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(Q&A) - Tripartite R&D Consortia as a Vehicle for Economic Development

Q& A session (with Dr. Michael L. Leung) [ Q-Thai SEM2021 #4 - November 25, 2021]
Event: 40th anniversary of IEEE Thailand section & annual meeting

| Q-Thai forum | by IEEE Communications society - Thailand chapter |

| Keattisak Sripimanwat | Published Nov 19, 2021 |

Q-Thai forum's annual seminar #4 (Q-Thai SEM 2021) is organized jointly with the annual meeting of IEEE Thailand section 2021. This year Dr.Michael LEUNG, a co-founder of Synergia Associates and former *TRLabs’s vice president, gives us about forty minutes online talk that focuses on a special category of R&D consortia: tripartite consortia. That composed of governments, academia, large and small companies from manufacturers to service providers to user sectors and discusses how such tripartite consortia could bring benefits to all parties while at the same time, contribute to regional economic development. Since in the era of Industry 4.0 and globalization, R&D joint ventures/consortia have become more and more common. This talk is good for all technology management and policy maker as well as researcher.

Here is, to expand from his keynote presentation (Nov 25, 2021). Q-Thai forum organizes another session, in deep, to convey more specific information via Q & A. Dr.Leung provides his answers at below. He also recalled his two decades with TRLabs, one of the most successful collaborative model, and shared his exclusive experiences.

(* TRLabs (Canada): Telecommunications Research Lab (1986 - 2019) was one of “… excellent model to gain tripartite collaboration by industry, government and academia and to conduct long term pre-competitive research in a way which provides financial leverage to all participants …” - Ernst & Young evaluation)

Q1: Between industry 3.0 vs 4.0, what is the main difference on "the challenges for government”?

Michael LEUNG: The objectives for government in economic development would largely remain the same. However, they may face more complex challenges, and the time window to address these challenges will be shortening due to the fast pace of change. These challenges may include:

  • Developing emerging industries

  • Which industries to develop/support? Why/Why not?

  • Supporting start-ups and small enterprises in these industries

  • Designing fair funding support programs

  • Setting up relevant infrastructure, e.g., entrepreneur training, test-beds, XR platforms, investor networks

  • Handling industry transitions and workers, e.g., manufacturing and retailing (by 3D printing), truck drivers (by autonomous vehicles), cashiers (by ‘just-walk-out’ technologies)

  • Bridging the innovation gap

  • Between academic research and industrial commercialization

  • Developing quality labour force

  • Training for difference in knowledge and skillsets

  • Education, re-training and work-integrated learning

  • Work environment, e.g., work-at-home, developing team spirit and culture

  • Equity, diversity, inclusion of labour force

  • New technological infrastructure, for example:

  • Infrastructure for smart communities (home and workplace)

  • Communications, energy, transportation, healthcare

  • Supply chain 4.0

  • Associated standards and regulations (e.g., cybersecurity, privacy, traffic controls for drones, energy grid)

Q2: From "... very challenging for a single organization to approach an emerging market without partners and allies with complementary capabilities", is that no hope for new (single) unicorn?

Michael LEUNG: Unicorns are still very much alive. However, their ability to build alliances with complementary capabilities around the world will perhaps become more critical as a key success factor than ever before.

Q3: Is there any possibility that classical monopoly business model could be returned as any part of industry 4.0? Why or why not?

Michael LEUNG: Monopolies and perhaps oligopolies are possible. The difference is not necessarily because of operational efficiency and equity as in the past (e.g., post office, electric power), but more because of user convenience and preference (e.g., Amazon for online retailing, Google for information search, Facebook for social media, Microsoft Office for compatibility of sharing files and collaboration with co-workers.)

Q4: TRLabs was mentioned as one of the most successful collaborative model for thirty years.
If you could retrospect to survive TRLabs, what would you do?

Michael LEUNG:I joined TRLabs in 1989 and retired in 2009 and I did not have first-hand knowledge of the situation in the last decade of its operations. Therefore, my answer to this hypothetical question is based purely on speculation. I would probably evolve the TRLabs business model to reflect more closely with the realities of Industry 4.0, which might include:

  • Attracting new industry members by improving its value proposition for emerging sectors (e.g., green energy) or for traditional sectors facing serious challenges from Industry 4.0 (e.g., finance, health, transportation),

  • Making changes to the focus of the research program and recruiting academic researchers with expertise to contribute to the new research program, and

  • Enhancing the infrastructure (e.g., next-gen wireless testbeds, quantum ICT, XR platforms) to support the new research program as well as start-ups and SMEs.

Q5: Please explain more on important keywords those you emphasized;
"good balance" and "enjoy the success (but forget to adapt)". Are they parts of risk management ?

Michael LEUNG: TRLabs was a common vehicle (or a partial solution) for its consortium members to achieve their different organizational goals (e.g., economic development for governments, academic success for universities and business growth for industry). This poses an ongoing challenge for its management to strike a good balance between these sometimes-divergent interests. This task is compounded by changes in the technological and business environments, changes in stakeholder representatives on its board. As time goes on, and as the original founders retired or moved on, their successors who inherited the TRLabs file might have other more important priorities. This is a common challenge faced by most long-living joint ventures or consortia.

Strategic Drift or ‘enjoying success and forgetting to adapt’ refers to the tendency to make incremental modifications on the basis of historical success and cultural influences but fail to keep pace with a changing environment, e.g., focusing on success locally and ignore globalization, or on analog technology and ignore digitization. This could happen to the once most successful organizations. A well-known multinational company was enjoying its success in analog films and photography so much that it ignored the onset filmless digital photography, even though it has numerous early patents on digital photography. Another well-known cellular phone manufacturer was so successful in the analog phones that it was overwhelmed by the digital smartphone.

Q6: Similar to the case of "Bell, Nortel, and BNR" in Canada, former Thai (monopoly) TELCOS; TOT Public Company Limited (TOT) and CAT Telecom Public Company Limited (CAT) have just been merged into National Telecom Public Company Limited (NT) at early of this 2021 year. What would you like to share or recommend? (please note that TOT was also a part of local collaboration supporting a Thai organization to be TRLabs' member)

Michael LEUNG: Trust and communication between Bell (the identifier of new product/market opportunities and its willingness to become first customers/users), Nortel (the manufacturer) and BNR (the R&D organization) are critical in this model. The TRLabs model has a looser connection between these three roles but this looser connection is reinforced by government participation (which did not exist in the Bell-Nortel-BNR model). I do not know enough to make any recommendations, but I know that Thailand has many well-regarded universities (I visited several in the past), research institutions (e.g., NECTEC) and a dynamic sector of technology companies, large (e.g., TOT) and small. So, I believe the ingredients are there.

Q7: Not only business administration you also have background on physics. From your experiences toward the forthcoming era of quantum ICT, please help predict for a few promising business models.

Michael LEUNG: I do not have any predictions for new business models. This may be a subject for further research work, and I shall leave this as a challenge to the younger generation in the audience. That said, I do have some thoughts to share. One advantage of living in the Information Age is that technology now enables more complex multi-partite collaborations that would not be possible before. The tripartite R&D consortium model was more complex to manage than, say, joint ventures such as Bell and Nortel. What about a quadripartite consortium, involving industry, academia, government, and fourth party? That fourth party could be an NGO with (a) a technology focus such as quantum ICT, (b) a special local focus such as smart communities, or (c) a global interest such as climate change.

Thank you.


Full talk video [ Q-Thai SEM2021 #4 ]

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