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Siemens Strategic Approach to Research Cooperation with Academia Sets Their Future Agenda

Alina Dreier

Imagine having more than 30,000 researchers working within your organisation and having a budget for annual R&D of about €6.5 Billion! Well this is context for R&D at Siemens AG, one of the world’s largest electronics companies.

Whilst most of the internal research at Siemens is focussed on more immediate needs (or the business of today) like many large multinationals, Siemens engages with universities to investigate the business of tomorrow (or the day after tomorrow!).

Like Siemens, companies worldwide have woken up to the fact that the days of ‘closed innovation’ chains (without external input) are long gone. To generate high quality future-oriented innovations businesses nowadays are increasingly looking externally, in the form of open-innovation, specifically to collaboration with academia.

However, all too often companies approach cooperation with HEIs in an ad hoc and unsystematic manner. However, by carefully considering the relationship structure and strategy for building and maintaining cooperation, companies can obtain better results and create more successful results from their innovation efforts.

In a practical sense then, the question arises: How can companies avoid sporadic, piecemeal approaches to cooperation and build relations with universities in a strategic thoughtful way?

The case of Siemens’ Center of Knowledge Interchange (CKI) programme is an exemplar case for how external collaboration with university can be undertaken strategically. The programme is operated by its University Relations (UR) Unit within Siemens and these external university relations are managed by Natascha Eckert, Director of University relations at Siemens, and the head of Siemens’ University Relations (UR) Unit.

University-business cooperation facilitated by Siemens (Germany and Europe’s largest industrial conglomerate with a strong international presence) has a long history of providing benefits for both companies and universities. Siemens has collaborated for decades with numerous HEIs and research centres around the world within the scope of its open innovation strategy which fosters company’s long term success and strengthens its innovative power.

The UR unit is the company’s special internal department exclusively devoted to management and coordination of the conglomerate’s cooperation activities with diverse HEIs worldwide. To make these activities more effective and fruitful, almost 20 years ago Siemens decided to work in a more strategic and closer way only with certain carefully selected strategic university partners and to invest in research cooperation with them in areas that are key for the company.

Hence for the last 15 years, Siemens’ UR Unit has been actively operating the CKI programme – the company’s long term strategic approach to university-business cooperation. The CKI programme ultimately aims at developing long-lasting strategic collaboration with renowned HEIs worldwide in two main for Siemens UBC areas, the joint R&D and talent acquisition.

Today, the company focuses their cooperation on nine reliable and trustful university partners in Germany, Austria, Denmark, China and the United States, selected based on positive history of cooperation with Siemens and proximity to its operations.

Another success factor guaranteeing sustainable progress of and continued benefits from the CKI programme are the inter-organisational intermediaries, which are strategically allocated on both the company’s side and within CKI universities. They provide Siemens with quite unique direct access to universities, their research, academic staff and young talents.

Whilst playing a role of mediators facilitating relationships between two organisations, intermediaries are tasked with an ultimate responsibility in bilateral UBC development and management for HR acquisition and joint R&D. These actors do not participate in research activities, but play a crucial role in bridging two parties to achieve following goals, including:

  • increasing research cooperation with HEIs in general,
  • concentrating and increasing joint R&D at the selected CKI universities and
  • aligning research and innovation activities with talent acquisition and employer branding.

Last week (6th and 7th of April), Siemens’ example was presented as a “good” practice UBC case during the 7th University Business Forum in Brussels, initiated and organised by the European Commission.

Want to learn more about Siemens’ strategic UBC approach? Read the detailed case study at: http://ub-cooperation.eu/index/casestudies


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