Innovation encompasses R&D, but it is a broader concept, as discussed later in this chapter. In industrialized countries most technological innovations take place in the companies that produce goods and provide services. In continuing efforts to improve the competitiveness of their products, innovative companies usually make many small changes in their manufacturing processes and products, with the introduction of entirely new processes and products an infrequent occurrence. Similarly, the contributions of researchers and research laboratories to technological advancement also usually lead to modest improvements of products and services, although on occasion major R&D breakthroughs result in new processes and products.
In Kazakhstan, innovative companies are few in number. In other settings in the country, particularly in local research laboratories external to the companies, most successful innovation efforts will probably be modest in scope. Technological breakthroughs will be rare in Kazakhstan as in most countries.
A large portion of the R&D specialists in Kazakhstan carry out their activities at education and research organizations. A limited number work in the R&D or production departments of a few medium and large companies. Still others are entrepreneurs who have set up their own businesses to develop and market their ideas to other businesses, to government organizations, or directly to individual consumers. Many of these Kazakhstani specialists are competing against or co-operating with international providers of goods and services that are also seeking a share of the Kazakhstani and global markets for their technologies.
The process of technology transfer in Kazakhstan is often described as a linear process involving the following steps: basic research, applied technology, design and development, and production. During Soviet times, different organizations were responsible for different steps. Resources to carry out each step were usually provided, and the customers for the results of each stage were well known. Seldom was there serious competition among different entities as the evolving technology was passed from organization to organization.
Many Kazakhstani officials and specialists are now well aware that new approaches are needed to bring products to market from their origins in research laboratories or elsewhere. However, there is still a tendency to think of the process in terms of a linear model. Frequently, not enough attention is given to the essential personal interactions and to the related feedback among the participants involved in the entire chain of events if a new or improved process or product is to become a commercial success. In short, the Soviet government’s “requirement” that participants work together throughout the process has disappeared. Now, success depends on collaborative efforts that rest largely on personal confidence and trust among participants to overcome organizational barriers as well as technical problems.