Credit: EmTech Asia 2018

Credit: EmTech Asia 2018

EXCLUSIVE - Building a bridge between industry and academia: A dialogue with President of IEEE TEMS Prof Michael Condry

Founded in 1963, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is the world’s largest technical professional organisation dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. Today, IEEE has more than 423,000 members in over 160 countries who are primarily engineers, scientists, and allied professionals in electrical and computer sciences, engineering, and related disciplines.

Recently, OpenGov had the pleasure the speak to Professor Michael Condry, President of Technology and Engineering Management Society (TEMS), to understand how IEEE TEMS as a professional technical and engineering society serves as a bridge between the academia and industry. Prof Condry is also the Co-Founder and Vice-Chairman of the Board, Global Alliance of Innovators and Entrepreneurs.

Credit: EmTech Asia 2018 Conference

Professor Condry first shared with OpenGov that most of the IEEE members are from the research community, which includes both industrial research or academic research.

As a Council of IEEE, the IEEE TEMS has been active in supporting members’ career growth and fostering knowledge transfer. The mission of IEEE TEMS is to tackle one of the major recurring problems in technology and innovation - the gap between academic research and commercial application by the industry.

Such a gap may be in the forms of challenges in: (1) knowledge transfer, (2) alignment of academic research interest with industry needs, and (3) shortage of talent pool to meet industries’ needs for skilled workforce.

In his role as the President of IEEE TEMS, Prof Condry helps the academic community to bring their research effort to reality through industrial application and commercialisation.

Prof Condry’s firm belief in the potentials of academia-industry collaboration is partly the result of his rich career experience in the industry, including his position as the CTO of Global Ecosystem Development Division at Intel Corporation before his retirement.

“Technology is moving at a quantum speed. The first processor I designed was a Bellmac-32 that used 3.5 micron technology. That was considered the cutting-edge technology in the 1980s. When I left Intel, 7 nanometer (nm) was operating. This is the speed in which things are moving,” he shared.

The fast-changing technology landscape is presenting both opportunities and challenges to the business community.

On one hand, the industry benefits from innovative solutions that help optimise their operations, solve the technical challenges they face and develop new innovative products. As a non-profit group to bridge between industry and academia, IEEE TEMS aims to leverage on IEEE resources and make research studies accessible and easy-to-read.

“We are going to change some of our publications so that instead of being neat research articles, they can be used as directions that executives can easily read in two or three pages,” Prof Condry shared.

However, on the other hand, technological advancement means that companies face increasing competition - companies must be able to keep up with the pace of technology before getting left behind.

“In today’s world, if you are a leader trying to get a business going, you may have a vision of what you want to do, but you will also need technology to help you realise that vision,” said Prof Condry.

For example, if a company wants to deploy sensors to determine the chemicals in the soil, it does not need to develop or set up all the technology, such as cloud infrastructure, on its own.

“While the tradition has been to hire somebody and go through a long process of research and product development, if a company in today’s world follows the same procedure, by the time they got those things done, somebody else’s product is already in the market,” said Prof Condry.

Given his strong background in technology development, Prof Condry decided to join the IEEE TEMS and focus his efforts in building a platform to help the research community engage the industry community and address real-world business problems.

Over the years, the research community has produced a phenomenal number of research papers. Unfortunately, according to Prof Condry, many of the papers are not read by the industry for which the results can be used.

Prof Condry noted that when his organisation invites the industry community and “let them talk about their problems”, what usually happens is that “researchers in the audience would get up and explain the problem or even share the solution that they have discovered”.

He also cited his personal experience to illustrate that turning technical concepts in research into real-life application is a rewarding recognition of one’s hard work.

“I was much more impressed that my papers were cited in hundreds of patents, rather than how many technical citations I had. The fact that they cited my papers as one of the bases of their patents, to me, that was much more rewarding,” he shared.

At the same time, IEEE TEMS believes in the power of cross-sectoral collaboration, particularly in the technology landscape. According to Prof Condry, in today’s world of technology, there will not be a “single isolated company that can solve all the problems”.

“In fact, some big tech leaders are suffering because their business models are about ‘I own everything’, ‘I don’t co-operate’ and ‘I do everything in-house’. For tech and social media companies trying to lead, they operate by a different philosophy and they are moving much faster,” he said.

When asked to explain this new philosophy that leading tech giants uphold, Prof Condry pointed out that the new philosophy is rooted in its emphasis on collaborations to forge partnerships and expanding customer base.

At the same time, the new philosophy also has two other characteristics: (1) an effort to flatten the traditional management ladder and (2) better technical understanding among managers.

He also stated that “the current system of intellectual property is very challenged. Many corporate leaders unfortunately do not understand how simple their technology is, overestimated its importance and get frustrated when somebody copies it”.

“Technology is moving so fast that there is no way for us to keep up with it. The only way to keep up with it and make it work for all is to enable more co-operation. Without a mechanism for co-operation, a one-company turf will eventually lead to failure,” he reiterated.

Closer to home, Singapore has been open to forging partnerships and co-operations. Over the last two to three years, we have seen hundreds of Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) and partnerships formed in the island-state, each of which involves industry players as well as research institutes or universities.

Prof Condry commented that Singapore is leading in forging collaborative partnerships. One of the drivers for such an approach is Singapore’s innate limitation in size.

“I think Singapore is very interesting because of its willingness to cooperate. But at the same time, it has some size limitations, and to get around those size limitations, it has to build relationship bridges and find avenues for cooperation,” he said.

He added that Singapore does not have much space for manufacturing but does have an excellent R&D base. According to Prof Condry, an opportunity for Singapore will be to work with partners like the IEEE TEMS to realise these projects on a broader scale, similar to what SGInnovate is doing.

Collaboration is a central theme throughout OpenGov’s conversation with Prof Condry who sees the potentials of academia-industry partnership beyond immediate returns.

“If we can bridge the gap between the academic and industry communities, we are adding value to societies and allowing the global economy to thrive. With that model and mindset of collaboration, we can solve many problems. I think there is a golden opportunity to bridge to the business world across the world and let people work in a global world. Whether or not I’ll succeed, I don’t know, but I’m willing to give it a try,” Prof Condry concluded.

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