How knowledge transfer at Aston University drives business forward
Feb 11 | 6 minutes read
The internet has reinvented the global economy. The digitisation of everything means that companies too slow to adapt their processes will become dinosaurs of their time.
Consider this: the average lifespan of an S&P 500 company was 60 years back in the 1950s. Today, that number has dipped to under 20 years.
And while it’s true that technological revolution has brought about staggering improvements to life and work in ways we never thought possible, it’s also created a culture of frenzied competition. Today, every individual, company and country from Singapore to Switzerland is in a mad scramble to find the formula for the next Google or Facebook.
For businesses big or small, this is a race they can neither run, nor win, alone. In fact, this isn’t even a race – it’s a series of marathons. And no matter where you operate in the world, you will will need help to reach the finish line.
In the UK, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) offer that help. Funded by national innovation agency Innovate UK and created to plug innovation and productivity gaps, these partnerships connect businesses with universities on projects lasting between six and 36 months.
Funding for the project is determined by the size of the company involved and the nature of the project. A KTP Associate will be hired to work full-time within the organisation to manage the project, with the firm also receiving access to university resources and relevant academic expertise.
This arrangement enables companies to draw from a university’s vast bank of knowledge, on top of gaining access to its technology and talent pool, to solve an innovation challenge.
Run for more than 40 years today, it’s become a highly popular scheme, with many participating companies saying they’ve seen profitability rise significantly as a result of their work with the university.
Yet, there remains many others who have yet to make the leap, uncertain, perhaps of how teaming up with academia would improve their business operations or meet their innovation needs.
A knowledge transfer success story
Ranked one of the top five universities in the West Midlands for 2020, Aston University is well-known for its strong links with business.
From its home in central Birmingham, England’s famed ‘second city’ and former manufacturing powerhouse, the public research institution places great emphasis on establishing and maintaining strong links with industry.
This focus forms the very heart of the university’s founding objective to “generate and apply learning and knowledge through teaching and research for the benefit of industry, commerce and the wider community”.
Knowledge transfer partnerships are central to helping Aston achieve this.
The university has through the years become one of the county’s most active participants in the national scheme, working with some of industry’s biggest hitters to solve their business challenges.
A recent example is the university’s partnership with award-winning facilities management company Arcus FM.
The firm was created on the principle of delivering a total FM solution, and has evolved from being a pure managing agent with a small fabric maintenance team to a business able to self-deliver most FM services on a national scale.
With an impressive client portfolio of big retailers like Sainsbury’s to please and a reputation as one of Britain’s most inspiring and dynamic companies to maintain, achieving operational hyper-efficiency is a major imperative of Arcus FM.
In fact, it’s also a key reason why the firm landed the title ‘FM Specialist of the Year 2019’ in the Construction News Specialist Awards earlier this year. The company’s innovative SMaRT (Smarter Maintenance and Real-time Technology) hub, used in 1,740 buildings across the UK, has saved its clients millions in cost avoidance and energy savings.
But holding pole position in the industry means constantly upgrading current processes to identify better, more efficient methods of improving customer experience and creating wider positive impact to the environment.
This is where Arcus FM’s knowledge transfer partnership with Aston University will help.
The project, a first for Arcus FM, will see the organisation recruit a PhD graduate who specialises in data analytics and computer science and tap Aston’s academic resources to drive efficiencies within the growing company.
“The project will apply machine learning, game theory and optimisation techniques to enhance Arcus’ utilisation of resources, enabling our business to deliver a sector-leading level of service and efficiency for our clients.
“We’re very excited about what this project will bring to Arcus and also the FM industry as a whole. It really has the potential to be game-changing for the sector,” says Arcus Head of Technology and Innovation David Lane.
The Arcus FM KTP is just one of many ongoing projects handled by Aston University.
Its expertise in a wide range of disciplines from the life sciences to engineering, business and beyond means its corporate partners operate across a variety of sectors and niches. With each project, a whole new dimension of experience is added to the university’s knowledge transfer portfolio, further cementing its reputation as the go-to academic partner of companies across the West Midlands and beyond.
For example, for the West Midlands-based law firm Higgs & Sons, Aston is developing a workforce intelligence planning system that would improve operational efficiencies within the company and allow staff to maximise their potential.
For independent software house Phoebus Software Limited, the university has worked on improving the usability and flexibility of the firm’s proprietary fourth-gen programming language (4GL), creating a novel transformation engine that would convert the language into human-readable Java.
For tyre check tech company WheelRight, Aston’s expertise in advanced machine learning techniques has helped the firm improve the performance of its algorithms and advance its ambition of making the tyre inspection process automatic.
Aston’s academics have also worked in a knowledge transfer partnership with Eye-Docs Ltd to develop treatment models and regimens to enhance patient care for presbyopia and laser cataract surgery.
For Majestic, world leaders in distributed web crawling, a partnership with Aston Business School was struck to introduce a suite of new big data analysis tools that would allow non-programmers to draw previously unavailable inference and insights from large data sets of internet usage and company orientated data.
For all these businesses and more, Aston’s academics and graduate students have contributed to leading-edge solutions that not just to tackle real-world innovation challenges but also unlock new market opportunities and increase profitability.
Driving business forward
That surviving the digital era is a tough challenge for any business isn’t anything new. This notion is repeated in virtually every headline about the future of business in an ever-evolving world of work.
Advances in intelligent systems, access to a growing body of data and the democratisation of knowledge mean today’s organisations must keep on innovating to stay ahead of the curve.
More than just creating the products and services on which tomorrow’s industries will be built, they must constantly seek out ways to build value and create impact to meet 21st-century demands.
But as daunting as this may seem, as this article has established, businesses needn’t face this challenge on their own – knowledge transfer partnerships can help. And if their operations are stationed somewhere in the West Midlands and its surrounding regions, Aston University is the partner they want.
Does your business have an innovation challenge that needs solving? Learn more about Knowledge Transfer Partnerships at Aston University can do for you, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Martin May, KTP Manager, on 0121 204 4253.