Information from Research Council UK's Gateway to Research (GtR) is helping global defence, security and aerospace company BAE Systems identify opportunities to engage with academics and exploit the outputs of Research Council-funded projects.
"My job is to understand what the Research Councils are doing and look for opportunities," says Dr Steven Harris, BAE Systems University & Collaborative Programmes Relationship Manager. "Understanding low Technology Readiness Level (TRL) research, and encouraging universities to be aligned with us, creating communities that we can work with, is so important."
BAE Systems relies on the outputs of academic research supported by the UK's seven Research Councils to provide the exciting ideas on which their internal research programme can build. According to Harris, "we look for that spirit of adventure using tools like Gateway to Research."
"We can track funding because GtR can break it down year by year, region by region. All those things can help us to work out where to go, what direction to go in, and who to work with," he adds.
The cross-Research Council nature of Gateway to Research has enabled BAE Systems to explore a greater range of Research Council funding than they had previously considered. For example, since Gateway to Research was launched in beta form in December 2012, BAE Systems have used it to find out about EPSRC funding for metamaterials, EPSRC and NERC projects relevant to launch and recovery, and human factors research supported by ESRC.
"Metamaterials is more or less solely an EPSRC domain. With launch and recovery suddenly you’re accessing things from NERC, who had never entered our thoughts," explains Harris. "We've only just started working with ESRC, as they do a lot of human factors work. We do a lot of human factors work to ensure the human and sociological aspects are at the forefront of research, and thanks to GtR our human factors people have now started working with ESRC."
BAE Systems are now using Gateway to Research to inform three different aspects of their work.
Firstly, it provides input to their Technology Foresight Team, allowing them to see what research has been funded several years before publications appear. "Every now and again something comes along that is a game-changer and we need to pay attention" says Harris.
Secondly, Gateway to Research helps BAE Systems identify who they could work with at universities once they have identified topics of interest.
For example, additive manufacturing – 3D printing using a variety of materials, is of interest to BAE Systems. "You can use it for really difficult materials such as titanium, which blunts our diamond-tip tools all the time" Harris explains. BAE Systems is using Gateway to Research to keep track of who in the UK is studying additive manufacturing as well as what funding they have received. This early information allows the company to approach the academic at an early stage of the research project and can help ensure the outputs of the research are of use to industry, increasing the impact of the research. "Without GtR we have to do it the long way round, by happy chance, networking etc. With GtR you have the chance to start the conversation at an early stage where everyone can benefit" says Harris.
Finally, "we're always looking for new capabilities. How can we stitch several things together to make a bigger thing?" says Harris. "Metamaterials are an example of that."
Marine Innovation Centre
The Marine Innovation Centre (MARIC) at Plymouth University work with many innovative companies including SMEs and industry primes to accelerate growth by creating intelligent connections between businesses, world-class knowledge, technologies, people and infrastructure.
Ian McFadzen, Head of MARIC said of the GtR "this an exciting initiative that will benefit the companies we work with by helping them keep informed about what research is being undertaken, by whom and where. Many of the smaller companies do not have the time and resource to trawl through all the literature to find this out. We envisage using the GtR to help better inform businesses about the plethora of research being undertaken."
"Innovators have the trait of utilising knowledge and experience balanced with common sense and insight. To be able to find and access experts and research intensive organisations that are receptive to collaborative R&D is crucial to growing the economy and keeping the UK at the forefront of global competitiveness."
Ian is a former research biologist with NERC and has founded two technology based companies. He recognises the opportunity offered by the GtR and appreciates the value it brings to SMEs. "I wish the GtR had been around when I was looking to find experts and specialists. I was so preoccupied with finding customers, cutting costs and running the business I simply didn't have the time to look around to see who was active in my areas of interest. Access to a simple but functional tool like the GtR will help accelerate and stimulate interactions between research intensive organisations and SMEs to create new products and services."
Now operating at the interface of the public/private sectors Ian goes on to say "The Marine Innovation Centre will use the GtR to track progress and monitor research activity to help our clients, the SMEs, navigate their way around the plethora of institutions and funding bodies delivering research excellence. The GtR will help us translate, engage and signpost in order to encourage collaboration and innovation. The three key elements of the knowledge economy are Government, Industry & Universities and the GtR provides a free online shopping experience that will soon become the first port of call for SMEs looking to locate experts."
Gateway for Higher Education (G4HE)
The original aim of Jisc's G4HE project was to improve the way information is shared between the UK Research Councils and Higher Education Institutions. This has been delivered through the development of a set of tools, tailored specifically to the needs of research managers and administrators, using data from Gateway to Research (GtR). The project has also drafted a report on the use of Research Council data by Institutions which includes a number of recommendations to ease the flow of information between the Research Councils and the Institutions they fund.
The G4HE tools allow research managers to view information on:
- key collaborations within their institution's grant portfolio, so they can identify institutions with whom to build partnerships
- who they are collaborating with in particular fields, and find other institutions in the same field that they are not already collaborating with
- the number and value of collaborations with commercial partners to get an idea of the value and extent of their institution's knowledge transfer activities - useful for both internal and external reporting e.g. Higher Education - Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) survey
- funding awarded between groups of researchers at their institution, compared with groups at other institutions to enable them to monitor their own funding performance
- how much a department has brought in, which helps show the success of an institution's research groups
Alicen Nickson, Deputy Director for Research Support and Development at Brunel University said, "In order to be an effective university research manager you're required to understand and manage the funding portfolio. Brunel maintains comprehensive records of our own grants but the information extracted from GtR and analysed by G4HE tools allows us to compare our performance against others - so we can better understand our relative performance.
Jisc's G4HE project will provide tools that sort and analyse the available data when we need it. We look forward to trying out these new tools to see what can be gleaned from the new intelligence available to us."