“A builder of bridges between university and businesses”

A discussion with Professor Klaus Gremminger

Professor Gremminger, your Steinbeis transfer center, Innovation > Development > Application (IDA) is a shining example of technology transfer based on actual market needs. The center pulls together insights into innovative IT developments and applies them successfully to business. Your motto with projects is “intelligent, pioneering and future-proof.” What do you currently consider to be a pioneering development in your specialist area?

Since coming to computer science at Karlsruhe University in 1989, I’ve always been interested in new issues. At the begin ning, the emphasis was on database systems, but it shifted to distributed databases and then distributed information systems. At the moment, my focus and the focuses of the IDA are jQuery, jQuery Mobile, Android, the iPhone, Eclipse RCP, OSGi, Spring, Enterprise Service Bus and BPM.

The Innovation > Development > Application Steinbeis Transfer Center has become a bit of an institution within the Steinbeis Network. It was founded by professors at Karlsruhe University’s computer science department in 1984. You took the helm in 2002. In 2004, the transfer center won the Löhn Award. Success spanning 25 years. What were the milestones over the years for the IDA and what’s changed the most?

The IDA has improved continuously since 2002 and now has a broad base. It’s worth mentioning the way we stand shoulder to shoulder with business in “Technology Region Karlsruhe” and our close collaboration with leading companies such as 1&1 Internet, dm-drogerie markt, EnBW, Fiducia IT, IDS, LUBW ÖR, Mercedes AMG, PTV, Rockwell Automation Solutions, Siemens Business Services and Systec & Services. We want to nurture these relationships and expand on them. The projects we’ve worked on range from VisITS in 1998, to Business Informer in 1999, Call Management System in 2000, Warehouse Management System in 2003, Point of Sale in 2004, Mobile Client Framework in 2005, Mail International in 2007, visionary control concepts in 2008, the OSGi in transportation in 2009 and Single Sign-on in 2010.

Evaluation and prototyping of new technology, quality management in software processes, innovation and technology management – that’s just an excerpt from your portfolio. Which of your company’s projects and services are particularly popular right now?

We used to run evaluations and prototype new technologies directly with the partner company. A good example of that was with the Karlsruhe drugstore chain dm. We first worked with their outlets in 2002, looking at the use of wireless handsets and barcode scanning to start ordering new stock. In 2006, we won a JavaScript pitch for a Stuttgart company, then we were chosen by 1&1 Internet for its development. Since 2007, the IDA has been working as a broker between regional companies and master’s students at Karlsruhe University. Making a tangible contribution to synergies between the university and Steinbeis contributes to the university’s image of being close to business practice. It also enriches teaching with innovation topics. At the moment, I see HTML5 as a higher-level platform to save time and effort with Android and the iPhone. Other topics that are inspiring students are business process management, cloud computing and business intelligence. When students conduct innovative projects and the services delivered by the IDA win over customers, these customers request even closer collaboration.

The Karlsruhe region is a leading location for innovation and Europe’s third biggest IT cluster. Among the areas of emphasis at your transfer center are product and process innovation for the regional IT sector. What are the main challenges when working on international projects, versus regional or even municipal projects?

We complete most of the tasks customers and business partners ask us to work on within a very short time. We also assume the role of a mediator linking local companies up directly as part of our R&D round, which is completed every six months.

There are two exceptions: an internationalization project with 1&1 Internet, and Rockwell Automation. At 1&1 we worked on an innovative Web mail system for gmx.com. At Rockwell Automation, our focus was on the development of a platform for the life sciences industry. But the main challenge for the IDA lies in regional projects where we support companies allied with our organization. The pleasing part here is that demand for graduates is growing continuously. We’re also involved in more local projects where we use a variety of technologies to develop platforms and tools for different sectors of industry.

The IT sector is described by some as an innovation driver, for others it’s hamstrung by complications. Current trends in this sector are often indicators for future technologies and areas of complication. What demands are the most recent technological development placing on your Steinbeis transfer center, and what goals do you set yourself for the future?

Since the market repeatedly changes and constantly expands the way it uses technology, the IDA in its role as a transfer center sets the new course at relatively short notice, depending on current convictions. In the future, we’re planning to use HTML5 in the mobile area and OSGi in distributed systems. We don’t yet see cloud computing as a top priority. Another focus will the steering of business processes and evaluation of mass data. To complete the picture, we believe we’ll encounter embedded systems in a variety of areas and on a variety of levels. We’re also highlighting our focus on software architecture and software quality.

The IDA sees itself as a builder of bridges between university and businesses. Its goals range from enhancing theory by relating it to business practice, to accelerating the learning curve of students and acting as an “earpiece for the market, research and development.”

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