Good to do Business With

Image: Telstra's Vyvyan Hammond and UTS's Dr Lian Loke

How do 'connected citizens' use their smart phones to inhabit, enjoy and navigate their urban environment? Telstra partnered with 20 UTS design students recently to conduct user-centred design research into how connected Sydney's citizens are – and how they integrate their smart phones into their daily life, from leisure and socialising, to business and personal administration. The data collected informed proposals for the development of smart phone applications by the students, which may be used by Telstra for future development and commercialisation.

Mike Hickinbotham is Telstra's Head of New Media and a connected super-user himself. His interest in anticipating and addressing the ever-changing needs of customers by creating new media applications has been stimulated by working with UTS: "Establishing a partnership with UTS provides us with access to researchers that generate truly innovative processes, together with the broad field of ideas from students, this creates the seeds for innovation that we will use in the future."

The Connected Citizens: Urban Social Media project is one of many with which Telstra and UTS have collaborated over the past three years – and a prime example of how the University fosters mutual collaboration with industry partners to benefit students, academics and industry.

"Our partnerships with industry allow our research and learning to have practical impact," says External Engagement Director Gauri Bhalla. "We aim to equip our students with high-end technical skills, a researcher curiosity and rigour and the complementary capabilities that are needed to become a successful professional."

Telstra is one of 15 companies represented on the Vice-Chancellor's Business Advisory Board. Bhalla works closely with Telstra and the Business Advisory Board to ensure the partnerships meet the University's vision of working with industry across each element of its strategic plan.

"Working well with external partners is part of our DNA – we understand the mutual value that practical learning and research affords both the partner and ourselves."

Developing these close ties with industry also helps the University attract the best academics – who have the opportunity to work at the forefront of their own practice. The Connected Citizens: Urban Social Media project was led by Dr Lian Loke, an expert in User-centred Design and IT who is fast growing her reputation in the field of customer experience and participatory designed applications.

Loke understands the value of customers co-creating the applications that they will use. "Our students researched and then will design solutions for the group that Telstra wants to reach – super connected users. The students themselves are part of this group and clever companies like Telstra understand the power of the end user co-designing applications that they want to use."

Bhalla agrees, "By creating a 'living lab' at UTS on Connectivity, Telstra can find out what motivates their users, build the right solutions and have students advocate and take their services out for them. And the users – the students – have a real stake in making sure the services they recommend and build are usable and fun."

“More than 150 companies partner with the University at any one time, providing resources and expertise in exchange for leading research outcomes.”

The opportunity to conduct innovative research is a major factor in UTS's quest to develop strategic relationships with large companies. Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International and Development) Professor Bill Purcell has a clear vision for developing transformational partnerships for UTS: "A University's place in the world is defined both by the education it offers and by the research and discovery it makes. At UTS, we are all about practical impact – we believe in getting our work out and used in the world so that we make a real difference" Professor Purcell is excited by the opportunity that working with large companies can bring to UTS.

"When it is a truly mutual partnership we can build new capability and work on new discovery which is tremendously exciting for academics and staff. We all feel that we can apply our skills and work on the most interesting and challenging problems right now."

Both cutting-edge research and work-ready graduates are why companies such as Telstra, Motorola, Westpac, Cochlear and IBM choose to work with UTS, and Vyvyan Hammond, who works with Hickinbotham at Telstra, embodies this.

Hammond has a particular interest in the partnership – as a UTS design alumna herself, she exemplifies for the students the role that visual and creative thinking plays in companies such as Telstra. "My Visual Communication Design degree at UTS gave me the tools to progress in this area of Telstra. I found the practical and outcomes-focused nature of my degree really important and I wanted to continue that tradition with UTS."

And Telstra is building on the partnership with UTS as a key way to innovate, Hickinbotham says. "Having access to these resources, including some of the best researchers in the country, is invaluable in keeping Telstra at the forefront of the telecommunications industry."

For more information about partnering with UTS click here.

Words: Caroline Jenkins
Image: Fiora Sacco Photography