Q&A: Gary Conley preps a portal to manufacturing resources
What is OMNI?
It's something to make it easier for businesses to access expertise within the university system, Edison Centers and federal laboratories within the state. The Ohio Department of Development initiated it. There's rich expertise within our university centers and other systems in the state but some people have difficulty discovering it or accessing it. This is an attempt to develop a more systematic approach than we've had in the past, making it easier for manufacturers to access the people and unique resources they have.
How did the idea come about?
The idea came about in response to needs expressed by industry, and their desire to access the resources of the University System of Ohio and the Edison Centers in a more systematic way. A lot of the early thinking on this idea came about in the governor's Ohio Auto Industry Support Council.
Is this similar to the agreement Procter & Gamble recently reached with the University System of Ohio?
No. That agreement really has more to do with how joint research is conducted between companies involving P&G and the university system and intellectual property rights and so forth, whereas OMNI is more of a process that enables companies to identify what resources are available, as opposed to relating to who has rights to what intellectual property when there's joint research being conducted by a university and a private company.
How far along is OMNI and who will manage it?
It's very nascent. We're developing a prototype and hope to have it completed by the end of summer. We're in the "straw man" phase right now to help us better identify the features it needs to have and develop methods to ensure ease of use. OMNI will be managed as a joint venture between the Ohio Department of Development and the Board of Regents.
What, exactly, will be it? A stand-alone web site?
It will be a portal. It will have a number of tools including an advanced search engine that will enable you to see relevant public and academic journals and gather information regarding expertise resident in Ohio. Another feature will make it like Linked In. After you identify the expertise you need, you could invite the expert to engage with you in a conversation. If that's promising, you could use additional tools to help you collaborate on an actual project, such as research or problem-solving. There also would be, for example, a list of test equipment, where you could find out what's available for your needs.
How does this project fit in with the mission of TechSolve?
It fits in not just with TechSolve, but with the whole Edison Center principle…We've always been in the business of transfer of technology. This is another extension of that mission, another methodology for doing it.
How do you view the R&D climate for manufacturers in Ohio?
We have incredible assets, such as Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. This is the place where all the research the Air Force needs is conducted or managed. We also have the NASA Glenn Research Center. We've always been involved in aeronautics and general aviation. There's also the university system of Ohio, which has $1 billion plus in research assets with all its components. And all that's even before we get to what companies are doing. Ohio is very rich in research assets, especially in the areas of materials, propulsion, energy. We're incredibly rich in R&D, almost amazingly so when you dig into the numbers. We're a really rich asset that's especially well supported at the federal level, when you consider what goes into Wright-Patterson, especially when we hear that (the government) is consolidating resources there from other places. Also, we have renewed the Third Frontier program, and nothing compares to what Ohio is investing in it. I am frequently told by companies that they chose to locate here because of that. But all along, the struggle has been how to access all that research by the private sector so it can result in new products, investments and jobs. OMNI will be a mechanism to enable our state to capitalize on that.