| 7 minute read

The power of partnerships: Shaping the future of digital transformation

Elena Galán-Muros
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In this episode, we invited Gemma Alker, Director of Innovation Central Brisbane, to discuss about the unique partnership between Cisco and Queensland University of Technology.

Gemma offers insights into how this collaboration is driving innovation and collaboration in Australia’s digital landscape, as well as the “CONNECT” methodology, a 7-step framework designed to foster effective partnerships and navigate the complexities of collaboration.

In this article, we summarise part of that conversation, but you can listen to the full interview in our podcast:

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Sarah Jaber:
Innovation Central Brisbane (ICB) is a cutting-edge innovation ecosystem and research hub located in the centre of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, shaping the future of digital transformation and beyond by bringing together academia, industry, and government to solve real world problems.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your role, ICB and the partnership between Cisco and Queensland University of Technology?

Gemma Alker:
My role is Director of ICB and I’m also the custodian of the partnership between Cisco and Queensland University of Technology on a global scale. I have been 25 years in the business of growth strategy and strategic partnerships and fundamental to all that we do at ICB is the idea of a relationship and how a partnership is more than a transaction.

In 2021, Cisco, as a big tech company, recognised that Australia’s digital transformation capability and the pipeline of future workforce was something that they had a responsibility to contribute to. With the vision of several players within the Cisco Australian team, led by Sam Goerner, Reg Johnson, Terry Weber, and others, they created the idea of a matrix called the National Industry Innovation Network (NIIN).

The uniqueness of this partnership is that it’s not a one-on-one equation, but a matrix. Queensland University of Technology and Cisco have a fantastic partnership, and we have expanded it and continue to grow it.

All the QUT ecosystem and all the industry and government partners that we engage through ICB benefit from also being included and accessing the NIIN, including our other university and industry partners.

That was the foundation and the vision for the partnership, accelerating digital transformation and digital skills for Australia’s prosperity and fundamental to that is big tech industry, government and academia working together.

Sarah Jaber:
You have been working on the CONNECT methodology. Can you tell us a little bit more what it is?

Gemma Alker:
I have been in the university land for 15 odd years working in this translational role of brokering industry and government partnerships within the student and academic stakeholder groups. Working in that environment with the trust, respect, and curiosity of a number of research colleagues, they encouraged me to actually create my own IP around the idea of the partnerships that we were building in the Cisco partnership, as well as several of our other classroom partnerships and government partnerships.

That IP has become the CONNECT methodology, a seven-step methodology that we use as a framework to define, design, and deliver our partnerships.

CONNECT is an acronym, so C stands for Community. What community do you want to be in for the mission that you are looking to serve? And who might already be in that community who could be a potential partner for you?

O is for Opportunity. What’s the demand and supply equation? What have you got to offer in terms of supply and what are you looking for? And on the other side from the partner, what’s their supply and demand? And where might you find those alignments?

The first N is for Negotiate. Partnerships are never ever just transactional, it’s always a win. What other value could be part of the exchange that you negotiate as part of your partnership?

The second N is for Network. Who else is in your network that may be of value or benefit to the partner? Who might they have in their network that they could bring to the partnership? That way, you are building a matrix and an ecosystem versus a siloed transactional connection.

E is for Engage. That’s when you get on with the job, you deliver on what you aim to do together, and you do it in absolute concert.

C is for Content. How can you amplify the work of the partnership through your and your partners’ channels, and what might you be able to share together?

And T is for Transcend. If the partnership program is done, rather than closing it off, you reflect on what else you can you do together and how to transcend and continue to evolve in partnership.

This IP is published in an embryonic state. People can find the flip book on it on my LinkedIn, but I am continuing to develop out the model and a book is in the future.

Sarah Jaber:
Can you give us an example of how have you applied it through your partnerships?

Gemma Alker:
ICB’s business model is founded on being an on-campus, central business district (CBD)-based space that is effectively acting as the front door for our stakeholders to come and engage with the partnership offering that we have here.

There is one particular, award-winning partnership program, called the Classroom to Boardroom partnership, that ICB does in concert with our esteemed colleague, Associate Professor Paula Dootson. It’s an undergrad unit for our first-year business students, with over 7,500 students in the last three and a half years.

We have been able to bring the CONNECT methodology to life by working in partnership with that unit coordinator to identify what might be our industry partners’ priorities.

Our industry partners have a thirst to hear from the young people of today, and they see a huge opportunity in being able to test some assumptions and get some new ideas from that community. We supply the students, fresh ideas and the testing opportunity, and the partners provide real-world, industry challenges.

Fast forward through the CONNECT methodology, where we have actually landed in delivering over the last seven semesters, eight partners, all the likes from Opera Queensland through to Stadiums Queensland, the State Library, Queensland Cricket, and other state-wide brands that fundamentally have a remit to contribute to the state. And their provocations have always been around how might technology help them realise something that is of strategic imperative to them.

Ready for more?

If you are interested in learning more about how universities and industry collaborate together, check the ground-breaking and award-winning framework from Swinburne University aimed at identifying, strengthening, and managing their strategic partners at our episode A blueprint for partnership success: The Swinburne University model.

You can also visit our case study collection, Transformative partnership approaches in leading universities, to learn about diverse strategies driving collaborative innovation and societal change around the world.

Our training course Going From Transactional to Strategic Partnerships will help you gain skills to facilitate the transition towards long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships. This course is suitable for individuals new to partnerships or actively engaged in external collaborations and partnerships. Open to university and industry professionals from diverse departments, faculties and institutional levels, including industry engagement, strategic relations, alliances, business development and more.

Stay tuned for the next episode on this series and don’t forget to follow us on your preferred podcast platform!

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