Trust is the name of the game when 13 businesses conduct collaborative research

A mood of expectancy is in the air. The seats face each other rather than the speaker at the front. The arrangement turns out to be perfect, encouraging discussion from one end of the room to the other.

The purpose of the project is to identify ways that innovation processes based on large quantities of data can be improved by combining technological, organisational and behavioural findings. The largest project in the history of the university will be co-financed by the Knowledge Foundation and the participating businesses.

Professor Cronholm has some pointers for researchers who would like to collaborate with businesses:
- Bring a specific idea with you - Remember not to talk like an ivory tower scholar - Start with businesses that are attractive for others to collaborate with 
- Take a long-term approach to developing trusting relationships 
- Establish a wide-ranging network at the organisation you are collaborating with 
- Don’t look at businesses as passive sources of information. Let them into your world, make them feel involved and publish articles together

Stefan Cronholm, the project manager and a professor of informatics, opens this first gathering of the participating researchers and businesses.

“Seeing the faces of people with so many complimentary skills and interests is a real thrill for me. That’s what makes learning and sharing with each other so special and rewarding.”

There’s little doubt he means what he says and has chosen his words carefully. Sitting in his office several months later, he circles back to the theme: trusting relationships are the building blocks of efforts to collaborate and share knowledge at each step along the way.

“As researchers, our goal is to promote the emergence of a more informed, savvy population. We can get there only if businesses help us understand the factors that are vital to success – or that set the stage for failure, all the way down to the statistical level.”

Convincing so many people and organisations to collaborate does not happen by waving a magic wand. Professor Cronholm and his colleagues have spent years establishing mutually supportive relationships with a number of the businesses. Sometimes they start off with small projects or meet at another venues, such as the annual IT Service Management (ITSM) conference at the University of Borås (see fact box). He points to a row of framed conference marketing posters on the wall.

About the project 
Information-based Innovation: Algorithms, Platforms and Ecosystems is a four-year project that is co-financed by the Knowledge Foundation and slated for completion in 2020. Thirteen businesses are participating and contributing human resources. 

The project consists of three separate initiatives: 
- Software Algorithms for Data Analysis (managed by Rikard König) 
- Digital Platforms for Service Innovation (managed by Hannes Göbel) 
- Ecosystem Strategies to Navigate Data Barriers (managed by Daniel Yar Hamidi) 

Find out more at

“Conferences are an opportunity for researchers to show the companies that we’re not just talk,” Professor Cronholm says. “We also use these occasions to firm up the relationships that are already in place. For example, we invite representatives of participating businesses to speak.”

A typical strategy for expanding their network at a business is to find a speaker who is not their primary contact.

“It is also a way to minimise our vulnerability when people move on to new duties or other companies.”

He emphasises that researchers must offer benefits that businesses do not already enjoy.

“The first thing to keep in mind is not to walk in there like you have all the answers. I look at myself as a sales rep who has thought through an idea and wants to know if they would like to critique and improve on it.”

Professor Cronholm explains that researchers need a concept of what they intend to accomplish even though they cannot fully articulate a question until the project is fully under way. Whatever concept they come up with, it will require adaption to the needs and capabilities of the particular businesses involved, often depending on the nature of their organisation.

“A business that belongs to a large company might have to wait for expert assistance from their head office in another city. Meanwhile, a small business can’t afford those kinds of skills and has to join forces with similar organisations to effectively address the issues they face. Our objective is to collaborate with businesses of all sizes and shapes to make sure that our solutions work for everyone.”

Climbing down from our ivory tower is absolutely essential.

Pulsen, an IT consulting firm in Borås, is one of the participants. Emil Andersson works for the business.

Annual ITSM conference at the University of Borås IT Service Management is a strategy based on proceeding from the perspective of customers to provide value-added processes that utilise advanced computer and data skills.

“We live in a changing world,” Andersson says. “You may be an expert in a subject today and then be regarded as a novice three or four years down the road. Participating in a research project is certainly a way of acquiring knowledge, but it is just as often a tool for maintaining the momentum to stay on the cutting edge. The project has also put us in touch with other businesses that offer enormous benefits in terms of partnership and collaboration.”

Professor Cronholm adds, “As researchers, climbing down from our ivory tower is absolutely essential. What we can contribute is the ability to move from the concrete level to an overview of the phenomena that it exemplifies. In this particular case we are conducting research with, instead of about, businesses, and the more we collaborate with them, the better they can do so among themselves.”

November 2017. More than a year after the initial meeting, everyone is back in the same room once again. Now nobody needs an introduction to the project or an explanation of why they have been invited. A researcher and business representative present each initiative – questions and comments are flying in all directions. The project is well on its way, and a sequel is already on everyone’s mind.

Text Helen Rosenberg
Photo Anna Sigge

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About Professor Cronholm

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