The comeback of Research

What follows below is an expression a purely personal opinion, based on my experience. Not everybody would agree, please excuse them 🙂

When I started working, and even during my studies, we had a rather negative view of IT researchers. We felt they were really smart, with deep technical knowledge,but on subjects that had no relation to what we would do on a daily basis. Knowing how a compiler works can be enticing, and useful in some edge cases of optimization, but we would never need that daily.

During the first 15 years, this trend endured. From what I could observe around me,nothing was very attractive for researchers in the IT world. We found them disconnected from reality, lost in theories or problems so far from our own.The first stir was felt with the advent of what would become today’s cloud giants (Google first). The issues they had around the volume of data they had to analyse, and the semantic analysis of said data pushed them to work directly with the world they were born from: research.

From my couch, this had been the subtle beginning of the change we can observe today. Researchers are wanted, hunted, asked for. We need their advanced knowledge and vision to solve very specific problems.

What changed, in my opinion, is the mindset, probably pushed by start-ups and digitization. We went from a product approach (what can I do with what I have) to a business solution approach (how can I solve this business issue).

And that changes everything.

Where we used to limit ourselves to the possibilities offered by a few products and set those up along predefined models, we are now able to consider the business issue, which has mostly nothing to do with IT. This problem is then translated into technical terms and we go look for a solution to said problem. And, if needed, we turn to research.

On the labs side, again in my opinion, what changed, at least in France, is that these teams now must get most of their budget outside of their usual public funding. The outcome is that we got closer. Just like in a Disney Christmas story (that’s the season!), we both did a step toward the other, and together we are stronger. 😉

Private market is now aware that the way the labs function and are financed is not the same. And it can adapt to that, because it allows for the creation of new solutions, with the aid of the best minds and techs, even if they do not exist, yet.

And public research has probably admitted that it could work with more specific projects, with hard deadlines and mostly a strict view onto ROI and real-world need.

At the end of the way, we find the emergence of Deep Tech startups. These are newborn companies that associate research on a very advanced topic, very far for industrialization, with business partners who can project what the use could be on the market. The ultimate bonding of research and business!

I have said it several times, this analysis is born for a very restricted view, mine,and just reflects my own perception of reality. I am no researcher, I am only an infrastructure engineer 🙂

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