Posted: 24 Apr. 2017 10 min. read

Stories from Sydney’s creators – University of Technology Sydney

Design to connect

The University of Technology Sydney, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology (FEIT) is an Australian leader in impact-driven research. It is an innovative and research-intensive faculty, which values its relationships with schools and the broader community.

The faculty has a reputation for practice-based learning programs and industry engagement. With a strong focus on collaborative research, they work alongside industry to realise real world problems and develop ways to overcome them.

Due to open in late 2017, the UTS:TechLab (name TBC) is just one of the upcoming facilities being developed. It is envisioned as a vibrant, creative, and welcoming place dedicated to research, that champions a collaborative community of researchers and industry partners. It will look to establish a new type of research community that is multidisciplinary and showcases cutting edge technology.

Similarly, the UTS:Protospace, opening in mid-2017, will have a distinctive approach to community and industry engagement and will be designed to foster innovation and facilitate learning for the future. The space will be an exciting new additive manufacturing facility with a unique range of enabling the creation of precision physical prototypes in a wide range of materials. It will be an integral part of the UTS innovation infrastructure with linkages across the university as well as industry and community groups.

A key ingredient for FEIT research facilities is to have the space and flexibility to work with industry, government, and community partners on large-scale research projects. Having substantial infrastructure and spaces that can create collegial environments, where collaboration can happen for a range of groups and stakeholders is vital for innovation. At their TechLab, FEIT hopes to have no segregation by research discipline or group, as they establish an environment that will provide opportunities for the sort of spontaneous, unexpected, and serendipitous outcomes that broadly underpin innovation.

In the development of their facilities, FEIT are following a number of design principles such as open plan work areas and multipurpose spaces to support their vision of a flexible and creative collaborative space. They are also using an activity based working (ABW) approach, which is a workplace strategy that provides people with a choice of settings for a variety of workplace activities. Rather than forcing people to undertake their work within one type of setting, ABW allows people to physically locate themselves in the most suitable space for their work, exemplifying the faculty’s guiding theme of agility, flexibility, and creative collaboration.

Researchers feeling locked in by a restrictive organisational structure; the burden of day-to-day processes and procedures; and the separation of academia from industry and society are seen as key barriers to innovation. To overcome this, FEIT hopes to create an environment where people are free, empowered, able and willing to experiment. The faculty “strives to nurture thought leadership and innovation through a culture of collaboration, partnership, and real world impact”, says Ian Burnett, Dean of FEIT.

Translating ideas into real innovations with impact requires a tenfold effort as well as a combination of talent, interconnectedness, and common purpose. Associate Dean, Myriam Amielh says that a great measure of the impact of research is that it is “being effectively used today by a community, company, or government.” With a very open minded approach to innovation, FEIT is creating new and non-traditional models of engagement with their stakeholders. FEIT acknowledge the importance of listening to the needs and challenges of the community, so that they are able to conduct research that really matters to the real world.

Working together to connect

Professor Roy Green, Dean of the Business School at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) speaks about the importance of collaboration and the responsibility of the university in enabling and facilitating connections across Australia’s innovation ecosystem.

As Dean of UTS Business School, Professor Roy Green has two important roles in fostering innovation: first, in highlighting the opportunity for students, and second, in helping connect participants in that ecosystem.

“Students emerging from universities today have an opportunity to participate in the broader innovation ecosystem and their education must develop the skills and capabilities need to succeed”, he says.

He also believes he has a responsibility to help make connections between the university community, the start-up sector, and large corporates that want to foster internal disruption.

“We know that innovation thrives in a collaborative context – we know that both from survey evidence, and anecdotally,” he says.

“Some time ago, a study was done on US quality awards, that found that 40 years ago most of the awards were won by solo efforts – about two-thirds in fact. But more recently the position has been reversed and most of the awards, over three quarters of them, are won by collaborative teams, whether they are teams in physical proximity or virtual networks.”

That’s why the rise of innovation districts or precincts is important, says Professor Green. There is value in locale for establishing relationships. “People in concentrated geographical areas can generate high levels of innovation and they can connect because they are in close physical proximity. There’s really no substitute for that proximity, though it can be supplemented by virtual connections through the Internet too.”

Traditionally, companies chose to reside in particular areas for “real-estate reasons and for sales and marketing but with little interest in collaboration, let alone the development of home grown R&D activity”, he says.

This is now changing and universities are playing a bigger role in activating dormant clusters. “This will not emerge spontaneously and it will need to be enabled and cajoled.”

Professor Green gives the example of the UTS precinct and how it demonstrates the value of collaboration that can be facilitated by the activities of a university and by government policy.

In the past five to ten years, the innovation precinct around UTS has experienced “spontaneous entrepreneurial activity, the building of new ventures, collaborative co-working spaces, and incubator facilities. The construction of innovation infrastructure in the area has enabled vibrant social interconnections.

However, connections and collaboration cannot be created by public policy alone and certainly cannot be established if no innovation infrastructure or district exists. “Universities and governments can only facilitate activity that is already under way, it’s not something you can create if nothing is there.”

Physical environments for the development of creative districts also cannot be underestimated, and UTS Business School moved into its new, Frank Gehry-designed UTS home in 2014.

Professor Green emphasises the ability of architecture to shape people and ideas, as universities and the design of creative collaborative spaces facilitate the growth of relationships and networks that can produce opportunities for informal and serendipitous ventures.

“They all get to know each other, they build their own networks and sometimes out of those relationships grow ventures and collaborations that they couldn’t have foreseen, but which we ‘choreograph’. It’s not as though one can draw up a comprehensive plan about how those interactions should take place, many of them are serendipitous, but that means ensuring we create the spaces and the opportunities for those interactions to occur.”

By having a focus on being highly interdisciplinary and collaborative, while also practically engaged with the objectives of industry and the community, UTS provides a best practice example of how to engage with and draw on the creative talent in their community.

Professor Green acknowledges the work that is ahead and the important role both he and the university have in facilitating interactions throughout the innovation ecosystem.

“We can’t do everything ourselves, so we have to also make things possible for others,” he says.

The greater collaboration and co-location of activities will be key for Australia’s innovation future and in enabling “people to do things they might not otherwise have imagined to be possible”.

Discover how other organisations such as The Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Cochlear Limited, Westmead Redevelopment, International Convention Centre, RODE Microphones and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation are changing the way they think about innovation with more stories from Sydney’s creators.

How do Sydney’s regions perform in creating and capturing value? Imagine what it will take to drive the future state and prosperity of Sydney with ImagineSydney: Create.

More about the author

Dennis Krallis

Dennis Krallis

Managing Partner, Risk Advisory

Dennis Krallis is the Managing Partner of Risk Advisory at Deloitte Australia and a member of the firm's National Executive. He joined Deloitte in 1997 in the Enterprise Risk Services division, before becoming a Partner in 2003. Over the course of his career, Dennis has worked with the NSW Government and was the leader for Deloitte’s Global Alliance with Worley Parsons. In 2015, Dennis took on the role of Office Managing Partner for Sydney, where he was responsible for driving greater Partner collaboration across the Sydney office and encouraging integration of Deloitte’s services.