The amount of IT research and development being done by UniServices, Auckland University’s consulting and research company, is increasing swiftly.
UniServices, created in the late 1980s, does $40 million and $50 million worth of contract between R&D a year, says business manager Robin Ducker.
“IT would be a relatively small portion of that, but [it’s] growing reasonably quickly.”
New Zealand IT companies have utilised the expertise of Auckland University staff and students through UniServices, including better-known players such as Orion Systems and Peace Software and smaller companies like SmartSims, which develops business simulation software. Government departments and crown research institutes also put in proposals occasionally, though IT proposals are generally from companies, Ducker says.
The criteria for getting a proposal accepted include “a clear commercial spin-off — that there will be some intellectual property that comes out of it and that the intellectual property will be able to be leveraged to give the company a foothold into new or existing markets.”
John Hosking, professor of computer science at the university, has worked on several projects and says the work is especially positive for the university’s computer science department because most people in the department are interested in research where the results will be something measurable — "it’s a natural fit.”
Projects Hosking and the computer science department have been involved with include developing a message mapper for Orion Systems’ Symphony application, working with developer SoftTech on software for aluminium frame design.
Many of the companies and government organisations which approach UniServices are themselves funded by grants from Technology New Zealand, the government’s technical development assistance body, he says. “UniServices can help with the application process — we can critique the application,” says Hosking.
Ducker says there’s a perception that getting government funding for projects is a drawn-out, bureaucratic affair, “but if there’s a well-defined need and a well-defined product, it’s quite straightforward”.
UniServices has two arms, he says, contract R&D and technology development, the latter concerned with developing the university’s own intellectual property, which is sometimes used for the contract R&D and/or licensed or sold. It is 100% owned by the university but has an independent board of directors.