How-To Make Industry-University Collaboration A Successful Venture

I am fortunate enough to be on both sides of the world and have been with more than 15 Universities as an Industrial Advisory Panel (IAP).  Recently, I posted this question on my Facebook and received many comments.

We know the problem but the question is “How do we solve this?“. Actually, both parties need each other – the industry require new technology or innovation to make themselves relevant and stay competitive. The industry that doesn’t have an R&D arm have to depend on the Universities. On the hand, the Universities also need to ensure their students are employable and relevant to the current needs. This is the main role of the Universities.

However, both have different expectations – as much as the industry wanted to tap the innovativeness and the knowledge of the Universities to produce commercial products, they didn’t realize that the Universities aren’t capable of developing a finished commercial product. Personally, I don’t think that’s the role of the University but it’s also wrong for the University if they thought their research grant is meant just to produce journals or traveling around the world presenting at conferences.

The culture and “do or die” attitude in both University and Industry are different. That’s why we are seeing the “pace” or time in both worlds are so much different.  While you are running outside and found out that you have to drag your feet to get things done inside the University can get very frustrating to many collaborators. But what they didn’t realize that they are many obstacles within the University that don’t allow them to be as free as the “outside” people. Imagine when you are being assigned to so many tasks at one time – teaching, researching, marking exam papers, writing administrative reports/curriculum, mentoring, writing papers, attending committee meetings and so much more. Unlike the industry people who have one main specific task assigned to them.

“Ego” is one point raised by many and sometimes we didn’t realize until someone pointed the issue. It’s an honest view and hard to swallow but it seems to be true. We didn’t realize that when many lecturers came back with their Ph.D. on specific domain knowledge, they tend to continue the same work in their University and thus created many silos of research work and sometimes overlapping with each other but have no intention to work as a team. Most probably everyone is trying to achieve their own KPI – but as a team, they failed.

For any R&D activities, they require funding. Due to the bad reputation in commercializing their R&D outputs, the Government has been questioning the rationale of giving big funding and what happens to the utilization. Where are the pieces of equipment? And when they can’t get the full amount of funding required, the first thing in mind is to reduce the cost by not continuing the maintenance or renew software license. In the end, many of the expensive equipment becomes outdated.

If the University wants to become an Industry-friendly institution that can attract external parties and become relevant in the future, they need to do the following things:

  1. Funding – R&D grant is key for any activities. They must make a stand that Universities are not meant to produce commercial products. However, they are also not a “journal producer”. The R&D output must be feasible enough to become a good prototype so that it can be proven for the industry to take over the role. In fact, a JV company set up between University and Industry is a good example.
  2. Continuity – Working in a team is far better than working in a silo. They should not develop projects for the sake of projects. Many good projects go down the drain because there is no continuity. Every year, the lecturer needs to create new projects and sometimes the titles are “re-cycle” again with the same objectives. If this continues, nothing will be completed. Suggestion – think of the theme, the big picture, break into modules, assign to different students/lecturers, integrate them and voila! You will have a complete prototype by the end of the day. One of the main problems is “student come and student go” and many times it will cause void or gap in their work. A better way is to get Research Officer to constantly track, compile and manage the overall project.
  3. Develop a Channel for Industry Inputs – Develop a proper channel such as an online portal for industry to submit their industry problems. This will become a constant feed to the “ideas box”.

Note: I have few more things in mind but I will continue to update this later.

About the Author

Dr. Mazlan is the co-founder and CEO of FAVORIOT Sdn Bhd. He is ranked among 50 Most Impactful Smart Cities Leaders by World CSR Congress 2017, ranked Top 10 in IoT Top 100 Influencers by Postscapes 2017, ranked No. 20th Thought Leader in IOT by 2014 Onalytics Report – “The Internet of Things – Top 100 Thought Leaders”, ranked Top 100 in Smart Cities Top Experts by Agilience Authority Index May 2016 and UTM Alumni Industry Personality 2016. He is currently one of Global Vision Board Member (2017). Before Favoriot, he spent 2.5 years as CEO of REDtone IOT and 8 years in MIMOS Berhad as Senior Director Wireless Communications Cluster. He also spent 13 years in CELCOM (mobile operator), handling many senior management positions. Prior to Celcom, he spent 10 years as an Assoc. Professor at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. He is currently the Adjunct Professor at Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (UniSZA) and Universiti Malaysia (UniMY). He was also the Adjunct Professor for UTM from 2008 to 2013 and UTHM (2004-2005, 2013-2016). Dr.Mazlan is a frequent speaker at many major & established IOT, Smart Cities and telco conferences locally and globally. He sits in Industry Advisory Panel (IAP) for several local universities. He graduated from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia with a BEE (1984), University of Essex (UK) with MSc. in Telematics (1986) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia with a PhD in Telecommunications (1993). He also received an Honorary Doctorate in Electrical Engineering from UTHM (2017).


About Mazlan Abbas

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8 Responses to How-To Make Industry-University Collaboration A Successful Venture

  1. Dr. Ibrahim Abu Ahmad says:

    Its about between “offers” and “needs”. What does the university “needs” and what can it “offers” in return. Similarly what the industry “needs” and what it can “offer” to the university. If these “needs” and “offers” can be spelt out clearly and agreed upon by both parties then only such collaborations can see the light.

  2. Abdul Rashid Maidin says:

    Good Article. .l was responsible to vote you in UTHM…l am a board member. Dato Rashid Maidin

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  5. Ir. Noor Iziddin Abdullah Bin Haji Ghazali says:

    That’s why we at UniMy in Putrajaya appoint you as our Adjunct Professor.

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