Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Intel's Open Collaborative Model of Industry-University Research: This Approach to Long-Term Exploratory Research in Electronics and Information Technology Stands in Contrast to Traditional Research Models

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Intel's Open Collaborative Model of Industry-University Research: This Approach to Long-Term Exploratory Research in Electronics and Information Technology Stands in Contrast to Traditional Research Models

Article excerpt

OVERVIEW: Intel's exploratory research program is a coordinated effort involving four key components: university research grants, open and collaborative research labs located adjacent to major universities, corporate venturing, and proprietary strategic research projects. The company's exploratory research model fosters collaboration and allows for projects to be carried out concurrently in different venues so as to enhance results and accelerate technology transfer. In developing the model, Intel drew on observations of existing industrial research labs in the information technology sector and borrowed lessons from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency about how to effectively manage complex research efforts.

In late 1999, Intel Research was formed to experiment with a new model of conducting information technology (IT) research. Intel already had a proven process in place for carrying out research in support of new product development (Figure 1). Such research is informed by Moore's Law (1), which gives the semiconductor industry the collective ability to predict many of its future technical requirements and their respective timelines. From Moore's Law, we know approximately what the functional capabilities of future products will be. We can identify the technical barriers to achieving these capabilities, evaluate alternative approaches to overcoming the barriers, and implement the most effective alternative.

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While this approach is effective for semiconductor and microprocessor research to support our product roadmap, it does not satisfy two longer-term, strategic objectives. The first of these objectives is to investigate technologies that might lead to new businesses and, in some cases, to significant changes in corporate strategy. The second is to identify disruptive innovations that threaten the product roadmap and which, ideally, can be incorporated into the corporate strategy to yield a competitive advantage.

These strategic objectives require a method of conducting long-term, exploratory research such as the process illustrated in Figure 2, which we describe in this article. This process is somewhat analogous to a signal detection and amplification system: the desired outcome (output) is a new strategy and/or a roadmap for a new business or product line; the inputs must be identified through constantly scanning or "sampling" the environment for new research developments, then filtering these "signals" to identify a subset of potentially relevant opportunities; these opportunities must then be "amplified" through internal and external research before we can make a strategic decision to move them toward technology and product development.

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In developing our new model, we drew on observations of prototypical research labs in the IT sector. We also borrowed lessons from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has evolved a highly effective process for managing large, complex research projects for the U.S. Department of Defense (Figure 3).

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Along the way, we identified three key challenges that would have to be met in order to create a successful model:

* Balancing the need for an open and collaborative research environment with the desire to retain proprietary control over research results.

* Devising a methodology for identifying specific research opportunities, hybridizing or synthesizing the results of multiple research efforts in those areas of opportunity, and translating them into usable results.

* Ensuring that our research organization and agenda would remain vital and innovative over time.

The remainder of this article describes how we met these challenges and built a new model of exploratory research that we feel has the potential for sustained success. We conclude with a set of lessons learned to date and a discussion of the next steps we are contemplating. …

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