Ideas gap spurs DTI to act

December 1, 2000

The "knowledge gap" between companies and academics means that businesses in the United Kingdom are missing out on up to 5,000 potentially lucrative ideas, according to the Department of Trade and Industry.

The DTI suggests that UK companies are out of touch with research being done in universities. It says more than 1,000 cutting-edge software development projects are being carried out in UK universities every year, each producing an average of five potential business applications. But these are not being adopted by businesses.

In a bid to remedy this, the DTI last week launched the Software Technology Outreach Programme (ST Outreach), a £500,000 strategy to close the gap.

Ray Browne, of the DTI's communications and information industries directorate, said: "The knowledge gap arises because universities and industry have different cultures and objectives.

"ST Outreach is bridging that gap by ensuring that universities communicate the business benefits of their research to businesses in plain English.

"At the moment, fewer than one in ten IT applications discovered in universities make their way to market. Up to 5,000 ideas are effectively lost to business. The programme has been set up to help get these ideas adopted."

Top researchers in information technology and computer science from the leading universities will share their discoveries with businesses in a nationwide series of seminars over the next six months.

The first seminars will show how more intelligent software technology could help businesses in sectors such as banking, medicine and security.

Mr Browne said there was a steady stream of good ideas emerging from universities, many the result of public-funded research.

He said:"These ideas cover areas from machine vision to software process improvement, from e-working to data visualisation.

"The combination of these ideas is often the key to application. For example, machine vision in conjunction with intelligent image capture and image processing can produce applications in the processing industries; improvements in software processes coupled with communications protocols produces tools for use in e-working applications."

Mr Browne said that many industries and economic areas most likely to be affected by machine vision research had not adopted it as extensively as might have been expected. These include banking, medicine - for example automatic collection and analysis of breast scans - and security, "for example deciding whether an individual in a car park is walking through or looking for unlocked cars".

He added: "In some IT areas, for example photonics and electronics, industry and academia do work well and closely together.

"However, there are still many areas where the links between industry and universities are not as good as the UK needs them to be. Industry and academia need to be working together now in key 'middleware' areas to use efficiently the current and future communications infrastructure. Key issues here will include communications protocols, software agents and software components."

ST Outreach follows the publication of the science and innovation white paper in July, which urged university researchers to undertake projects that were of more practical benefit to industry.

  • ST Outreach programme seminar dates in 2000: December 7 - "Managing systems evolution" (Bristol); December 13 - "E-working - the next generation" (London); December 14 - "Machine vision" (London).

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