Technology and innovation advisory services are “services provided directly by specialists, particularly to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to support and stimulate improvements in business operations including productivity, efficiency, production, quality, waste reduction, information technology, and logistics” (Nesta).

How do they work?

The services are often intermediary broker organisations that foster interactions between experts with significant industry experience who provide technology and innovation services and SMEs. The intermediary organisation uses a ‘brokering’ approach where, after diagnosis, the advisory specialist refers the SME to a third-party external provider who delivers the necessary services. The frequent interactions between the advisory professional and SMEs aim to build trust and the transfer of highly tacit and experiential knowledge to foster technology and innovation modernisation and upgrading (Shapira and Youtie).

What are the benefits?

The policy rationale for offering regional technology and innovation advisory services is that SMEs typically face a series of challenges—lack of capital and internal capabilities to engage with external sources of expertise—that can hinder their efforts to upgrade and adopt modern technologies and implement innovations in products, processes, and services (Shapira and Youtie).

Technology and innovation advisory services can undertake multiple actions aiming to address diverse policy challenges and outcomes (see Table 1).

Inputs and actions
Intermediate outputs
Business outcomes
Broader outcomes

● Initial matchmaking
with sources of expertise.
● Diagnostic, benchmarking and other advisory services.
● Project scoping and
development.
● Referral to other qualified public and private sources of assistance.
● Access to sources of project finance (public or other programmes).
● Investment of company’s own resources (money, people) in project development.

● Enhanced innovation
strategy.
● Investment in process or facility improvements.
● Acquisition of new
technology.
● New product or service development initiated.
● Training and skills
development.
● Access to financing.
● New supplier, customer, vendor relationships.
● Increased collaboration
with universities, technology centres, private experts.

● Improved workforce
productivity.
● New sales, including new export sales.
● Cost savings.
● Reduced waste.
● Improved quality.
● New products or services launched in the market.
● Jobs created or retained.
● Improved profitability.

● Enhanced contribution to regional and national gross value added.
● Strengthening of industrial sectors and clusters.
● Improvements in sector, regional and national innovation capabilities.
● Enhanced regional and national industrial competitiveness.
● Greater coordination and effectiveness of private and public business support services.

Table 1. Technology and innovation advisory services – typical intervention logic. Source: Nesta.

Many Interreg Europe partners have learned from each other to develop and deliver better policies regarding regional technology and innovation advisory services. They have learned from Interreg Europe good practices, which are successful initiatives with tangible and measurable results that have the potential to be transferred to regions, introducing durable impacts on local innovation policies.

What have they learned about the possibilities of technology and innoavtion advisory services?

  • It can facilite SMEs to adopt Industry 4.0

In SMARTY, the Future Industry Platform supports the diffusion of Industry 4.0 technologies and processes in SMEs in Poland. The Polish Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology launched the Future Industry Platform to promote digital transformation, the implementation of digital services and products, and new business models.

In addition to offering a knowledge hub, capacity-building training, and promoting collaboration, the initiative offers technology and innovation advisory services. Indeed, the Future Industry Platform provides an Industry 4.0 assessment tool, a company audit, and access to Industry 4.0 experts to accelerate the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies and processes in Polish SMEs.

Piotr Dylewski works for the Office of the Marshal of the Mazowieckie Voivodeship in Warsaw. He points out that from the outset, the Future Industry Platform activities have been strongly focused on building SMEs' awareness of the opportunities offered by Industry 4.0. Given the still low level of digitisation and technology adoption in this sector, open training and real-time technology demonstrations contribute to stimulating interest in new technologies and translate directly into a greater willingness to start industrial transformation. The main message is: “I really can change my business today to become more competitive”.

  • It can promote R&D activities

In HIGHER, the Lithuanian Innovation Centre has designed National innovation consultancy services to promote research and development (R&D) activities in private companies in Lithuania. Private companies often have lack of incentives to engage in R&D activities due to the difficulties to fully appropriate the returns on their R&D investments and to the difficulties to access funding. Using a network of public institutions, science and technology parks, and business associations, the Lithuanian agency of science, technology and innovation offers two programs: InoSpurt and InoLink, that provide innovation and R&D consulting advisory and support services to SMEs.

Mantas Vilys from the Lithuanian Innovation Centre, highlights that the public sector can boost R&D and Innovation through grants and financial supports. This rationale was pursued in many regions with variable success. It is not only about the “pill” of financial support, but also the “advice of a personal physician” that can guarantee the growth and sustainability of a “patient” – business.

The national innovation consultancy services illustrate a successful attempt to build a systemic R&D&I support advisory service for SMEs in Lithuania. Diagnostic tools are used to identify main bottlenecks for innovation and a tailor-made action plan is prepared for every SME by highly experienced advisors that help throughout its implementation, with impartial and unbiased advice. Such SME journey leads not only to more efficient R&D but also to more competitive enterprises.

  • It can reduce transaction costs

In INNOTRANS, the One Stop Liaison Office (OSLO) is an advisory support service to foster entrepreneurship and university-industry collaboration in Central Macedonia's innovation ecosystem, Greece. OSLO aims to facilitate university-industry collaboration by offering specialised services such as networking and funding opportunities, access to specialised skills, personalised services, and events. The main objectives are to accelerate the innovation process by reducing administrative burdens and thus transaction costs for innovative actors.

OSLO has a key role in the framework of the regional Smart Specialisation Strategy of Central Macedonia, by fostering a continuous entrepreneurial discovery process (EDP). The adopted approach for EDP was inspired by Abruzzo Region (Italy) and its continuous EDP. Meanwhile, the Cross-Border Smart Specialization Strategy of Galicia & Northern Portugal (RIS3T) inspired Central Macedonia on how to capitalise on interregional partnership experiences. Finally, Catalonian RIS3 Monitoring System demonstrated how to involve the quadruple helix into the monitoring RIS3 process.

Recommendations

From their expertise, Piotr Dylewski and Mantas Vilys, give recommendations for policymakers to design better technological and innovation advisory services:

  • According to Piotr Dylewski, advisory services should primarily be adapted to the needs and specific characteristics of the local market. The regional offer should be designed in such a way as to provide support throughout the whole company’s ‘transformation journey’. It means building awareness and then provide comprehensive support in subsequent transformation stages: from the digital maturity assessment, technology audits, through the development of digital transformation roadmap, skills and training, to access to infrastructures and support in financing.
  • According to Mantas Vilys, first, it is important to apply client (SME) centric design principles that build on the client journey paradigm, highlighting the dynamism and systemic nature of the support process. Second, it is important to take advantage of the expertise that exists in the national/regional innovation ecosystem, leveraging this expertise and connecting it into the service delivery system that also must be connected to the innovation support global value chains and networks. Finally, it is crucial to be patient – as it takes time to create and succeed with it. Improvement of services should be based on continuous and systemic feedback provided by SMEs and policymakers.
Photo credit: wutzkoh on envato elements.