The Data Science Lab (DSL) in Munich, Germany, is an excellent example of collaboration between a major company and academia. Inaugurated during the summer of 2016 at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich (LMU), the DSL is a place where Siemens would like to “have an ear on the pulse of the data sciences, draw young data scientists’ attention to industrial research, and offer a place where students and experts from the areas of research and industry can meet,” says Volker Tresp, a professor of informatics at LMU who is also responsible at Siemens for the Data Science Lab. At DSL, experts from Siemens and LMU work together with students on projects such as the search for new solutions for analyzing high-frequency data streams. Such solutions enable researchers to detect anomalies in heterogeneous and complex data streams, for example in the data reported by mobile sensors. Anomalies in space-time data can provide information about causal connections as well as malfunctions.
Building a Web of Knowledge with World-Class Partners
Even a major company can’t invent everything itself. In order to generate a steady stream of top-quality innovations, Siemens works closely in research and development with numerous universities, research institutes, and industrial partners all over the world.
Innovation through Cooperation
The Data Science Lab is an example of Siemens’ many research partnerships with universities, research institutes, and others throughout the world. The University Relations (UR) department at Siemens was created to manage such partnerships. This kind of cooperation is necessary, because even a research-intensive corporation like Siemens cannot address every research field and topic with only its own research and development (R&D) capacities. “In addition,” explains UR Head Natascha Eckert, “most of our research projects have a timeframe of only three to ten years. The universities look farther into the future in their basic research.”
In its partnerships with universities, Siemens differentiates between three different levels of cooperation.
- On the partner level, Siemens Corporate Technology draws up uniform rules of collaboration. Siemens international companies and corporate units use these framework conditions as a basis for selecting partners and concluding contracts themselves. The partnerships focus on conducting contract research that is limited as to time and subject matter. To simplify the R&D teams’ search for suitable research partners, CT operates an online platform that stores information about the main fields of scientific research at all major universities worldwide. “Like a search engine, it enables our R&D teams to find scientific partners all over the world,” says UR expert Andreas Goedecke.
- Universities with which Siemens has had successful partnerships can rise up to the next level and become Principal Partners. These partners are research-intensive universities with which Siemens not only works closely on a case-by-case basis, but also has a strategic partnership. One of these Principal Partners is the Technical University of Darmstadt, with which Siemens has greatly expanded its work in recent years.
- The highest level of research partnership is that of the Centers of Knowledge Interchange (CKIs). Such centers have been established at only a few universities whose research meets the highest international standards and which are selected on the basis of strict criteria. These universities include the RWTH Aachen, the Technical University of Berlin, the Technical University of Munich, and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany, Graz University of Technology in Austria, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley, Danish Technical University (DTU) in Copenhagen, and the Tsinghua University in China.
Siemens’ CKI partnerships are much broader than its other research partnerships. Such relationships extend beyond individual institutes and departments to the entire university. CKI partnerships address key technologies that are crucially important for Siemens and are typically long-term in nature.
Naturally, Siemens is not the party that benefits from such partnerships. Universities benefit as well since researchers, instructors and students have access to the specialists who put research results into practice. In addition, the fruits of these efforts provide professors with topics for their students’ dissertations, and enable doctoral candidates to get in touch with potential employers. “The recruitment of highly qualified young employees is an important aim of our research partnerships,” says Eckert.
Last but not least, partner universities receive funding for conducting their own research. “We are very much involved in funding projects,” says UR’s Markus von Gemmingen-Hornberg, who coordinates t relationships with public organizations that provide funding.
Strict Criteria and Quality Assessments
A lot of money flows into Siemens’ research partnerships, and a single project can cost several million euros. As a result, Siemens has to continuously check whether funds are being used efficiently and whether targets are being achieved within a planned budget and timeframe. Admittedly, R&D projects cannot be as precisely controlled as other types of projects. “Research invariably involves entering uncharted territory, so at any time you can encounter problems that could never have been foreseen,” says Eckert.
That’s why qualitative criteria are needed in order to evaluate the projects’ overall success. In each case, Siemens must determine how effective a relationship with a partner has been and what kind of impression the respective research institute, its director, and its employees have made. Siemens maintains a database that makes such assessments possible. “These experiences can be very valuable for other potential cooperation partners,” says Eckert..