Skip to main content

Innovation and Knowledge Transfer Networks

I'm very pleased to say that our Knowledge Transfer Network, Grid Computing Now!, will continue to operate for at least another year. We have just received final confirmation from the newly-reconstituted Technology Strategy Board. This is welcome news; it means that we can continue our plans to bring users, vendors and academics together to address real problems in several sectors. So it seems a good moment to reflect on the state of KTNs and how they might develop.

Innovate07 was the showcase for all 22 Knowledge Transfer Networks. This was my first time at Innovate and I was impressed by the range of technologu areas and delegates. It was also a good opportunity for networking between KTNs, which has led to some joint initiatives.

This range of KTNs is in part a branding exercise, as some KTNs had previous existences as Faraday Institutes or other institutes. So we at GCN are in the odd position of being one of the first KTNs to be set up and at the same time among the ones that have been operating for the shortest period! For once, I think the branding works well, presenting a breadth of expertise available to UK industry.

In the GCN KTN, our activities are gradually moving from general outreach into more focused engagement in specific projects. In our first two years, we were mainly building our network of contacts, collecting our set of case studies and producing webinars. Over the past year, we've begun to engage more in specific sectors and issues such as tranaport modelling, software licencing and Green IT. This is a deliberate move that we will continue in the new year by setting up specialist interest groups within the KTN. This brings our modus operandi closer to that of some of the other KTNs.

Even so, it's important that our contacts and our funders realise that different KTNs work in different ways. For example, the Applied Maths KTN runs an excellent series of intensive workshops in which mathematicians work on industrial problems, often making substantial progress in the course of that week. That approach works well for mathematics but is not suitable when it comes to building new IT infrastructures!

The aim of all this, of course, is to stimulate innovation. By its very nature, innovation is hard to codify; the best we can do is to bring people together in an environment that stimulates new ideas and rewards their exploitation. So one thing I'd like the TSB to do is to set up KTNs in less established areas - a key example being alternative energy. Within the existing KTNs, it's our job to look for the new ideas to pass on to potential exploiters, and to look for business problems that can be solved with innovative ideas. It's not easy but it is certainly interesting!


Popular posts from this blog

Presentation: Putting IT all together

This is a presentation I gave to an audience of University staff: 

In this seminar, I invite you to consider what the University’s online services would be like, if we worked together to design them from the perspective of the student or member of staff who will use them, instead of designing them around the organisational units that provide them. I’ll start with how the services might appear to that student or member of staff, then work back from there to show what this implies for how we work, how we manage our data, and how we integrate our IT systems. It might even lead to changes in our organisational structure.

Our online services make a vital and valued contribution to the work of our students and staff. I argue that with better integration, more consistent user interfaces, and shared data, this contribution could be significantly enhanced.

This practice is called “Enterprise Architecture”. I’ll describe how it consults multiple organisational units and defines a framework …

Not so simple...

A common approach to explaining the benefits of Enterprise Architecture is to draw two diagrams: one that shows a complicated mess of interconnections, and one that shows a nicely layered set of blocks. Something like this one, which came from some consultants:

I've never felt entirely happy with this approach.  Yes, we do want to remove as much of the needless complexity and ad-hoc design that litters the existing architecture.  Yes, we do want to simplify the architecture and make it more consistent and intelligible.  But the simplicity of the block diagram shown here is unobtainable in the vast majority of real enterprises.  We have a mixture of in-house development and different third-party systems, some hosted in-house, some on cloud infrastructure and some accessed as software-as-a-service.  For all the talk of standards, vendors use different authentication systems, different integration systems, and different user interfaces.

So the simple block diagram is, basically, a l…

2016 has been a good year

So much has happened over the last year with our Enterprise Architecture practice that it's hard to write a succinct summary.  For my day-to-day experience as enterprise architect, the biggest change is that I now have a team to work with.  This time last year, I was in the middle of a 12-month secondment to create the EA practice, working mainly on my own.  Now my post has been made permanent and I have recruited two members of staff to help meet the University's architectural needs.

I have spent a lot of the year meeting people, listening to their concerns and explaining how architecture can help them.  This communication remains vital, the absolute core of what we do and we will continue to meet people in this way.  We also talk to people in other Universities in order to learn from what they are doing and to share our own experience back.  A highlight in this regard was my trip to the USA last January.

Our biggest deliverable for the past year was the design of the data wa…