How we step into new areas of knowledge

How does SWITCH deal with new, strategically relevant subject areas for which the foundation itself doesn’t have the required skills? The answer is ‘Innovation Labs’.

Text: Sebastian Sigloch, published on 29.05.2020

In innovation management, you’re often confronted with new subject areas. At this point, the open questions are often more meaningful than their answers – especially if your own organisation doesn’t have the expertise or skills to answer them. Answering these questions is particularly important when it comes to strategically relevant subject areas. But how do you approach new subject areas if you’re not an expert in them yourself?

Appropriately enough, we take an agile approach to innovation, working closely with experts at the foundation and the specialist communities. We launched the SWITCH Innovation Labs so that we can enter into new fields of knowledge with greater confidence. This platform enables SWITCH to take a fast, agile approach to promising topics that relate to SWITCH’s overall strategic focus, working together with experts and key players from the community.

With the ‘research data connectome’, SWITCH is pursuing the vision of making shared research data widely available and (re-)usable. To flesh out this vision, SWITCH began by holding two Innovation Labs on the subject of research data management: ‘Comprehensible data quality’ and ‘Research data connectome technologies’.

To establish a research data connectome, you need transparent data quality. We’ve teamed up with the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences to gain initial insights into this new subject area. The results highlight the importance of automation, documenting metadata and working in partnerships.

In the second Innovation Lab, the University of Fribourg’s eXascale Infolab evaluated technologies for a research data connectome. Their findings are now being incorporated into the development of a pilot currently being implemented with seven partners from the university community.

Our Innovation Labs begin with a mutual definition of issues and goals. Our lab partners then apply an agile process to the results, working independently yet remaining in close contact with the Foundation, which coordinates activities and, where necessary. establishes links to related activities. Our lab partners also use their networks to get answers to questions. So the labs aren’t just coming up with results, they’re also creating thematic communities. A SWITCH Innovation Lab usually lasts between two and five months.

The end result of the SWITCH Innovation Labs doesn’t necessarily have to be a product or service. Rather, the labs are also designed for gaining knowledge, transferring expertise and building long-term partnerships in the form of thematic communities. In addition to the two activities mentioned above, further Innovation Labs on research data management, security, and trust and identity are either in the pipeline or currently under way.

About the author
Sebastian   Sigloch

Sebastian Sigloch

Sebastian Sigloch joined SWITCH in February 2015 as Innovation & Business Development Manager. He concluded a Doctor of Philosophy research on Internet Economics in Cambridge and graduated in Business Development at École Superieure de Commerce in Clermont-Ferrand and Business Information Technology at Reutlingen University.



Esther Koller-Meier

Deputy Managing Director,
Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences SATW

‘Innovation Labs are close collaborations between SWITCH and the lab partners. Regular interaction during the labs means we can reflect constantly on what we have achieved, and make early changes to goals where required. That’s what makes this approach so successful.’



Philippe Cudré-Mauroux

Director eXascale Infolab,
University of Fribourg

‘When an Innovation Lab poses a question, it’s not just an issue of my own technical expertise. To achieve success, it’s also essential that I integrate my personal network and involve the entire relevant expert community at both the national and international level.’

SWITCH Journal

This article is part of the SWITCH Journal, May 2020 edition.


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