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Guilherme Ary Plonski: Strategic change

To create dynamism, this is the principal mission of the new director of the IPT

Without rejected any feature of its centennial image, the Technology Research Institute of the State of São Paulo (IPT) has decided to take on the challenge of turning itself into a stronger and renewed reference point for the São Paulo system of technological innovation, with the vitality of an athlete. Above all, that is what the institute is going to need to bring together the threads of the extensive network of innovation that the new board of directors intends to set up, as announced by its director-superintendent, Guilherme Ary Plonski, at the ceremony during which the board took office on the 13th of August.

At this moment, says Plonski, “to work in a network is not an original idea, but a manner for the IPT to respond with competence and agility to the demands for technological solutions that come to us from the government, the city hall, from industry and from other sectors.” Plonski has been a professor at the Polytechnic of the University of São Paulo (USP) since 1977 and at the School of Economics and Administration (FEA) also at USP since 1980. He imagines the IPT as a large doorway into technology, retaking a position of leadership in innovation without restricting itself to the role of a mere diffuser of ready-made technologies. It is about these plans that he spoke during this interview:

What are the changes that you would like in order to create dynamism in the IPT?
The first thing is to understand that we have an institute of technology research, and not a group of small institutes with little relationship between one and the other. The administration model adopted up until now has stimulated a parochial vision of the divisions and groupings within the institution. We would like the projects, the initiatives and the demands to be dealt with by the institute as a whole. A second change, even more strategic, is to understand that the institute has a centennial tradition, many achievements, but the current environment is very diverse from that of its origins, when there were few institutions linked towards technological research. Today, it is up to the institute to develop management competence, and to develop networks directed towards innovation. Before, there was a linear vision on the circulation of knowledge from the university to the market, where the research institutes played a well defined role.

So you believe that the IPT was somewhere between the university and the market?
Yes. Our role was considered to be a certain “virtuoso linkage” that we would carry out. Beginning with the money put into basic research, the knowledge generated at the university would go on to the research institute, and then into applied research, to the engineering area of a company which would embody this knowledge into a product for the market. For at least a decade and a half, this model is considered to be totally outdated. This “linkage” simply doesn’t exist except for exceptional circumstances. That is to say, there has to be a particular effort to create a movement in which knowledge is transformed into products, services, quality of life etc. The IPT is in a privileged position to carry out this effort, because it is close to the universities and also to the companies.

What will this particular effort be like?
An example is the fact that we are re-establishing a relationship with USP. During a considerable time the IPT was, how shall we say, the right arm in the research of the Polytechnic School of USP, and everyone was happy because the Poli gave lessons, had extensions courses and the IPT carried out the research, and there was a fluid transition of personnel who were at the same time professors of the School and researchers at the Institute. However, with the changes of evaluation criteria in the university, there was demand also from the Poli personnel for research activities and publication of work. The consequences, within a few years, there was a perception, totally misplaced, of the school and even of the university as competitors to the IPT. And competitors with more clout in he market, because the salaries of the teachers are paid by the state with guaranteed resources and the salaries of the researchers are not.

Are the salaries at the IPT not paid by the State?
At this moment in time, half of the annual budget of the IPT is covered through services and projects, or that is to say, it depends on external resources.

Is there some project being developed by the IPT that points towards the vision of a network?
Many. An example is the Center of Cylinder Development opened on the 10th of September, a partnership between the Poli, the IPT and the Villares Steel Company with the support of FAPESP and of the Financier of Studies and Projects (Finep).

The IPT has a considerable debt. How much is it currently?
I am taking on the IPT with an identified debt of some R$ 32 million, and other items that we are as yet evaluating.

At your inauguration you spoke about the risk that the IPT runs in being only a diffuser of existing technologies. Why?
The IPT works in an area that involves technological services, engineering that is not routine and support in the acquisition of technology. That is known abroad as wide research and support. We need to clearly define what will be the institution’s effort in each of these items. I believe that there is no sense in placing it only towards the advance of knowledge, or only in the diffusion of already existing knowledge. The challenge is to manage to attain competence for carrying out research and the spreading of knowledge simultaneously.

Are there sufficient personnel for this at the IPT?
Of course not. If the IPT doesn’t replenish its team, then in five years it is going to be an institution of little relevance. However, I feel that within the IPT there is a large stock of human energy, and as there is a steering of their collective efforts, with attention to certain basic values and changes in certain concepts, their competence and their talent will flourish.

How many employees does the IPT have?
On paper 947 people. There also exist some 300 people hired by the foundation, as well as trainees. The numbers who frequent the halls of the IPT is in the order of 1,700 people, and close to 450 of them are researchers.

If you had to sum up in phrase what is the foremost challenge of the IPT?
The IPT is an inter disciplinary research institute. This vision has been under question because it is said that the space existing today is for research institutes focused on a particular sector within a certain area. I believe that the role of the IPT is to articulate, to develop and to maintain networks which turn knowledge into a vector of competitiveness.