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E-Commerce Skunkworks in Menhasa

NEENAH – Tucked away in a basement at Menasha Advantage, a subsidiary of Neenah’s Menasha Corp., is a research center its staff affectionately calls “The Skunkworks.” There, a better cardboard box is being born.

Through use of Radio Frequency Identification technology, Menasha Advantage is building a system to track shipments from one end of a supply chain to another. The Internet-based system will save time, money and headaches for corporate managers – and enhance safety in an era when terrorists could use commercial supply chains to attack the United States. With major corporations such as Wal-Mart set to require use of RFID technology by its vendors, the “advantage” in Menasha Advantage may come from being first with the right system.

Menasha Advantage isn’t alone in developing RFID technology, however, even in Wisconsin. Nor is Menasha Advantage shy about working with others on debugging RFID or developing its full applications. That’s because the company is part of an eight-company industry workgroup formed through the UW-Madison Consortium on Global E-Commerce. It’s a tangible example of how the resources of the UW-Madison are being put to work far beyond the confines of the campus.

The goal of the workgroup – much like others formed by the Consortium – is to help member companies collaborate on certain types of research so that core breakthroughs can be shared and accelerated. Through its various collaborative learning and knowledge-sharing activities, the Consortium helps companies make informed decisions and learn e-business “best practices” in a non-commercial, trusted environment with other e-business decision-makers.

Since the Consortium’s founding in 1998, several thousand people have taken part in its educational events and hundreds of UW students have gained valuable experience through industry-sponsored e-business projects. Nearly 100 Consortium reports have been published on topics ranging from retailing to insurance, and from biotechnology to telecom, to help companies translate their e-business visions into reality.
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The Consortium is led by Dr. Raj Veeramani, an energetic e-business advocate who holds joint appointments in the College of Engineering and the School of Business. Veeramani has built a membership organization with ties to about 40 Wisconsin businesses, most of which fall into one of Wisconsin’s core industry “clusters,” such as manufacturing, printing or plastics.

In addition to the RFID initiative, Veeramani is launching other strategic collaborations to catalyze innovation in Wisconsin’s plastics industry and to help make Wisconsin’s original equipment manufacturers more competitive in a global marketplace. Those initiatives and the creation of a multi-disciplinary institute to facilitate continued industry collaboration with the UW-Madison and other campuses will be unveiled at the Consortium’s Oct. 16 “Best Practices and Emerging Technologies” conference in Madison.

For information on how to attend that conference, go to http://www.cgec.org or e-mail cgec@white.engr.wisc.edu.

“The strategy for e-business related research is to harness the rich spectrum of faculty competencies pertaining to e-business on the UW-Madison campus and at other educational institutions in Wisconsin, and to leverage our close ties with the private and public sectors in order to create a holistic research environment,” Veeramani said.

Competing in the knowledge-based economy will require continued efforts such as those already underway at the Consortium for Global E-Commerce. In its report, “Vision 2020: A Model Wisconsin Economy,” the Wisconsin Technology Council envisioned a tech-based economy built upon current and emerging clusters, on research centers of excellence, and on the creation of an Institute for Interdisciplinary Research.

The Consortium fits that vision. It also represents the 21st century version of the Wisconsin Idea: The state can only succeed by making the most of all its assets, which means combining the best of academia and industry.

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Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of the The Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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