DWF’s KTP – the start of a journey

Guest post by Jonathan Patterson, DWF Ventures’ managing director and head of development

Patterson: You do not enter into a KTP lightly

DWF has recently embarked on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the University of Manchester. This partnership will run for 30 months with the ultimate aim of transforming how the business uses data and harnessing that data to provide greater value to clients through efficiencies and analytics.

This is the first in a series of blogs that will provide quarterly updates on the KTP as we embark on this journey.

First things first – a KTP is not something you enter into lightly. The pathway to securing the KTP took us 18 months and involved many briefings, meetings and interviews to get it off the ground.

It is a big commitment on both sides, and all parties must clearly understand the objectives of the partnership and what the responsibilities are on both sides.

KTPs are not approved that often and we think there are only a handful of other legal services-based KTPs in existence at the moment. The biggest challenge in securing the KTP was demonstrating that DWF was positioned and structured to be able to fully utilise the transformational potential of the KTP.

A KTP is a three-way partnership between an organisation, an academic institution and a graduate that allows businesses to harness the talent and leading academic insight of universities and apply it in a practical, commercially driven way for the benefit of their business.

With this insight, businesses are supported in building the capabilities and frameworks they need to develop and bring new products to market, increase operational efficiencies or nurture new skills and initiatives internally.

For us, it is important that the KTP doesn’t stand alone – it is part of a much bigger data-driven transformational project which DWF is undertaking.

The KTP project is aligned to one of our six strategic change programmes that support the wider delivery of our business strategy: the data and information programme.

This is centred on improving our data to enable us, as a business, to streamline our internal processes and systems. This will also support our wider client proposition through improving our ability to offer more predictive, technology-led solutions to how data can be utilised to drive business development and true value add legal services.

The KTP project is an essential part of this programme allowing us to improve our data and then use this data in the optimum way for both DWF and our clients.

Our KTP journey began in early 2017, and the choice of university was driven by DWF Ventures, the business’s arm’s-length R&D company.

The team at Ventures is focused on developing more strategic relationships with a small number of academic institutions to support key research, as we previously had a number of disparate connections to different universities that were hard to generate value from.

The University of Manchester is a globally renowned university with good technology and computer science links, and it also happens to be right on our doorstep. We started a dialogue with the university on a general level to begin with and very quickly we liked the idea of a KTP because it is academic research work with a commercial outcome in mind. It is not just research for research’s sake – there is a tangible business benefit.

The university introduced us to a number of academics and we then submitted our proposals. The current KTP we have is one of four initial proposals we submitted.

The four initial ideas centred on: data; artificial intelligence and blockchain; agile and flexible working; and productivity. These are the topics we identified as being relevant to the broader market in which we operate, but we ultimately settled on the data project.

The university gets many applications for KTPs and the student teams review these to decide which they would like to take forward.

All the teams that made submissions were interviewed by Innovate UK, a public body which aims to increase the UK’s economic strength and competitive edge by helping organisations gain access to skills and funding, and part-funds the KTP.

These interviews were very thorough – one of my colleagues said it was the toughest interview he had ever done.

Geraldine Gallagher, our head of business intelligence, was best placed to lead on the research project from an internal perspective, as she currently manages our data across the business and the KTP will look at data strategically from a whole business perspective.

The project is overseen by Dr Mayowa Ayodele, a data scientist from the University of Manchester. Mayowa has recently completed her PhD in Computational Intelligence, and her appointment allows DWF to take advantage of the latest academic expertise in machine learning, optimisation algorithms for problem solving and the application of new technologies.

Mayowa is based within the business intelligence team and operates as chairperson for the newly formed KTP steering group, which includes a representative from the university as well as a cross-sectional team from within DWF. The steering group reports up to the data and information strategic programme.

We kicked off the KTP in May 2018 and the first six months are primarily focused on the university’s research team figuring out life at DWF. This induction period allows them to become familiar with how the business works, its values and what the university can bring to the project to ensure the research team is made up of people with the most relevant skill sets.

In the current induction programme, the main challenge for Mayowa is developing her domain knowledge in order to apply her data science tools and approach.

Mayowa has spent her time with two focuses so far: gaining domain knowledge and working with the steering group to identify which part of DWF is best placed to utilise the application of the KTP project.

It has been surprising the number of proposals which were put forward by the steering group, all recognising how the application of data science could improve and transform their current processes and deliverables.

Once this induction is completed, stage one of the KTP is focused on producing a diagnosis of our current data situation.

In order to fulfil our ambition to be a data-led business in 30 months, the starting point has to be what condition we are in now. Mayowa will work with the research team and spend a lot of time looking at where we have data now, where we are overlapping, where there are gaps and what our data health is.

In stage two, the KTP team will design a strategy to tell us how we can get from where we are now to where we want to be and what that will look like.

The third stage will be digging deep into the data sources in terms of collecting, checking and modelling data, and identifying what we need to do differently in order to optimise these processes.

The final stage will be where the KTP team makes recommendations to us that will detail how we can best achieve our objectives.

People think innovation happens by magic, but it takes a lot of hard work, research and creative thinking, and our work over the next 30 months will no doubt demonstrate this.

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