OIT Times: OIT Customers Speak Out!
March 21, 2000
OIT got an earful from its industrial customers on February 16thnd that precisely what OIT had in mind. OIT designed its 3rd Biennial Customer Day to get frank feedback on how it might improve its products and services to industry. More than 200 invited customers who attended the one-day event in Washington candidly shared their viewpoints, criticisms, and suggestions in sessions held throughout the day.
e know wee doing a good job in a lot of critical areas,said Denise Swink, DOE Deputy Assistant Secretary for Industrial Technologies, ut we also know we can do some things better that will make it easier to work with us.Indeed, the Industries of the Future process has been held as a model for government-industry partnerships but OIT seeks continuous improvement. e need to hear your experiences and ideas so we can improve the partnering process,Swink explained. She noted that recent customer interviews had shown increased satisfaction in a number of areas, but had indicated the need to improve the handling of intellectual property and contract management. Representatives from DOE procurement offices attended the sessions to hear customer concerns and suggestions. ou can expect a full response from us to each of the issues raised during the sessions,Swink pledged.
The breakout sessions targeted eight topic areas that are summarized below. Lively dialog and criticisms were softened by praise for the overall OIT program and strategy. OIT customers experienced in each of the topic areas provided briefings while facilitators led the feedback discussions.
Those who attended the sessions on Financial Assistance and Administrative Processes expressed concern over safeguards for intellectual property as well as frustration with the confusing and burdensome process and administrative requirements of contracting. The needs and concerns of industrial companies in these areas were found to vary considerably with the size of the company and type of project. Greater flexibility, better guidance, faster contract processing, simpler contract language, and a more uniform level of service by the field procurement offices would all make the contracting process less difficult for industry.
With the 2001 OIT Expo less than a year away, customers provided timely thoughts on the planning process. Customer input led to the selection of Eamonn Fingleton, internationally renowned author of In Praise of Hard Industries, as keynote speaker. Participants also suggested program emphasis areas such as the future of American manufacturing, promising technologies with impacts throughout industry, and tying energy efficiency to your business strategy. The other half of this session sought Feedback on BestPractices, OIT recently revamped program to deliver near term benefits to industry. Discussions centered on the need to establish a steering committee and develop a meaningful plant-wide recognition program.
The session on the State-Level Industries of the Future initiative identified the various benefits and hurdles encountered by current state-level activities. The group determined the single greatest need was to develop a mechanism to provide matching funds that would help states move beyond the planning stage (funded by State Energy Program grants) to substantive state-level IOF activities and partnerships.
In exploring the prospect of Working with the National Laboratories, participants from large companies identified the biggest impediments as concerns over the protection of intellectual property, the costs involved, and unfamiliarity with lab capabilities and procedures. Smaller companies felt that the labsexpected cost share was a barrier to partnerships and perceived them as posing unfair competition for small research laboratories. Other factors hindering lab use include location, inter-lab competition, and the perception that they are just concerned with energy.
Another session considered How to Take Advantage of Multiple OIT Products and Services. Participants determined that technical and information needs vary considerably with the size of the company and level of personnel. OIT needs to develop a comprehensive marketing plan that addresses these different levels among and within firms (especially top management) and involves architectural, engineering, and design firms; state offices and agencies; and trade associations. Case studies were suggested as an effective marketing tool.
The benefits and risks associated with Hosting a Technology Showcase were discussed and assessed. Participants expressed concern over the protection of proprietary information, participant safety, and potential plant disruptions. Experienced hosts answered most of these concerns and identified a range of expected and unexpected benefits, including heightened employee morale and an enhanced public image. To stimulate interest in new showcases, OIT will need to demonstrate their value to the potential host company, perhaps by documenting the experiences of past hosts.
Sessions on Industries of the Future Partnerships: Reaching for the Next Level addressed each of OIT nine partner industries. The benefits emerging from these partnerships and the secrets of success discussed in these sessions amounted to a resounding endorsement for the Industries of the Future approach. Recommended areas for possible improvement include:
- streamlining the procurement process
- maintaining continuity in partnership goals (despite changes in administrations and initiatives)
- integrating the process across industries, OIT, and other
- agencies to capture wider benefits
- focusing on top corporate commitment
- better and earlier planning for technology commercialization
- lower cost shares for smaller companies
- a stronger education and training component, and
- recognition of the informal benefits of partnership
Denise Swink and the rest of OIT are grateful for the time and thought invested by all those who attended Customer Day. Their insight and dedication is propelling the Industries of the Future to the next level. The staff is eager to respond to all the recommendations, so stay tuned for a full accounting and some meaningful improvements.