of time”, whose advantage must be (more) accurately measured.

Today, we can conduct research or studies faster (always) than before, more effectively (sometimes), in a more competitive environment (especially because of, or thanks to progress in ICT) but all that for the price of increasing time pressure and working conditions which have not necessarily improved.

I can remember very high-quality research and studies in the late 1980s without ICT support performed less quickly but in more pleasant conditions than today…

In this context, are we witnessing doubts or new corporate trends? Finding solutions to the growing tyranny of e-mails and social media? Returning to ways of working more conducive to creativity, not limited exclusively to time spent in front of a screen? Finding interest in “unconnected” moments?

What will ICT be in 30 years from now? In addition to some technological advances we can announce with some degree of certainty (ever-increasing speed, storage capacity, ubiquity, etc), it is obviously hard to anticipate the development of applications and services, these unpredictable changes which will appear as a revolution, once again in 30 years …

Beyond that, we can wonder if the current trends evoked above will be confirmed. What if we were now in a transitional period between “blindly enthusiastic” reception of any progress in ICT and “more reasonable acceptance” of innovation in ITC, more in line with other societal trends towards a “better living”, more sober, more balanced, more sustainable?

This question, among others, will surely be asked in the open seminar we will organize in Brussels in 2014, on the occasion of our 30th anniversary, on the theme “ICT 30 years ago – ICT in 30 years from now.”

Can CAPS change the world ?

January 15, 2015

Blog_Sigma-Orionis_CAPSCan information and communication technologies (ICT) contribute to a more sustainable world, a “better world”, characterised by more controlled economic and financial models, by more ambitious solutions to the environmental challenges, and a significant reduction in social inequality?

This question, based on the vision of a desirable if unlikely societal paradigm, was central to the PARADISO project, supported by the European Commission and involving the Club of Rome, that Sigma Orionis had the privilege of coordinating from 2007 to 2011. Towards the end of the project, at the instigation of the Scientific Officer supervising the project, Dr Fabrizio Sestini1, a potential avenue appeared and was incorporated into the programme for the final PARADISO conference: “Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability and Social Innovation” (CAPS).

These CAPS can be briefly described as non-commercial, open Internet platforms, connecting citizens to each other (and to the “Internet of Things” whenever necessary) and enabling them:

  • to access information, leading in particular to an improved awareness of issues and challenges,
  • to share their knowledge and join forces more effectively: participatory approach, collective intelligence, collaborative decisions, crowdsourcing,
  • eventually to act more efficiently, individually or collectively, to develop innovative solutions adapted to the social, economic and environmental challenges that are facing our societies.

CAPS can be considered as (grassroots) thematic social networks and online communities such as Purpose, Changemakers and Imagination for people are probably today’s forerunners. Their potential impact is however greater than just that of simple social networks. CAPS can help change the world and contribute to a more sustainable planet.

Indeed, the world can be changed by increasing policy decisions (top-down) and local actions (bottom-up). In the case of the latter, CAPS have the intrinsic ability, through the existence of efficient ICT networks and platforms, to connect, support, promote and increase local initiatives and thus reach such a scale that policy makers are forced to take their “movement” into account (namely in reference to the Lisbon Treaty when a petition can collect at least 1 million signatures).

At the last FP7 ICT call, 10 CAPS projects were selected, including an Integrated Project that will issue open calls designed to fund innovative initiatives. All these projects are set to begin around 1st October 2013.

Sigma Orionis will coordinate two of these projects:

  • A support initiative (CAP2020) that aims to promote consultation between all the projects selected and organise an annual international CAPS conference,
  • A research project (CATALYST) involving major online communities and focused on the issue of collective intelligence.

Over the next two years, it is therefore likely that we will not only need to evaluate the results obtained by each CAPS project, but also to answer the question asked in the title.

Ref : « Collective Awareness Platforms : Engines for Sustainability and Ethics » – Dr Fabrizio Sestini – IEEE Technology and Society magazine – Winter 2012

Become an entrepreneur?

November 22, 2014

Blog_SigmaOrionis_EntrepreneurAs a student engineer at the Ecole Centrale in Paris, I was lucky enough to be taught by some excellent professors. Our economics professor was Yvon Gattaz, who later became president of the National Council of French Employers (CNPF, today the MEDEF). One day he spoke at length about entrepreneurship and mentioned the “Gattaz recipe”: “You need just a bit of funding and some skills to create a company, but you also need a lot of courage and madness…”

I didn’t pay that much attention. It was the late 1970s, right in the middle of the oil crisis, and my ambition wasn’t to create a company but to help find solutions to this crisis through research and innovation, ideally to ensure a better future for the world… My bedtime reading was “The Limits to Growth” the report written by MIT and commissioned by the Club of Rome.

My chance came at the age of 26, when Senator Pierre Laffitte, the gentleman who created Sophia Antipolis, asked me to lead a research team in this “international city of wisdom, science and technology”. An exciting experience, conducted with other pioneers of Sophia Antipolis, all driven by ideals and a desire for “cross-fertilisation”.

After four years, I decided to create Sigma Orionis, convinced that it was possible through studies, research and consultancies, to speed up the research-innovation-market process, particularly in the then emerging field of information and communication technologies.

I wasn’t aiming to get rich by creating this company: that doesn’t happen when you sell your labour time. I was motivated by the freedom to act, by this great satisfaction of going in the direction that I alone chose. I then discovered the many other pleasures in developing and managing a company such as creating jobs, and contributing to the constant (economic) motion of our societies. That of surrounding oneself with people you’ve chosen and with whom you can develop a team spirit and share values. That of greater success than others because you’ve taken more risks by becoming involved in these projects, or because your success exceeds your hopes and even your dreams…

Has it been smooth sailing over the last 30 years? No, of course not, every company has its share of disappointments, failures and all kinds of difficulties and because, for the entrepreneur, moments of calm, serenity and peace are quite rare…

As we approached the celebration of 30 years, I asked myself what if I had to do it all again? Would I have been better off pursuing my intended career in research or industry? Instinctively and after careful consideration, my conclusion is the same. I feel like 30 years ago I was chosen to climb a mountain by a new path, different from the well-trodden paths. The climb has been risky and difficult, but the feeling on arriving at the top is so strong… and yet there are still so many other mountains to climb.

The famous mountain climber, Gaston Rébuffat, who one day was asked: “Why climb mountains?” gave another, even more convincing response about the motivations of the entrepreneur: “Simply because they are there!”

Philosophy and management

September 20, 2014

blog-philosophy-managementPhilosophy may be defined as an intellectual exercise, nourished from external sources, involving conjecture, asking questions, challenging certitudes, weighing pros and cons, assessing options… This exercise helps keep an open mind, be more tolerant, better understand and accept various situations. Another thing one can like about philosophy is the appeasement it brings, leading adepts to greater wisdom and serenity, helping them find their way, a new direction, a meaning to their lives.

Management entails leading teams, accompanying them in corporate projects and professional adventures, and experiencing with them moments of euphoria and other more difficult periods. You can love management because you love freedom and risk, following a path in which you believe; because you enjoy leading a team on the path to success or protecting it from defeat; because management suits your solitude.

Disinterested in-depth reflection, bearing on the long term and inviting to philosophical consideration, is rare in today’s business world, often faced with the constraints of profitability and short-term issues and deadlines. Philosophers’ teachings can be useful, however, in managing projects, teams and businesses. In recent years, I have often had recourse to philosophical approaches to share doubts and assertions with my staff. Here, I give just one example: “Thales, a Well and Olives”… I have enjoyed developing many more parallels: Buridan’s ass and crossing the Rubicon; the White Bull, Ariadne and Icarus; Sisyphus and his boulder; etc. I plan to compile these philosophical tales and post them online, to make them available to everyone on this website, for the simple pleasure of sharing.

Thales, a Well and Olives

Philosophical reference
Plato’s Theaetetus recounts how the famous philosopher and mathematician Thales of Miletus (early 6th century BCE), while gazing at the stars and studying their movements, fell into a well. A servant girl mocked the man who sought to understand what was above his head, but was unable to see what was under his feet. In his Letter to Jarig Jelles, Spinoza added that Thales, exasperated by his friends’ remarks on the futility of philosophical thought, showed them how it could be used to acquire wealth (which was of no interest to him). Having anticipated through his knowledge of climate and the stars that the next olive harvest would be exceptional, he reserved all the presses in Greece for a good price then, at the time of harvest, rented them at a much higher rate, thereby accumulating great wealth…

Parallel with management
It is important for a company’s survival and development to be able to take stock and try to better understand the business environment, anticipate changes in this environment, undertake research whose results are not expected in the short term, develop strategic (reflection) marketing, with “one’s head in the stars.” This is the condition for being able to invest at the right time, like Thales and his oil presses, avoid any decline in activity, anticipate future risks correctly. This said, it is also important to “keep one’s feet on the ground” and avoid falling into one of the many wells along the path of a company: miscalculated budgetary needs, excessive dependence on a client or group of clients, problems with ethics or quality having disastrous repercussions, poor internal or external communication, etc. The need for long-term reflection and rigorous daily management must be combined…

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