18 October 2016 - No comments »
The EPO is an organisation that has always strived to improve its standards: greater legal robustness of its patents, higher quality services, more useful patent information, more intensive international cooperation. These are just a few of the areas into which we have channelled our efforts in order to deliver benefits for our users everywhere and where we believe we have made great advances. But such internal assertions are always in need of external assessment. During the last few months, a complete état des lieux has taken place at the EPO and which, on Tuesday last week, culminated in the first ever Social Conference in the history of the Office to discuss the findings.
It was a process that started earlier this year when, following an international tender, the EPO commissioned world leading consultants to provide independent, external assessment of the Office’s performance in three main areas: Deloitte for the financial situation; Pricewaterhouse Coopers on the social environment; the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management, supported by the leading expert in risk management Professor R. Löfstedt (King’s College, London), for health and safety issues.
There is a strong rationale for such an evaluation. Firstly, for the last five years the EPO has been carefully implementing a comprehensive programme of reforms to increase quality and efficiency in order to deliver a better service to our users. As such, an honest assessment of our progress in all areas was needed, with no stone left unturned.
Secondly, such analyses enable large organisations to develop effective strategies for assuring their future in a complex world. For us, like many others, there are numerous variables that are all set to play a part; demand from users for greater timeliness and novel services grows, the number of annual applications increases at varying rates, previously unforeseen technologies develop, financial markets fluctuate, competition from other IP offices grows and so on and so forth. In essence, a multitude of factors needed to be assessed to the greatest extent possible so we can plan a bright and prosperous future for the EPO and continue to improve for those who rely on our services.
The three studies provide an in-depth and complementary view of the EPO. Their main conclusions underline that sharp progress has been made in terms of production, productivity and quality. As a result, these gains have had a major positive impact on the financial situation of the Office and its capacity to cover all of its liabilities. Additionally, the social package of the EPO compares very favourably with other international organisations and the private sector. It was also concluded that the social reforms are in line with the best international standards and are fully compliant with international norms and human rights. Furthermore, the Office provides a very good working environment, where the health and safety risks are very low and recent organisational changes are in line with the best practices. However, it was also highlighted that more effort should be made to develop internal communication and enhance change management and the Office should also strive for further gains in productivity, if it is to be successful in the long term.
The studies were presented at the Social Conference last Tuesday in the presence of 350 stakeholders from across the EPO and its various departments. Staff representatives, trade union, members of the Administrative Council, were all participating, as were staff and management from different units, ensuring the widest representation of the Office.
It was an opportunity for everyone in the office to assume ownership of those reports that from external consultants. Many staff members had been interviewed and provided information to give the consultants the raw data they needed. This was therefore an opportunity to formally acquire the studies for our Office and to integrate the findings into our collective knowledge. In addition, with the consultants there to present their conclusions, an opportunity was given to staff and all other stakeholders to obtain further information and to field their questions in person. Lastly, through dedicated workshops in the afternoon, all those present were able to freely express their views on themes such as wellbeing in the work place and the financial and social package and to represent their colleagues.
I am pleased to report that all these goals were accomplished and that there was active participation in the presentations and workshops. The findings of the studies were complimented by the discussions and revealed that while we have been successful in various area, such as increasing productivity, there are areas requiring further effort, such as risk communication. The findings of the studies and the day’s conclusion will now be the subject of further scrutiny to help us in developing future strategies.
But for the event itself, the true measure of success was the level of engagement by all. The number of requests to attend the conference far outstripped the number of places available and proceedings were followed online by thousands of our staff. It is this level of involvement and the commitment exhibited that is truly impressive and, knowing that we are all striving for the success of the EPO, means that we can look to the future with measured confidence. This is the beginning of a process where all internal stakeholders will actively participate in the definition of our next priorities, especially on social issues.