Industry-university partnerships that work


Business leaders sometimes describe a need for ideas, talent, and collaboration tools that aren’t found within the four walls of the enterprise but flow from the outside in. Harnessing this “open innovation” can be critical for keeping competitive advantage. In another cultural arena, higher-education decision-makers are increasingly being asked to operate with an entrepreneurial edge as a way of coping with dwindling funding. At the intersection of these two worlds is the industry-university partnership, where businesses can tap into game-changing research and professors can test lucrative markets.

The Power of Two

Industry-university partnerships began providing new paths to technological innovation, workforce training, and marketing synergies more than a century ago with the first “joint R&D” programs. These win-win collaborations evolved and intensified during the Second World War, as the U.S. Government, to give one example, created a network of national laboratories that brought industry scientists and their academic peers together for national-security missions.

Today’s team-ups between business and higher education are leading directly to new inventions, patents, licenses, startups, and income streams along with training, recruiting, and cost efficiencies. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a U.S. research university, faculty members and students currently work on projects with 700 businesses, and nearly 20 percent of the school’s research funding comes from industry. That kind of scope reflects continued recognition by business leaders that internal R&D is no longer enough. It also underscores the reality of reduced expenditures on higher education in the United States and other countries.

Across the global industry-university landscape, a focus on discovering disruptive breakthroughs provides a common thread. In the healthcare world, for example, prominent medical schools receive large influxes of corporate dollars. In life sciences specifically, partnerships that lead to major drug discoveries have the potential to transform the pharmaceutical marketplace in lasting ways.

Digital Innovations

At DXC, we recognize the exciting opportunities for joining forces with academic partners on leading-edge technology and intellectual property initiatives that benefit our clients, employees, and partners. Our ongoing collaboration with the State of Louisiana reached a new stage last November, as we announced the upcoming launch of a Digital Innovation Center in New Orleans. At the center, we will eventually employ 2,000 next-generation technology workers who will deliver cloud, cybersecurity, big data, and other digital services to clients all over the world.

As part of this initiative, schools including Louisiana State University (LSU), the University of New Orleans and Delgado Community College will help students find learning pathways to DXC careers. Educational partners are also crucial to the Digital Innovation Centers we will open in Australia in the first half of 2018. In Canberra, our new center will team with The Australian National University (ANU) on education, research, and innovation. And in Melbourne, we are co-locating the new center with Swinburne University of Technology.

All of these specially designed innovation hubs will give local and regional DXC clients the ability to apply the latest digital design advances across their transformation journeys. Young engineers and developers will also benefit as we work with our partners to craft the right digital curricula and hands-on learning experiences for the IT workforce of tomorrow.

Changing Partnerships

Traditionally, industry-university partnerships have played out over the long term, but today’s participants (particularly businesses) may not be able to wait very long for a payoff. What shorter-term arrangements should companies consider in order to monetize innovation more quickly? What new types of analyses and processes will be needed to identify and secure this low-hanging fruit?

Even if businesses and universities are more alike than conventional wisdom might suggest, each partner may still confront a workplace culture that doesn’t mesh with its own. What steps can businesses take to better cope with academic bureaucracy and timeframes, even as universities learn to more effectively speak the language of profit and loss? And which employees from each kind of organization will be best suited to building bridges?

Researchers Markus Perkmann and Ammon Salter have identified four ways industry and the university can work together: Idea Lab, Grand Challenge, Extended Workbench, and Deep Exploration. What support and tools might enterprises need to accurately assess and categorize their own potentially nebulous industry-university partnerships? Which of the four approaches, or others, will align most closely with a particular organization’s goals, and how will it create the right structure to maximize the returns on its partnership investments?

Disruptive ideas, future-ready workers, and previously undiscovered profit sources are all things that businesses need, and that academic research institutions can help deliver. When the dance of collaboration goes smoothly, the benefits have the potential to be significant, and to be shared by everyone involved.


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