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Finding the right fit in academia and industry collaboration

Partnerships between academia and industry are nothing new, but only with the right strategy, enterprises will be able to prosper. By Arup Dasgupta

Academia and industry share a symbiotic relationship. Academia produces graduates who are absorbed by industry. Research work in universities are taken up by the industry and turned into products and services. Industry on the other hand looks to academia for solutions to their concerns. It would like universities to tailor their courses to turn out graduates whose skill-set are aligned to industry requirements. Often new research topics arise out of interaction between the duos which benefit both academia and industry.

The latter therefore funds focused research in universities which they can operationalize. This may include setting up laboratories, designating industry chairs, and providing guest faculty and placement opportunities. Geospatial industry entails all these facilitators and more because it is a multi-disciplinary field which requires geographers, computer scientists, environmental scientists, social scientists, and domain and management experts.

Industry expectations

academia and industry collaboration

Academia expectations

Industry Outlook

Addressing this issue, Rajesh C. Mathur, Advisor, Esri India, says, “Availability of high caliber GIS manpower will be one of the critical success factors for meeting several challenges.” He lists these as reengineering of business processes and workflows and GIS awareness amongst decision makers. Mathur goes on to add, “Skills required include leadership which involves the appreciation of the value of location as key information parameter and at the executive level a willingness to reengineer existing business processes and workflows. At the technology level, there is a need for solution architects, database analysts, developers with domain knowledge and expertise on contemporary geospatial technology. Last but not least, project management skills top the skill-set.” Industry can participate in collaboration with academia through Train the Trainer programmes, course curriculum review, internship for students, technology updates, support in establishing laboratories and research projects.

Han Wensink, Chairman, NEVASCO — a consortium of 18 Dutch SMEs also feels that there is a need to organize collaboration with academia and its stakeholders. “The industry would be able to create together with academia long-term sustainable consortia to organize funding and develop new products and services,” he says.

Venkatesh Raghavan, President, OSGeo Foundation pitches for the co-creation of knowledge by academia and industry -based on open source and open data. Some of the steps he recommends are: establishing research and teaching opportunities in ‘Open Geospatial Science’, building global open access teaching and research infrastructure, providing worldwide learning platforms and training opportunities and establishing collaborations between academia, government and industry around Open Geospatial Science and Education. “OSGeo has set up 114 laboratories worldwide and majority of the mentors are from industry. In terms of collaboration models, an academia-industry collaboration either can lead, depending on the budget commitment. Ways for industry to engage with academia can include idea or hackathons, publish, certification, summer-of-research for young professionals, more summer-of-code for students, etc.” explains Raghavan.

An erudite stance

“Academia can be an excellent source of new ideas, when workshops or specialist meetings organized by academics bring together experts to discuss the state-of-the-art and potential research agendas, and such meetings are open to industry. Second, collaboration between academia and industry can ensure that training programs include curricula that meet the needs of industry. Finally, industry is often willing to sponsor academic research that is more ‘blue skies’ and futuristic than the kinds of in-house research that industry supports,” says Prof. Michael Goodchild, Emeritus Professor of Geography, University of California. He also feels that such collaboration is best realized through interpersonal relationships between individuals.

On the other hand Prof. Shunji Murai, Founder, Asian Association of Remote Sensing, feels that “The leader should be a person who has ability of management experience and marketing sense with innovative motivation and positive thinking, which academic scientists sometimes have not enough. Industry should be the CEO while academia should be the CTO.”

Financial matters can often become sticking points in any collaboration. On the question of, ‘who pays’, Goodchild thinks, “Student internships and short-term residence of industry representatives in universities could be a win-win situation for both parties as the costs are minimal compared to the benefits.” Other than financial aspects, Murai stresses, “Industry should frankly and honestly talk with academia based on logical thinking and scientific background, which would be helpful to close engagement with academia.”

Do academicians tend to be dismissive of commercialization of their research work? Goodchild feels this is an individual issue because “Many academics have little to no contact with the industry, and remain deeply suspicious of industry’s motives and behaviors. Others create contacts through former students or through chance contacts with industry representatives. In this the academic activities like seminars and training can play a major role.”

Murai is dismissive of academicians without financial or accounting understanding, “collaboration should be based on friendly manner with industry. Discussion should be based on equal partnership.”

Large corporations with extensive sales networks are often reluctant to pursue and promote new ideas. Instead, progress in the geospatial industry is often made by large corporations taking over small startups and absorbing their ideas. Unfortunately this process is often slower than one might like

Surprisingly Goodchild has quite low expectations, though he value links with industry very highly. “True cooperation,” he says, “in which both sides engage fully and equally, is very difficult, because academic and industrial behaviors and motives are so different.” Murai has a word of caution, “Cooperative research should be basically result or achievement oriented with limited deadline. However, industry should provide very clear purpose and goal which is challenging but feasible.”

On innovation transitioning from academia to industry, both Goodchild and Murai feel that industry is low on the growth curve but opportunities exist and resistance is being overcome slowly. Goodchild expresses caution for new innovators entering the marketplace, “the best ideas in the world often fail in the marketplace because it is so difficult for small entities to reach a sufficiently large set of potential adopters. Large corporations with extensive sales networks are often reluctant to pursue and promote new ideas. Instead, progress in the geospatial industry is often made by large corporations taking over small startups and absorbing their ideas. Unfortunately this process is often slower than one might like”. He continues that innovations must be implemented and demonstrated successfully before it can be marketed.

Geospatial technology today has made its way across diverse industries. New demands for geospatial-enabled solutions are continuously emerging, creating business opportunities. With the right strategy, enterprises that orient their business towards scalable innovations will be able to prosper in this fast-transforming world of technology.