Old Industries Welcome in New; Super Agency; Professor Fabian Monds, the New Shadow Chairman of Invest Northern Ireland, Talks to PAUL McKILLION about Its Formation and Responds to the Criticism That SMEs Could Be Losing out Because of the Failure of Government Internet Programmes He Oversees

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul McKillion

IT IS just five weeks ago that Professor Monds and seven members of the shadow board of Invest Northern Ireland were appointed.

So while there is nothing earth-shattering in the news that work is continuing on INI's three priorities - finding a chief executive, mapping out the infrastructure of the new body, and drawing up a corporate plan - Professor Monds can provide some insight into his vision of Invest Northern Ireland.

``The challenge is to maintain continuity of performance across the agencies and on other hand exploit synergies that are going to result from breaking down the barriers between the agencies,'' he said.

While disagreeing on the ``terminology'' that INI is about breaking down the agencies to meld them into one, he says the opportunity is there for skills to be pooled in developing a competitive, knowledge-based economy.

He says he is struck by the potential of key staff members in each of the bodies to do that.

``With the Information Age and knowledge-based economy the issues are not confined to any one agency. In terms of people, at several levels across the agencies, we have a really good grasp of the implications of the knowledge-based economy.''

He adds: ``The nature of business is changing - you don't have to be large to be global, don't have to be large to be technological.

"So in those circumstances, it is about thinking about the re-usability of expertise. People talk about software usability, applying it across a whole range of applications.

``Similarly the expertise that exists in agencies is certainly applicable right across the agencies.''

Professor Monds also emphasises that all sectors of the economy can contribute.

On the recent glut of good news textiles and clothing industry stories, he says it ``more than demonstrates in a global, knowledge based economy, how added value can create employment.''

The work going into the regionalisation of INI remains strictly off the record for now but broadly speaking, work is ongoing on how to ensure the ``good coverage from the existing Ledu performance'' is maintained and added to with the capabilities of the other agencies.

Professor Monds says because of one of the overall features of the knowledge based economy is that distance is less critical, he hopes to see good results coming from the combination a good telecoms infrastructure and excellent higher and further education.

``For example 10 -15 years ago we did not have a research and development infrastructure. Now we have 60 companies engaged in pre-competitive research, 500-600 companies in product base research, a Science Park programme, incubators across Northern Ireland, and Further Education institutions becoming more and more linked to the local economy ``It seems to me that we now have a network of research and development centres of excellence... one of the things the new agency can do is work with that and develop that network.''

As with the good news on the textiles and clothing front, recent weeks has also seen major commitment of venture capital funding in local companies. …