Making the most of new technologies depends on better collaboration between industry and academia says BAE Systems Vice President for Technology Collaboration Programmes James Baker

I recently took part in a series of industry meetings to discuss how new technology is impacting on the efficiency of our armed services.These discussions identified some common ingredients for success: good planning, collaboration between industry and consumers, and the involvement of the supply chain, including our universities.

Yet we also noticed that our best case studies were often achieved with the benefit of hindsight. There is always an element of the unexpected, one might say luck, that has resulted in these successes. Do how do we pick better winners? Or as Witty phrased it, what are we doing today that is writing our future histories? 

Over the past six months I have been leading a series of ‘futures’ workshops for BAE Systems. We have taken groups from across the business and asked them to look ahead to the year 2035. We want to better understand the implications for technology, the skills and capabilities of our people and what we might start to look like as an organisation 20 years from now.

A great thing about looking at the future is how difficult it is to decide who is right or wrong. Who knows what will happen tomorrow. It is fascinating to see the variety of views: from the positive and colourful views, to the slightly darker or more depressing vision of days ahead.

One issue that has emerged is the sheer pace of technological change. Technologies that we predicted that would not be mature within a certain timescale are maturing more quickly than had been planned or expected.

I believe one way to achieve successful products and capabilities in future is by industry and academia working more closely together. Only by working better together from the beginning of a piece of research, can the end result – the application of new technology – be seen. 

The academic view can often be seen as too simplistic, with a limited understanding of the requirements and cost of technology in the field. Industry, meanwhile, might not also see the full opportunities or potential for a particular technology outside it’s own commercial interests.

Working as a team we can define new technologies against a structured business opportunity which can then be funded or supported through the rest of its development lifecycle. There will still be a need for disruptive technologies but, again, we can understand and develop these better if we work in collaboration.

Though the future might be uncertain, by improving the opportunities for  collaboration between industry and universities we will be better placed to meet the future world head on and ‘write our future histories’.

James Baker is Vice President,Technology Collaboration Programmes at BAE Systems