24 Mar What public-private partnership means for Milwaukee
When we launched the Milwaukee Institute last fall we announced our intention to create a public-private partnership. Since then many people have asked me to describe the terms of the “partnership” as if they were in a legal document. We thought that by creating a platform for collaboration among public and private research organizations in the region that the “partnership” would be obvious. However, we continue to get questions that focus more on what the Institute is not, rather than what it is.
Our vision for the Milwaukee Institute is that it will design, develop, implement and maintain the cyber-infrastructure to support collaborative research efforts of scientists and engineers who are seeking solutions to the most pressing problems of our time. We imagine that infrastructure will include high performance computing, mass data storage and open source middleware running on a secure, ultra-high speed network. We also imagine that the local network will be connected through the internet to the national science grid.
Beyond that, few things are certain. Version 1.0 of the collaborative website is under construction and the specifications for version 2.0 are being developed. Like any other “invention,” the collaborative infrastructure will necessarily evolve to meet the needs of the users. We have been getting a positive response from the local educational institutions who we expect will help us define the functions and features of the research network. We have not yet established formal relationships but we look forward to doing so in the near future. For now, we are listening carefully for suggestions that will help those institutions to achieve their respective research missions.
Whether local businesses, beyond our founders, Rockwell, Johnson Controls and Metavante, will participate by joining the research network remains to be seen. We believe that if we build it, they will come. We are optimistic that leadership groups will take shape around the industries clusters we have identified and will help the Institute to quickly define industry-specific, research agendas. We hope that once defined, these agendas will foster public-private research collaborations and help to attract other businesses that have an interest in the expected outcome of the planned research.
We also hope that the Institute will foster interdisciplinary collaborations surrounding long-term research projects of national importance. On such projects, the Institute will itself conduct directed, scientific research in the area of knowledge-based control systems for complex, real-time environments. These large scale, information technology research projects will most likely be done in collaboration with one or more of the leading technology companies like IBM, Cisco, and Intel.
Some have expressed concerns that the independent research efforts of the Institute might conflict with the interests of other local research institutions by consuming scarce financial and other resources that are need elsewhere. We don’t see this happening for two reasons: First, there are enough good ideas around that if a conflict does appear the Institute will defer to local research institutions that might be interested in the same or similar area of study; and second, whatever directed research that is conducted directly by the Institute will be supported by financial and technical resources that would not otherwise be made available to the local community. In fact, it is likely that research done at the Institute will necessitate infrastructure investment that will then be available to augment the network resources for local institutions.
The announcement of the Milwaukee Institute is only the start. Whether the Institute will achieve the goals and objectives we have for it, whether it will be joined in its efforts by other collaborative organizations or be eclipsed by them, only time will tell. Ultimately, we think the success of the Milwaukee Institute will depend on our execution. If we can assist the local research institutions to refine their research focus, increase the flow of research dollars into their organizations, and do more effective collaboration, we are confident that we will achieve our long term goals.
If we are successful, we believe that all the research organizations in the region, both public and private, will benefit. Those who chose not to participate in collaborative research promoted by the Institute are no worse off for going it alone, having chosen to remain exactly where they were in the first place. For the Institute and those who chose to work with us, we are engaging in an experiment that involves facing the future in a new way. To us it is simple: Do we see the future as something that happens to us, or something we imagine and then create? Obviously, we prefer the latter.