Opening up the road to success

In this month's interview piece, James Baker, managing director of BAE Systems' Advanced Technology Centre, advocates what he terms 'open innovation', whereby companies such as his could benefit from a more flexible approach to collaboration with external agencies such as academia and SME's.

Of course, proposals to collaborate are not new things. It is fairly common to hear companies claim they collaborate effectively with others. What is unusual about Mr Baker's idea, however, is that he proposes surrendering some of the knowledge, technology and skills that BAE has developed in order to achieve greater commercial benefit. To many people nurtured in an environment where such knowledge and intellectual property are regarded as the crown jewels of the business, such an approach must seem baffling. However, as Mr Baker points out, "100% of nothing is nothing". In other words, intellectual property is only valuable if you can make it commercially successful. Thus, he believes, it makes more sense to surrender some intellectual property to ensure success than to risk sacrificing success in favour of retaining intellectual property. And, he argues, by tapping into the wealth of ideas outside BAE Systems, he can ensure that the company stays in the lead both technologically and financially. Put like that, of course, such an argument would appear to make sense. However, such collaboration is easier said than done. It relies on finding the right partner(s), each partner's strength complementing those of the others and all parties being prepared to deal honestly and openly with one another. With those caveats in place, however, Mr Baker's argument that it no longer makes sense for a single company to work in isolation is a powerful and persuasive one.