Business and Industry Section meeting: Getting engaged statistically

On Wednesday 5 June, 2019 at Royal Statistical Society, the Business and Industry section of the RSS held a meeting: 'Getting engaged statistically – How business and academia create Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP)'.

The first speaker was Gerry O’Hagan, an adviser at the Knowledge Transfer Network whose role is to facilitate KTPs, advise applicants and support existing KTPs.

The idea of a KTP is to bring knowledge from universities and research organisations into businesses, via recruitment of an associate, over 12-36 months. There are three parties involved: the business, the university and the associate. It should be a learning experience for all parties. A KTP is supported by government funding of 67% for small and medium-sized SMEs and 50% for large companies of the total cost.

Gerry revealed that the associate was central to the KTP and should not be viewed as a resource to be managed, but rather should be the project leader. The academic partner should allocate half a day a week to the project. He gave some statistics: 85% of applications for KTPs are funded once they are accepted for consideration, 94% of KTP projects meet or exceed their objectives and in 86% of cases, the business and university partners plan further collaboration once their KTP ends.

The second speaker was Dan Walker, a KTP associate with Newcastle University and Engie, an energy and services company. The remit of this KTP was to broadly embed knowledge in statistics and data science within the business. Dan identified several specific projects within the company that would be of benefit, including scheduling and use of natural language processing for automated error identification. Being an associate has enabled Dan to apply research methods and also taught him business skills.

The third speaker was Joshua Myrans, KTP associate with University of Exeter and South West Water. This partnership involved applying statistical and machine learning methodology to the problem of automatically detecting faults in sewers. The project was a continuation of work Joshua had prototyped as part of his PhD work. Joshua spoke of the personal support he had in terms of training and networking opportunities. The KTP also allowed him to straddle industry and academia by doing his research in an industry setting.

The session raised many interesting questions and lively discussion. A common theme was around ownership of intellectual property (IP) during the KTP and restrictions on publication due to the commercial confidentiality of the research. Gerry said that these are common issues and they are negotiated at the start of the partnership. Typically, it is preferred for IP to be owned by the business. One strategy for publishing commercially sensitive work is to delay publication. Joshua commented that he has published successfully and this has not been a problem. On the question of whether data or code could be provided with the publication, Joshua said that he had not done this for reasons of commercial confidentiality and this was acceptable to the journal.

Tony Bellotti is senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at Imperial College London.

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