The University Record, September 30, 1998

IBM agreement example of new approach to university-corporation alliances

By Nancy Ross-Flanigan
News and Information Services

An innovative five-year agreement between the University of Michigan and IBM signed Sept. 21 is the first in a new U-M program designed to establish formal universitywide affiliations with major information technology corporations. The Strategic Alliance program, spearheaded by the University's chief information officer Jose-Marie Griffiths, is expected to enhance University and corporation research projects and exchanges, to encourage campuswide interdisciplinary research, and to allow the University to take advantage of competitively-priced computer equipment and software.

In the past, individual departments, schools and other units within the University made their own arrangements with corporations--organizing collaborations, establishing internship and exchange programs, and negotiating prices for equipment and software. This approach worked well in some instances, but sometimes gave individual units advantages that were not shared by the whole University community.

The Strategic Alliance program creates a framework for Universitywide agreements with corporations. Through this framework, the U-M can work with industry to define strategic directions and to create and implement research projects in a long-term, "hands-on" collaborative environment. The program also will allow the U-M to leverage buying power across the entire institution and will allow negotiated discounts for hardware and software purchases.

Griffiths, who also is executive director, Information Technology Division, points out that while the agreement with IBM will go a long way to formalize and centralize the relationship, it is non-exclusive. Individual units and faculty still will be free to pursue their own relationships with corporations. The IBM agreement also does not prevent the U-M from dealing with other information technology corporations. In fact, Griffiths hopes to arrange similar strategic alliance agreements with other companies.

"This innovative agreement builds on decades of collaboration and good relations between the U-M and IBM," said President Lee C. Bollinger. "We're particularly excited about the joining of our two premier research entities to work on various projects. Having the U-M, one of the country's leading research universities, and IBM, the company that has received the most U.S. patents for the past five years, combine forces to explore new areas within the University in which information technology can make a significant difference is truly an important development."

From IBM's perspective, "the Strategic Alliance program with U-M is a significant step forward in our continuing relationship and brings additional value to our ongoing activities," said Sean Rush, general manager, IBM Global Education group. Rather than having many projects with many different parts of the University, which can lead to a fragmented investment strategy, Rush said that having a more centralized approach will make it easier for the benefits of a working relationship to be felt across the institution.

"This alliance formalizes a long standing relationship with and commitment to U-M. It reflects the two organizations' shared strategy of using technology to enhance the academic enterprise, and it exemplifies IBM's approach to collaborating with, rather than just selling to, universities," Rush added.

As a first step in the agreement, the U-M and IBM are forming a Strategic Alliance steering committee. The frequent contact between the two institutions is expected to increase joint investment in technology and research at the U-M. The Alliance also should provide the U-M with earlier access to new technologies, Griffiths said.

In addition, the program should facilitate collaboration throughout the University, by making it easier for academic units to team up to get equipment, funding and access to corporate brainpower. In the process, researchers may discover new ways to share and expand their expertise.

Over the course of the year, researchers from the U-M and IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center have been meeting to exchange ideas about joint research projects. Among areas of research being explored are:

• Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence: Research projects related to global electronic commerce, information economies, cyber-auctions and electronic checks, digital libraries and electronic markets.

• High Performance and Parallel Computing: High performance computer technology for applications such as medical imaging, environmental modeling and data mining.

• Internet2: Development of new technological frameworks for capturing and facilitating Internet-based education, allowing a wide range of material to be rapidly adapted to specific learning needs.

• Pervasive Computing: Research on development of small (sub-notebook-sized) computers and their uses in everyday life.

Other initiatives in the academic and administrative areas of the University are expected to be developed under this alliance.

For example, the Institute for Social Research recently joined forces with the Center for Parallel Computing to upgrade the University's high-performance computers. The units were able to leverage equipment and expertise awarded by IBM through a Shared University Research Grant to create a high-performance computing application with greater capability than either unit would have been able to create alone. In the process, researchers from the two units saw opportunities for multidisciplinary research and were able to expand into new areas. The social scientists, for example, now have the computing power--and the know-how--to mine information from massive data sets, such as census, justice and labor statistics. This will allow them to tackle questions that previously seemed too complex to unravel.

The U-M and IBM have had a long history of successful joint endeavors, beginning with the development of the original Internet to facilitate research among universities. IBM has provided support in the form of grants, fellowships and equipment to the University over the last 37 years and has been a regular recruiter of the College of Engineering and School of Business Administration graduates since 1978.

 


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