What you need to know about research-as-a-service

19 Jul 2023

Peter Hubbert. Image: Fidelity Investments

Fidelity Investments’ Peter Hubbert explains the value of turning research into a service model to strengthen academic-industry collaboration.

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The ‘as-a-service’ model has evolved from software over the years and opened the door to other service model industries, from company culture to encryption.

But as the need for research and innovation increases, particularly at industry level, research-as-a-service (RaaS) may be the new model we need. But what does that look like and how can it benefit industry and society as a whole?

Peter Hubbert is director of research, development and innovation at Fidelity Investments. In this role, he has engaged with a number of academic research collaboration projects through the company’s RaaS model, which he says delivers upskilling for both the researchers and the Fidelity workers involved.

“Fidelity’s research-as-a-service model was created to make academic-industry collaboration easier and more valuable by removing the obstacles to engagement. It does this by exploring the whole research field, matching research skills with opportunities and facilitating the onboarding process,” he says.

“These academic collaboration projects bring our associates and researchers together in one room, allowing for the cross-pollination of ideas that can lead to innovative ideas and technological advancements.”

Breaking down barriers

Fidelity’s RaaS model was created to break down barriers and streamline the engagement process between academic research and industry partners.

The aim is for industry partners to build a stronger relationship with the research performing organisations (RPOs), which can in turn leverage the relationship to better align with industry needs for applied research.

“Collaborating with the universities and research centres allows us to accelerate our path towards a more digital user experience and provides the framework to apply sound academic advancements in areas such as natural language processing and machine learning to enhance our existing applications and services and develop new products,” says Hubbert.

“Our approach was to break down the end-to-end process and provide support for each element. A pilot project revealed many actions needed to improve our service offering such as legal (NDA, research agreement etc), vendor management, information security, external communications, project management and onboarding research teams.”

The goal of the model was to lower the entry barrier to enable faster innovation. A major part of this was taking away a lot of the administrative load from associates and allowing them to concentrate on collaborating on the research itself.

“Thanks to RaaS, we have completed 13 academic collaboration projects with Ireland RPOs to date, and have a further four active projects running, with three more projects currently under discussion with RPOs. We have successfully supported two Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) industry fellowships in the past and have two more currently running,” he says.

“Fidelity has also supported one Horizon Europe Marie Curie fellowship, and we are the industry partner for one of the successful SFI Frontiers of the Future programmes. Across all these engagements, we have had 26 academic researchers working and collaborating with us.”

Symbiotic relationship

RaaS can deliver benefits for the research partners involved through support, but Fidelity Investments can then enjoy access to advanced innovation from the research itself.

“We access the latest thinking in areas like risk analytics, machine learning, natural language processing and cognitive computing. Applying research to real industry challenges meets the goals of both the research team and Fidelity, and using RaaS enables us to unlock and easily access the rich academic research ecosystem that exists in Ireland, allowing us to take a leading role in the constantly changing world of fintech and regtech,” says Hubbert.

As advances in emerging tech continue to grab the attention of the science and tech industry, research-as-a-service can put evolving trends at the forefront of industry agendas with strong academic knowledge to back it up.

“It will be exciting to see how research in quantum computing develops, particularly in areas such as solving large-scale optimisation problems, enhancements to machine learning models such as natural language processing and fraud detection, and how quantum computers may potentially provide new ways of securing financial data and transactions,” says Hubbert.

“AI continues to be an exciting area of research, particularly with the forthcoming EU AI Act and what implications that will have for businesses that use and provide AI systems in the EU. RaaS will continue to be beneficial in accessing these areas of research in a timely manner, and having researchers work on site with real data and applied research outcomes, along with the diversity of thought in the approach and application of technical solutions to real industry problems will continue to lead to well-founded outcomes and results.”

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Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic