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Dell Research’s first partnership with a Canadian university will be data-driven.

The company announced last week that it will collaborate with the University of Toronto to help companies sift through company databases and social networks to identify subject matter experts. The project is being funded through an Engage Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Technology that results from the partnership will pinpoint sources of knowledge within the enterprise to help companies make better use of employee expertise and training, according to Jai Menon, chief research officer at Dell Research.

Dr. Kelly Lyons at U of T’s Faculty of Information is leading the university’s contribution to the collaboration, which includes large scale knowledge base curation, resource description framework (RDF) data models, ontology engineering, system design and development and user testing.

Menon said the goal of the partnership is to help organizations in a broad array of different industries identify people within their employ who have relevant expertise that can help them bring new products and services to market, as well as reduce the time and money it takes to resolve customer issues, among other things. Specifically, Dell Research’s partnership with U of T will support work being done in Ottawa, including development of Dell’s Unified Communications Command Suite (UCCS), and move beyond simply capturing information from company databases. Rather, it will amass insight to find experts on a particular subject matter.

Menon expects the tools and methodology developed over the course of the collaboration will be applicable across a wide range of use cases, and Dell will look at integrating them with existing software offerings. For example, a non-profit organization might be able to identify people who are well suited for a particular community program, while advertisers and product developers might leverage it in putting together focus groups.

Lyons said the partnership enables her as a researcher to engage in interesting and relevant research as well as provide real-world training and education experiences for students. She said the collaboration with Dell Research offers several key benefits, including access to real problems with real data sets, which allows researchers to better evaluate their tools, algorithms and ideas.
Collaboration with Dell also provides the university with access to outside experts, knowledge and experience which is complimentary to its own, said Lyons, while allowing graduate students to learn what it’s like to work in industry and gaining exposure to the challenges of applying their ideas in an environment that is more constrained than the academic world.

“What we are really interested in with this particular project is the challenge of extracting data from the actual work artifacts that are being produced within an enterprise,” she said. Automated techniques will be developed to do the extraction, and from there people will be engaged to make the information more usable and more accurate by setting up mechanisms for them to aid in curation, “so when you are extracting the knowledge, you have a high level of confidence that this the information you want.”

For Lyons, it’s her first collaboration with Dell, although she has worked with other private sector companies on research projects. “We established this initial research project and through it we have learned that there are lot of other exciting questions that we can pursue together,” she said, so there may be other research projects with Dell Research in concert with other researchers across Canada.

The Engage grant is designed to get university researchers collaborating with private sector companies they have not worked with before with short engagements. Project durations average about six months, said Lyons, but the long-term goal is to continue the relationship through other mechanisms. “Once you establish relationships like the one we’re building right now with Dell, you learn how to work together. You gain a level of trust but also a knowledge of what each other does.”



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