The MIT Sloan School of Management's Center for Information Systems Research is sponsored by more than 90 organisations.
When CISR principal research scientist Jeanne Ross (pictured) gave a keynote presentation at the recent PegaWorld 2019 conference (Pegasystems is a CISR patron), iTWire noticed that a surprisingly high proportion of those sponsors – approximately one fifth – were high-profile Australian companies and government organisations.
According to its web site, CISR provides "the CIO and other digital leaders with insights on topics such as business complexity, data monetization, and the digital workplace" and "stimulates interaction among scholars, students and practitioners."
Sponsorship, which costs US$50,000 a year or US$40,000 with a three-year commitment, is rewarded with a number of benefits, including opportunities to become involved in the research process, invitations to events, access to CISR staff, early access to CISR working papers and research briefings, one place at each of four workshop sessions on generating business value from digitisation, and discounted places on MIT Sloan executive education programs.
iTWire asked all 18 of them that question. Four did not respond at all, and only seven answered the question within three weeks of our enquiry.
Reserve Bank of Australia CIO Gayan Benedict said "We value the continuing research relationship between RBA and MIT CISR. The positive outcomes that we have experienced as an organisation includes applying MIT research in key areas such as skills development for staff, managing technology complexity and governance, and security."
The RBA has been involved with CISR since 2012.
Westpac's response was similar, though with additional emphasis on digital transformation “Westpac has been a MIT CISR sponsor since 2014. The sponsorship enables us to access world-class research and insights that align with our digital transformation strategy, and apply them to our business, said general manager of application development Tim Whiteley.
"We’ve benefited from the sponsorship in a range of ways, including running digital training programs for our senior leaders, co-creating research in areas such as enterprise architecture and digital, and providing online learning resources for our employees."
It's much the same story with National Australia Bank, which has been involved with CISR for nearly five years.
“NAB is in the midst of a three-year, $4.5 billion transformation and technology is both a foundation and enabler within our strategy to set the bank up for the future," a spokesperson told iTWire.
"We have engaged MIT to leverage their network of experienced research scientists and extensive, data-based research to assist with our technology strategy development. This has included engagement with industry leader Peter Weill and his team to help us with a data driven view of how global organisations are adapting and evolving through technology change.”
Management practices are key to the Australian Taxation Office's participation, which began in 2010.
"In sponsoring MIT CISR, the ATO receives access to the latest research relating to organisational and IT management practices and research," according to a spokesperson.
"The ATO participates in research activities, and has access to attend forums to listen to and discuss the findings from these research activities with other participants. The ATO uses the knowledge gained from this sponsorship to improve IT management practices in the organisation on an ongoing basis."
In particular, "Some of the research from the MIT CISR was used as an input to help inform the development of the ATO 2024 strategy."
As you might expect, the benefits for shopping centre operator Scentre are somewhat different to those mentioned by organisations in the financial sector.
“As a forum for knowledge sharing, our sponsorship of the MIT CISR allows us to raise questions and draw on the expertise of thought leaders and academics both in Australia and overseas," group director of strategic analytics David Lamond told iTWire.
“Since becoming a sponsor of MIT CISR in 2016, we have been able to tap into valuable external perspectives and insights, as well as shape research and content produced by the MIT CISR in order to explore and support our approach to key topics such as digital ecosystems and data strategy.”
Australia Post's response was brief: "We have been pleased to be partners with MIT’s Centre for Information Systems Research. Last financial year (FY19) marked the end of our three-year partnership," said a spokesperson.
Suncorp too was reticent, with its spokesperson noting that the company "works with a number of organisations when we share a common goal" including CISR.
We also asked the local CISR sponsors whether they provided financial support to any Australian IT research centres or university departments, and if so, which, how much, and with what outcomes for the organisation?
"The RBA sponsors technology research and relationships with several Australian research institutions including the University of New South Wales (UNSW), University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and Macquarie University," said the RBA's Benedict.
Westpac's support takes the form of scholarships: "We also support many university partnerships nationally by providing scholarships to young Australians who challenge, explore and set new benchmarks in innovation, research, and social change," said Whiteley.
"This support has included research on system availability with UTS and cyber-security with Macquarie University.
"The Bank also sponsors student research for Information Technology and Data Science and has scholarships in place with UTS and UNSW. This has allowed the Bank to provide experience to upcoming technology graduates and benefits from active research relationships with key Australian educational institutions."
While the ATO does not have any direct financial sponsorship arrangements in place with Australian based IT research centres or universities, it does support student projects at the University of Canberra.
NAB has "many and varied relationships with universities and other educational organisations," the spokesperson said.
These include formal partnerships with Latrobe and Deakin universities (eg, NAB staff deliver cybersecurity courses), a close arrangement with the Box Hill Institute (scholarships for the certificate and advanced certificate cybersecurity programs), collaboration with Melbourne Business School and University of Melbourne on talent development and research projects, and "We’re also working closely with RMIT on the cyber security talent gap through a new course."
The bank also provides Victorian universities with interactive lectures on machine learning, data analytics, accessibility and digital; and sponsors the UniHack event, including the provision of ten mentors.
At the school level, NAB runs coding and AI immersion and holiday programs for 15 Victorian high schools, runs the Cyber Kids program (available to schools on request), and is a key partner of the Australian Computing Academy's cybersecurity program.
IAG also spreads its resources around.
IAG R&D director Cecilia Warren said "IAG partners with a number of Australian industry groups and universities to help build Australian knowledge, insight and talent. We believe that a cooperative research approach with the university sector and industry enables us the greatest ability to efficiently scale our capability to face a complex global network of new knowledge, insight and talent.
"We leverage the cooperative research centre program, and our own programs of Academic-in-Residence and PhD-in-Residence to build internal and external talent – particularly in STEM - and shape our understanding of how emerging technology will shape the future for our customers.
"As an insurer, one area of focus for our cooperative research approach is mobility and we work closely with our research partner iMOVE Australia. One project we’re collaborating on with iMOVE is exploring safety as we move towards the introduction of connected and automated vehicles. Together, we are looking at how we can better understand future risk and safety through retrofitting autonomous features onto a vehicle, and understanding perception in autonomous vehicles. We want to see how we can create safety on the road in a more connected world.
"We also run a PhD-in-Residence program. Earlier this year we teamed up with the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics to explore perception and safety for autonomous vehicles. We believe that one of the fundamental aspects that will need to be addressed for the safe introduction of autonomous vehicles is the standardisation of safety assurance. Our PhD-in-Residence is embedded in our team at IAG but is expanding to include external thinkers, focused on developing a comprehensive understanding of how to evaluate the safety of autonomous vehicles.
Working in collaboration with academia and industry is a critical part of research and development at IAG, as we see it helping us collectively better understand and plan for the future of mobility.
Suncorp works with local organisations including Queensland University of Technology (QUT), James Cook University (JCU) and River City Labs, its spokesperson said.
"For example, we’ve partnered with JCU’s Cyclone Testing Station to better understand cyclone vulnerabilities and what we can do to make homes stronger.
"We also recently joined forces with QUT’s School of Justice and Chair in Digital Economy to better protect customers against the rise of scams in Australia.
"This year we launched our inaugural Digital Incubator Program, which supports local fintech and insurtech start-ups by offering the opportunity to test and validate their ideas at Suncorp’s Digital Labs in Brisbane, as part of our efforts to support innovation in Queensland."
So who says our universities aren't in touch with the real world, or that our large organisations aren't contributing to the development of local IT skills?
CISR's Australian sponsors:
ANZ Banking Group
Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC)
Australian Taxation Office
Bank of Queensland
Commonwealth Superannuation Corp
Insurance Australia Group
King & Wood Mallesons
MLC Life Insurance
National Australia Bank
Reserve Bank of Australia
Swinburne University of Technology
Westpac Banking Corporation
Disclosure: The writer attended PegaWorld 2019 as a guest of the company, and holds NAB shares.