Inside Track – Professor Neil Morris: Enhancing our research and innovation through digital transformation
Neil Morris discusses our vision for effective use of digital technologies to support research and innovation activities and asks you to get involved in shaping the digital transformation strategy.
In my previous Inside Track article, I introduced the concept of digital transformation, and described an outline vision of how I believe we can enhance educational opportunities through use of digital technologies, data and digital/online approaches.
Today’s article kicks off a series of Inside Tracks that will look at digital transformation in more detail, and what it means specifically for our research and innovation activity, the way we work and student education.
As I’ve said before, I want to engage with as many colleagues and students as possible on our approach. At the bottom of this article are links to Padlet boards calling for your views across the three themes listed above, plus a form for case studies of effective digital transformation from your area of work.
I plan to engage with students with support from LUU. For staff, there will also be a Teams event about digital transformation in December – more details to follow but you can pre-register your interest now and information about registering will be sent to you nearer the time.
Now, I want to focus on some of the ways that I believe our effective use of digital technologies, data and digital approaches can enhance our research and innovation activity
Enhancing our research and innovation through digital transformation
Increasingly, our research and innovation activities are interdisciplinary, collaborative, reliant on data in some form and complex in nature; this is essential to deliver our research and innovation strategy to work on problem-based impactful research to tackle pressing global challenges. We have invested heavily in many aspects of research – focussed around capital projects, people, facilities and technical infrastructure, and we have an impressive portfolio of local, national and international partnerships. However, we haven’t yet matched this with a technological environment to support our research aspirations – this is where our digital transformation strategy should come into play.
Currently, it feels like there are four key priorities that need to be achieved in order to provide researchers with the technology environment required to support research and innovation:
- Managed support for researching, developing and embedding new and emerging technologies in research and education activities;
- Secure, flexible, adaptable, interoperable, scalable, managed technology infrastructure to enable collaborative, innovative research;
- A secure, flexible, scalable managed data storage environment to enable effective management, archiving, sharing, analysis and visualisation of large data sets;
- Professional support for specialised research computing activities e.g. high performance computing, artificial intelligence, robotics, simulations, immersive technologies etc.
While some significant progress has been achieved on some of these objectives, for example in partnership with Leeds Institute of Data Analytics, we have many opportunities to develop these capabilities for all researchers working in disciplines across the University, and to enhance our support in all areas.
Of course, to deliver these priorities will take time, expertise, pragmatism and a shared vision of the future we want to realise. As we start to make choices about our underpinning technology infrastructure to provide a flexible technology environment, we will need to buy into this collectively, and agree to work together to this aim, to reduce the overhead of supporting multiple competing environments. If we can decide our future together, ensuring our infrastructure is flexible, adaptable, interoperable and scalable, we should be able to support the vast majority of the needs of our researchers.
A key area of immediate focus will be on our data strategy – we must have a shared vision and strategy of how to manage, govern, store and share our data, which is now one of our most precious assets as an organisation. We all use data in some form or another – including to undertake our research – and the amount of data we are generating, manipulating and analysing is growing rapidly. We urgently need to implement a strategy to manage our data, and ensure that researchers can access, manage, archive, manipulate, share, transform, analyse and visualise data as required by their research activities.
Running through all of these priorities is an inherent tension between our needs of data and technology security versus the need for flexibility, control and adaptability to undertake excellent research. We need to find a balance where the technology and data environments provided for research enable us to undertake problem-based research effectively, collaboratively and flexibly, without feeling the restrictions of the technology. This is a major challenge, but one we must overcome if we are to succeed in this area.
Finally, we need to find mechanisms to support the introduction of new and emerging technologies that have research (and education) applications across a wide range of disciplines. For example, we have ongoing research (and globally leading expertise) using extended reality (or mixed reality e.g. AR, VR etc.) technologies, immersive, simulation environments, artificial intelligence and robotics, but these tend to be focussed in specific disciplines. It feels likely that all of these emerging technologies will be the focus of research in almost all disciplines in the new few years, and we need to be in a position where we can support growth in research using these technologies, as the questions are posed. This will mean providing institutional support to research these technologies, and new ones as they emerge.
In my next article, I will focus on how we can free up more time for our core activities through digital transformation, and the activities required to support us all to harness the power of digital technology.
Get involved in shaping our digital transformation strategy
There are a number of ways you can get involved in shaping our digital transformation strategy:
- Provide a case study of effective digital transformation from your area of activity – you can provide an outline case study via the MS Form, and we will be in touch to discuss this further;
- Provide your ideas about what our digital transformation priorities should be in the areas of student education, research and innovation, and ways of working using our Padlet boards: education, research and ways of working;
- Express interest in joining the digital transformation advisory group (open to all staff and students). Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest;
- Apply for one of the academic lead roles under the theme of digital transformation (internal academic colleagues only) – keep an eye out on jobs.leeds.ac.uk for current opportunities.