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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!

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