WMG is a world-leader in business orientated high-quality research – but this research needs to find its way into the wider economy, not just manufacturing. The big challenge for WMG is to continue to have its roots in all that is best in manufacturing but to find a way to expand into other sectors.
Dr Alistair Keddie is well placed to facilitate this, having arrived in 2003 after a long career with the Department of Trade and Industry, which holds the group in high regard. Part of his role as a part-time principal fellow is to build up contacts for WMG researchers and open doors in terms of funding and links with businesses, government departments and other organisations.
Dr Keddie says: “We need to have more professional economic experience in WMG because everything we touch has got an economic dimension. There is a need to identify opportunities for further funding and exploit them for the potential of other customers.”
A shift in the balance of government funding is crucial, because while annual spending on science-based research stands at £3billion, only £150 million is spent on the transfer of new technologies to the outside world. Dr Keddie, whose most recent post at the DTI was Director General of the Innovation Group, hopes to use his links to influence government policy on this issue and persuade the powers-that-be to exploit what WMG is developing.
A key area into which WMG is now moving is the field of sustainability. Again Dr Keddie can bring experience to bear here as he was responsible for sustainability and environmental issues within his DTI innovation remit, was a Board member of the Carbon Trust and remains a trustee of the Green Alliance think-tank.
The integration of Horticulture Research International into the university offers big opportunities which WMG must grasp.
“The whole area of sustainability must be more integral to what we are doing and the concept of ‘lean’ must be widened to include environmental issues." Dr Keddie says: “There is a reluctance by organisations to look at themselves in a holistic way but the general public are intelligent enough to notice that each ‘green’ initiative carries a consequence.”
A further area of research is healthcare, where the role of the new Digital Laboratory will be fundamental. Talks are underway with chief executives of local hospitals and primary care trusts and the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, based on campus, to establish what WMG can offer.
“We need to see how they can harness our expertise to solve some of their problems. However, the NHS operates very much on cost-centred management rather than profit-centred and although basic principles of manufacturing can be translated, implementing them is totally different, not least because patients have emotions which also have to be managed. It may be that the best practices of the service industry are equally appropriate.”
Dr Keddie says the time is right for WMG, a pioneering organisation, to challenge its own way of working and open some more doors. “WMG is a unique place which has broken the mould, but to remain competitive we now need to ‘up our game’ in all these areas.”