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Innovate to accumulate

Dr Debbie Buckley-Golder Programme Director for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, puts forward the case for innovation as a valuable tool in helping your business to come out the other side fitter and better equipped to compete in the global economy

Now is the time for businesses to be considering innovative ways of reducing costs, improving efficiency and gaining a thorough understanding of their market place. This may not be the time for some companies to consider new products or services, but the opportunity to bring in new ideas and experiences to review and streamline their current operations might be exactly the step they need to ensure their current survival and future growth.

Dr Debbie Buckley-Golder

One mechanism that can help companies to undertake business process re-engineering, from improvements to the supply chain, creating efficiencies on the shop floor, identifying new markets or implementing improved business systems and processes, is Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP).

KTPs give businesses the opportunity to access the knowledge and skills of academics within UK universities and colleges to help them tackle strategically critical challenges. Driven by the specific needs of each participating business, the scheme takes a structured, but flexible approach. Each Partnership employs one or more high-calibre Associate (recently qualified graduates) on a specific project. The Associate works within the company for the lifetime of the project ? normally between one to three years ? and from the start is charged with the ownership and delivery of the project.

The knowledge-base partner (academic institution) develops a relevant and improved understanding of the challenges that companies encounter which, in turn, stimulates business-relevant teaching material and new research themes. The benefits to a company are wide-ranging. As a result of government money committed to KTPs during 2007/08, for example, UK companies stand to benefit from an overall increase in annual profit before tax of over £83m, with as many as 1,450 new jobs created (aside from the recruitment KTP Associates) and nearly 10,700 company staff trained.

One company that has reaped rewards through collaborating on a KTP project is Gower Business Systems Ltd (GBS). The company specialises in providing customised solutions to everyday business problems, whether that be the simple installation of a PC and word processor, or more sophisticated multi-user accounting systems. The Swansea-based firm partnered with the Department of Innovation and Business Development at Gorseinon College on a KTP project, to develop a detailed marketing function that would lead to the production and implementation of a company-wide marketing strategy and campaign.

Through the project, the Gower received considerable market intelligence that allowed the company to enter new markets, as well as develop new products and services for its traditional markets. As a result of the partnership, the company exceeded its expectations and gained additional commercial benefits above those originally anticipated. In particular, it recognised a major opportunity to advance its software with the introduction of Digital Dictation and Voice Recognition services that are unique to South Wales.

The project also identified the hotelier market as an alternative to its traditional legal market and, through successful targeting, it is estimated that the company has generated an additional £60K net profit. However, product development and new market entry were far from the only outcomes of the project. The company?s existing workforce benefitted through training and, as such, the quality of customer service was significantly improved. This in turn led to an upsurge in referral sales and, ultimately, revenue.

Mark Wyatt, Gower Business Managing Director, says: ?As a result of this specific project, the company has widened its sales portfolio and Sarah (the KTP Associate) has learned invaluable new skills. The fact that the company has recently started another Associate on a different project, whilst also now employing Sarah on a full-time basis, shows how successful the KTP programme has been.?

The project resulted in a significant increase in company turnover as a result of embedding a marketing function throughout the business. Furthermore, the lasting effects of the new marketing approach has helped build a strong workforce and enable existing staff to gain new knowledge and skills by working in collaboration with the Associate. Such was the success of this particular project, that it received national recognition at the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships Awards in 2008.

Another company that has benefitted from collaborating with a higher-education institution through KTP is Westmill Foods in Manchester, which is one of the leading providers of ethnic noodles for the Chinese restaurant and takeaway industry in the UK.

The company worked with the Food Technology Group at Manchester Metropolitan University on a range of waste-reduction and product-development initiatives. Investment in a new automated production line, which allows continuous noodle production, was the starting point for a range of process improvements, plus a range of new, more technically demanding products have been developed. By changing over to a new production line, the company has made cost savings, with new products achieving significant sales. This work was undertaken by the KTP Associate Ewelina Kotze, a recent Food Technology graduate.

Julie Blinkhorn-Street was the company supervisor during the period of the KTP. She says: ?This project has helped us to achieve new sales and identify cost efficiencies at a time when global food prices have been on the rise, putting significant value on our ability to boost performance. It has also equipped our team with specific skills we will need for the future, including a better understanding of the potential of product innovation and process improvement.?

Meanwhile, Scottoiler Scotland, a market leader in motorcycle chain lubrication systems, has embarked on its second KTP project, working with the University of Strathclyde and KTP Engineering Associate Barry Stewart. Sharing the unique design methodologies of the University?s Department of Design, Manufacture and Engineering Management, the firm has developed expertise in new areas of product development. In particular, the process is giving the company a platform to develop new products that are currently being launched into the market.

It is estimated that the direct commercial impact of the KTP collaboration will lead to almost half a million pounds profit over the course of the project, which is due to be complete during 2009.


For more information, contact:
Tel: 0870 190 2829

Added the 26 August 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-1

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