Research profile became a boost for the region

In 2020 Blekinge Institute of Technology concluded the “Scalable resource-efficient systems for big data analytics” project within the Knowledge Foundation’s programme Forskningsprofiler. The project meant that the university together with the business sector was able to develop an internationally prominent research domain that has boosted the whole region.

The Knowledge Foundation’s programme Forskningsprofiler gives universities an opportunity to spend six to eight years working with the business sector to develop an international profile in a delimited research domain. In total, the Knowledge Foundation contributes SEK 40 million to the universities granted funding within the programme Research Profiles.

“The purpose is for the universities to build a niche in a scientific area and make a long-term investment with the companies that contribute their time,” says Mattias Jarl, programme manager at the Knowledge Foundation responsible for Forskningsprofiler.

The project “Scalable resource-efficient systems for big data analytics” run at Blekinge Institute of Technology (BTH) was one of two initiatives in the Forskningsprofiler programme that ended in 2020. The university built up a research environment in this field that involves analysing large amounts of data, also known as big data, in partnership with these companies from the business sector:

  • Arkiv Digital AD
  • Compuverde
  • Ericsson
  • Noda Intelligent Systems
  • Telenor Sverige
  • Sony Mobile Communications

Spurring on regional collaboration

The investment has had a major impact on the region surrounding BTH. Several of the companies that worked with BTH on the project have local links, and there is considerable transfer of expertise between the business sector and the university. There are several telecommunications companies in the region with a major need to apply new technologies to analyse large amounts of data.

For example, we have worked with Telenor to develop a system to automatically sort all incoming email for their customer services. The region is strong in telecommunications, software and the Internet of Things, and we want to develop our region while also being strong nationally and internationally,” says Håkan Grahn, head of the research profile at BTH.

Noda Intelligent Systems is one of the partner companies that has been working with BTH throughout the project. Based in Karlshamn, the company develops smarter control systems for district heating networks and heat pumps, partly using artificial intelligence, AI.

As a relatively small company, our partnership with BTH is extremely important, including in this research profile. The fact that the university has also chosen to invest in expertise in big data has also increased the level of interest in the whole Blekinge region, benefitting all the industry here,” says Christian Johansson, CEO of Noda Intelligent Systems.

Research domain with future relevance

In 2014 BTH submitted an application to the Knowledge Foundation to start a project in the Forskningsprofiler programme. Since then it has become even clearer that digitalisation of society will mean a greater need to be able to analyse large amounts of data. New methods and new technology will be needed, and the purpose of this investment in big data was to develop precisely these. If companies can analyse the growing amount of data more effectively, they will then be able to create benefit for customers and business partners alike, and lower their costs.

Håkan Grahn highlights several advantages to establishing a research profile.

“A long-term approach is one important aspect. It takes time to build excellence in a research domain and it’s important to have financial muscle that enables you to make a long-term investment, for example by recruiting key people for several permanent posts. It provides peace of mind and has been extremely valuable.”

A long-term investment with support from the university

To have an application for a project in the Forskningsprofiler programme granted, the university must make a strategic, long-term investment in the area. As far as BTH was concerned, this meant that the institute set up Sweden’s first engineering degree in AI and machine learning – as a direct consequence of setting up the research profile.

We received a great deal of support from BTH’s leadership over the six years that we have been funded by the Knowledge Foundation and now that we have launched the new engineering degree, this will have a major strategic impact for BTH. It provides us with competence in the form of students, which is extremely important to us as a university, but it’s especially valuable to the business sector. We need to meet the needs that already exist and that are continuing to grow,” says Håkan Grahn.

Ericsson is another company involved in the project. Martin Wallin is Program Manager, Innovation and Research at Ericsson in Karlskrona and says that the investment involved great value for Ericsson as a company.

First and foremost it brought new insights that mean our product areas will be even more attractive. We’ve also been able to recruit several more staff, and the new engineering programme will be very valuable to us looking ahead. We look forward to starting to work with the students there,” he says.

The investment in Forskningsprofiler has led to three patent applications being granted with partner company Sony Mobile Communications. Now BTH wants to take its experience to the next level. The institute has submitted an application for a new investment in Research Profiles to the Knowledge Foundation that will be reviewed in 2021.

Both Ericsson and Noda Intelligent Systems are engaged in the discussions and are interested in working in this project too, provided the application is approved.

Do you have any advice to a university looking to build a research profile?

“First and foremost you need a base and a certain momentum in your previous research to have the foundation you need to go in for a Forskningsprofiler investment,” says Håkan Grahn. “It’s also extremely important to have stable, long-term business partners, and to have built up mutual trust through previous projects so that everyone knows what is expected before committing to the more long-term step that a research profile involves.”