posted 26 Oct 2007 in Volume 11 Issue 3
The Knowledge: Ahmed Bounfour
By Rob Buckley
People have many reasons for being interested in knowledge management and intellectual capital. For some, it’s an academic exercise. For others, it’s commercial – a way of making them or their company more profitable and more successful.
For Professor Ahmed Bounfour, European Chair on Intellectual Capital Management at the University Paris-Sud, vice president of the New Club of Paris and one of the privileged few to be listed in the French ‘Who’s Who’, knowledge management is an engine for social advancement. In fact, he claims that the proper use of intellectual capital can change the world.
The co-editor of Intellectual Capital for Communities, Nations, Regions and Cities, Bounfour is interested in how governments and organisations in rich and poor countries alike can use intellectual capital. He argues that, if intangibles and intellectual capital are important to the private sector, they are also important to the productivity and competitiveness of the public sector, and so to communities and nations as a whole.
Countries like Japan that have a shrinking demographic can use intellectual capital to remain innovative, he argues, while countries in the developing world that have a large number of educated young people need to find new ways to advance their economies. “The knowledge divides within and among countries, on a global scale, is a major issue. Intellectual capital can contribute to defining and prototyping new policy instruments with governments, communities and local authorities,” he says.
Professor Bounfour’s arrival in the field of intellectual capital was by no means a sudden affair. After graduating in economics from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, Bounfour went on to take a PhD in economics and strategic management from the
It was an area he was to return to in 1994 when he presented a paper to AIMS (Association Internationale de Management Stratégique), whose 700-odd members come from French-speaking countries including
This paper also marked his return to the world of academia and research. Bounfour had spent the best part of a decade working for private sector organisations such as Euroconsult, where he was director for high-tech programmes, which placed him in charge of telecommunications and earth observation projects. Working for high-tech industries was “very valuable”, says Bounfour: “It made me more concretely aware of the importance of IT, but made me aware something was missing – the ‘complementary arts’.”
The ‘complementary arts’, according to Bounfour, include marketing and branding, and the challenge, he says, is to do them well and uniquely, That’s where intangibles such as intellectual capital come into importance. His 1994 paper, which marked out his new research agenda as associate professor for innovation policy and strategic management at the University of Marne-La-Vallée, showed how similar things were important to the automotive industry.
“The automotive industry is now far more intellectually oriented: it’s more about design and marketing,” he says. “Now there are problems with oil consumption and gas emissions, so if you want to sell a car, you need to be good in marketing and design,” he says.
The world of academia, however, is Bounfour’s preferred area of employment. Describing himself as “fundamentally a researcher”, he regards university as a “good space for doing research, liberty, freedom, thinking and working”.
Nevertheless, he maintains connections to industries and companies and continues to do research for them. Together with colleagues, he answered a call for tenders from the European Commission, won the bid and helped devise a method for measuring the effect of the single market on intellectual capital. He’s also working with CIOs in
Bounfour is keen to emphasis the need for practicality in everything. “I’m very convinced that good theory is the theory of practice and therefore we need to build all the time a bridge. We need to go to companies and discuss with managers and educate people. Universities need to go in and identify issues and discuss with them how to define concepts and implement them.” Indeed, while “fundamentally a researcher”, he regards that as more than an ivory tower job, with the researcher “in a bubble”: a researcher needs to go out into the field, he says.
“I cannot define myself as a consultant,” he says. “I’m not doing that. I have done that job. I am a researcher. A researcher is someone who is able to take conceptual frameworks and make a bridge between theory and practice.”
To build that bridge, Bounfour is heavily involved in creating instruments for measuring intellectual capital. He developed the IC-dVAL - Intellectual Capital dynamic Value – which integrates four dimensions and defines metrics for dynamically measuring intellectual capital. It has been applied to the evaluation of assets and performance of different organisations, especially those of knowledge-intensive content.
Through the calculation of different indexes and assets valuation, the IC-dVAL can clarify the relationship between input and output, which is one of the most difficult to tackle for intangibles. It also provides ways of dealing with intangibles management and to measure the impact of research and development programmes on competitiveness.
He’s also involved in various journals, including; the Journal of Intellectual Capital, the Journal of Knowledge Management, the International Journal of Technology Management, the International Journal of Intelligent Enterprise (IJIF), Management Decision, R&D Management, Revue Française de Gestion, and Systèmes D’Information et Management.
But it is as vice-president for R&D at the New Club of Paris, an association of scientists and “intellect entrepreneurs”, dedicated to research and promoting the transformation of societies and economies into ones based on knowledge, that Bounfour’s ideas see their greatest expression.
“More and more value is being created at the frontiers of companies where there are networks of interests,” he says. “We’re no longer dealing with very large vertical organisations. Therefore, the questions of communities is very, very important to understanding what happens outside companies.”
For that, a very strong theoretical basis is needed, Bounfour argues, as well as instruments for both organisations and policy-makers to measure the value in these networks.”
Bounfour sees interest in this community-related intellectual capital management around the world. Countries such as
“People are aware of the importance of the subject,” he says. “But there is still the problem of how to tackle it. In
“What we need is to go to one company and say ‘yes, if you build an intellectual capital strategy, then we can leverage something and measure it in a very complete way.’ That’s very reasonable, especially if the company is in an international market.”
Bounfour’s ambitions for the immediate future are typically big: he wants to increase awareness of the subject and “contribute to intellectual dialogues between countries and civilisations.” In particular, he’d like to educate politicians about the need for intellectual capital management.
But becoming a politician to implement his suggestions is nowhere on the radar. “I’m an academic. My job is in the university.” And that’s the way it’s going to stay.