Optimising Organisational Structure For Efficient Industry Engagement

Tim Boyle

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The central coordination of industry engagement in universities and large research organisations is a challenge often bestowed upon technology transfer offices that are already stretched beyond capacity. The average research intensive Australian university may have up to 65 schools and 1500 individual research groups all with unique capability and infrastructure supporting the needs of each group. For those technology transfer professionals tasked to coordinate industry engagement in those universities it is much harder to deliver consolidated value to external partners, as cross institutional capabilities cannot readily be matched to meet end user needs. This results in inefficient engagement that favours those researchers who actively engage with the technology transfer office rather than the researchers who have the capability that may be most relevant for delivering value to any given industry need that may arise.

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), (an Australian publically subsidised research agency focussing on nuclear science and technology) has recently undergone a change management exercise and organisational restructure to move away from the traditional institute, faculty and school structure. The restructure has seen ANSTO progress from an institute based organisational model to a cluster of infrastructure and capability platforms which are uncoupled from the strategic nuclear science and technology research it undertakes. The approach has enabled the value proposition for each piece of infrastructure or capability function to be clearly articulated making matching industry needs and demand a simple task. Currently there are nine infrastructure and capability platforms ranging from landmark research infrastructure such as the OPAL Multipurpose Nuclear Reactor, the Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering, Centre for Accelerator Science and the Australian Synchrotron through to national infrastructure such as the National Deuteration Facility, and capability which is unique to ANSTO such as Nuclear Stewardship of the Becquerel standard, Radiobiology and Bioimaging, Radioisotopes and Radiotracers, Isotope tracing in natural systems and Nuclear Materials capabilities1.

As a result of these organisational changes ANSTO reviewed its industry engagement plan and the processes to developing solutions for industry. This plan revolved around cross market analysis of existing industry partners, using Lean Launchpad methodology to validate new markets and new customers and conducting interdisciplinary innovation sandpits to develop novel solutions to industry problems. This industry engagement plan was trialled in the Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering between January and June 2016 and resulted in a 250% increase in commercial contracts with a contact to contract conversion rate of 18% which was a fourfold increase in engagement efficiency over the previous financial year.
In conclusion, the structure of a research organisation can be optimised to maximise industry engagement outcomes by moving away from the traditional institute, faculty, school organisational model and clustering core facilities and capabilities that provide high–quality specialist services to researchers. This ensures that infrastructure platforms can articulate their value proposition to industry users, offer seamless user experience with strong governance, oversight and long term operational funding.