Mrs Baillie, what adaptations has Luxinnovation made during the crisis?
“Very early on, we set up webinars and deployed digital tools, whereas previously we mainly operated with physical travel. And in the end, we noticed that we improved both our presence and our content production.
This way of functioning is much more effective for making ourselves known, building relationships with other players and capturing information. During the confinement, we offered webinars on crucial topics such as cybersecurity and industry 4.0. Today, we have a continuous presence and high quality content.
We have discussed our different approaches with our partners in TAFTIE, the network of innovation agencies, and exchanged on the tools implemented locally and on how innovation agencies have reacted. This gave us the opportunity to present our approach, and the reactions were very encouraging. We got a lot of positive feedback on our actions.
Our teams have obviously switched to teleworking, which has worked well. 40% of our employees are cross-border commuters. It meant the end of traffic jams for them! But the real problem with teleworking, in the longer term, is the issue of taxation.
Have new forms of cooperation emerged?
“Luxinnovation participated in the ‘Research Task Force’, together with the Ministry of Research, the CEOs of the public research centres, the university and the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine. The task force was set up at the initiative of the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) and we met via Webex every week.
We set up a structure to address 13 areas: health, data, supply chains, socio-economic impacts, etc. Statec also contributed by providing us with data.
The collaboration within the Task Force went very well. We had an open climate where questions could be asked and ideas were freely expressed. This made it possible to benefit from our complementary skills and knowledge. We functioned well together during the crisis and contributed to providing the government with data and ideas.
Another example of collaboration concerns personal protective equipment (PPE). Very quickly, questions emerged about who could produce PPE, and what organisation had what type of skills. Individuals contacted us. This was uncharted territory for us. How could certification be managed? How could the contact with the Ministry of Health be maintained without hindering their crisis management? We had to exchange ideas and offer to help without imposing ourselves.
Then a dedicated platform was set up.
During the COVID episode, did any new vulnerabilities and strengths emerge?
“Let’s start with the strengths. Luxembourg’s agility, direct connections and possibilities to take shortcuts are an advantage for establishing direct links and for confronting different points of view and skills. The Ministry of the Economy remained very accessible during the crisis, in particular for companies, and was able to listen to the players out on the field.
Another illustration of the direct links and good collaboration concerns the world of research. In Luxembourg, research centres and the university can easily meet and work together. And we have seen more pooling and collaborative research emerge. For example, the large scale testing was launched very early. Luxembourg is a test lab.
We understood that the only way to control the epidemic was to test the entire population. Luxembourg was able to do it, and we did it. But it wasn’t as simple as it sounds. There were constraints, but we were able to overcome them and the initiative was launched.
Our dependence on global markets and on production in Asia as well as the fragility of our supply chains are obviously some of the new vulnerabilities identified. We need to further stimulate local and European production, by getting connected and better using digitalisation.
It is not a matter of closing ourselves in, but of better exploring opportunities that are geographically closer. Companies have done this, and they have understood the importance of having a plan B in their supply chains. It is necessary to have other options. Nevertheless, the cheapest markets will always be attractive. This is an economic reality.
On this subject, one idea to be developed would be to use big data to follow supply chain flows across different sectors. For example, it would be very useful for the health sector to be able to follow where the products come from, see who all the players involved are, and identify the obligatory passages of these products. This information could be available on a dashbord that would allow us to see clearly the impact of various events on supply chains. This would make our vulnerabilities visible, especially in an unstable geopolitical context.
We are currently discussing this idea with companies. We have a good diversity of players that would enable us to meet this challenge.
What major trends do you observe at Luxinnovation?
“One major trend is digitalisation: digital processes in companies, artificial intelligence, industry 4.0, and so on. However, there is a discrepancy between the opportunities that companies themselves immediately see and the full potential. Our teams are working hard on highlighting the full range of opportunities for companies.
Other trends include regionalisation, globalisation and smart supply chains. We can also note that environmental issues are not yet sufficiently on the agenda. However, at Luxinnovation, this is a priority topic, notably with European programmes and awareness raising actions. I am convinced that we can stimulate opportunities by taking into account the limitation of natural resources.
For example, the Luxembourg Wood Cluster has realised that local wood is exported to China when it could be used at home.
The strategy of the Ministry of the Economy is very important for us. It provides guidance, and time targets should be given to make it even more effective.”