TSSG: Building The Future

The Telecommunications Software and Systems Group (TSSG) was formed in 1996 by Dr. Willie Donnelly and is based on the West Campus of the Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland. It is a public research organisation and the focus of its work is in the area of telecoms and internet technologies. TSSG engages in research and works with industry as well.

A unique aspect of the setup is that the TSSG competes for every cent that it brings in, and its funding is mainly dependent on the winning of tenders that are a part of the European funding framework and collaborating and partnering with other organisations.

Barry Downes, Executive Director – Innovation and Commercialisation, describes TSSG in this way, “We see ourselves very much as a European organisation. We see ourselves competing for collaborative tenders and working with the leading companies across Europe.”

Very often organisations end up collaborating with the very people they were competing against for given projects. But the benefit of being able to switch from competitor to collaborator is that, apart from requiring a flexible attitude and the ability to switch focus with some agility, it creates a sense of connectivity between different organisations and their similar or not-so-similar interests.

Apart from the financial benefits, the opportunity is there to grow an extensive knowledge base across a given number of areas that a lone operator would not be able to accrue very easily, if at all.

“Everybody’s got to compete to win these tenders, but they also have to collaborate with top-class organisations across Europe.” Over the years, the TSSG has worked with every major telecomms company in Europe, every major operator and all the major equipment providers.

But it is not just about Europe: through its commercial arm, 3CS – the Centre for Converged Services, the TSSG also runs programs such as “Innovation Partnerships.” As Barry explains, “It is a program where we will work on direct, collaborative R&D programs with a company where Enterprise Ireland will part fund that work and we will put our staff in at cost.

“What we are doing is leveraging knowledge and technologies that we have to directly work for an Irish company that can improve their product line or enhance their competitiveness in different ways.

“We do research, we do development and then we give the technology to the company. If you are a startup, your preference is going to be assignment obviously. I think this is reflecting the needs of startups. If you’re a company and you engage with us, you want to own the tech at the end. You don’t want to licence it. So we spent quite a bit of time working through our Technology Transfer Office developing standardised agreements so the tech can just be assigned out.

But the specialised knowledge and experience that the TSSG has is not only for established companies. In conjunction with Enterprise Ireland, they participate in the “Innovation Vouchers” scheme aimed at the smaller, newer companies and startups.

“The vouchers program is a way of getting Irish SMEs, small and medium-sized enterprises, to engage with public research organisations.

“If you run a startup, you can go to Enterprise Ireland and get a voucher for €5k or get a matched voucher for €10k and you come to us and say, ‘you’re in my area, I like to give you this voucher, I have a small project that I’d like you to do for me.’

“It’s a great program as it creates the opportunity for a small company to be able to work with a research organisation where we can deliver quickly and where they can see immediate value.

“We try and work like a consulting organisation for Irish industry. We want the companies to get the value of working with us, to leverage our expertise and get the IP at the end of it.

But there are major benefits for the TSSG as well. In the knowledge economy, the acquisition of knowledge is key:

  • Through the vouchers program, TSSG is able to engage and learn what startups and small companies are looking for and need.
  • Through the Investment Partners program, the same learning opportunities are available with the added element of short-to-medium term planning that does not always exist with smaller companies.
  • Through its collaboration with its European partners and their need to supply large scale solutions and innovations, the TSSG can learn as much as anyone what the future really holds.

This ability to directly observe and engage via partnership and collaboraton in a vertical plane from the very small companies to the very large, combined with being able to take a longitudinal look into the future at whatever development timeline that is most useful to the need at hand, allows the TSSG to have a unique and encompassing view of the telecoms and internet industry that very few organistions of any sort have.

“If we want to look at what the future of services is in four or five years time, we need to track a couple of key trends that are happening in the market that are having an influence both on our work and the industry as well:”

  • What’s happening with phones, operating systems, development tools and mobile apps.
  • The move from circuit switch calls to everything being IP.
  • IMS technologies.
  • Pervasive services: services that use location, context or sensors.

NB: We will be covering all these subject areas in greater depth over the next few weeks.

The European programs are the backbone of the TSSG, and along with the pure research funding partners such as Science Foundation Ireland, a central part of the organisation’s heritage forms a significant part of the work taking place there. But there is a strong and clear focus on serving the greater Irish business community as well.

“The goal is to leverage all of the knowledge we have in the TSSG, all the work we do in the TSSG, to work with Irish industry through those programs: vouchers, partners, contract research and consulting services for example. There are all these projects that Irish industry can interact with us on.

“We have a practical group that can engage with industry and solve real problems – implementing those solutions and also pushing the boundaries a bit.

“One of the key things we are focused on is trying to support and help Irish industry. We try and help them leverage knowledge that we have brought in from Europe or through international experts from SFI and do practical work for them.”

We would like to thank the TSSG for hosting our stay in Waterford and allowing our correspondent to have such comprehensive access to the people and projects that were made available to him.

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