[We’re pleased to welcome authors Poul Andersen of Aalborg University, Denmark and Susanne Åberg of Uppsala University, Sweden. Andersen and Åberg recently published an article in the Competition and Change entitled “Big-science organizations as lead users: A case study of CERN,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Andersen reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]
What kind of customer is CERN – the leading research organization for nuclear research in Europe – and what can a supplier learn from collaborating with them? In this paper we pursue questions that was originally raised by Susanne Åberg – one of the authors – during her study of collaboration between CERN and Swedish suppliers (see Åberg, S. (2013). Science in business interaction: A study of the collaboration between CERN and Swedish companies (Doctoral dissertation, Företagsekonomiska institutionen, Uppsala Universitet. The dissertation can be downloaded, using this link: http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:575589/FULLTEXT01.pdf).
In the paper, forthcoming in Competition and Change, we pose the question: What characterizes interacting with big-science organizations as lead users and how does it impact on suppliers’ potential innovation benefits?
We depart from Von Hippel’s Lead user concept to scrutinize user-supplier interaction and learning. We find that the lead-userness of CERN differs from other lead users on a number of vital points. Big-science organizations (BSOs), such as CERN represent a special breed of lead users as their demands are not necessarily the avant-garde of a coming market. Yet, they may be leading in other ways: they provide a valuable test bed for suppliers, because they are pushing the boundaries of technological capacities and thus challenging suppliers’ talents. Also, they are prestigious collaboration partners that help producers to be acknowledged as being at the technology forefront. Moreover, they are often deeply engaged in their suppliers’ manufacturing and development activities, which is seen as a characteristic of the customer-active paradigm, upon which the lead user notion builds. This paper investigates whether and how interacting with CERN concerning their development needs may contribute to suppliers’ innovation.
We believe that both managers and designers of innovation policy may learn from our study. Viewing CERN and other BSOs as lead users change the traditional science-push perspective on knowledge dissemination from leading science. Managers considering engaging with CERN and other BSOs can also learn more about potential benefits and challenges from engaging with customers such as CERN.