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Circular secondment

Cambridge Judge students work with companies in Poland, Cyprus and Belgium in a 1.7 million euro (£1.5 million) European Union project on the circular economy and the Internet of Things.

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Since the advent of commercial electricity more than a century ago, supply has followed demand, resulting in inefficiency and costly system rebalancing owing to the volatile nature of consumer electricity usage. But that is changing: electricity monitoring through the Internet of Things has sparked interest in demand side response (DSR), in which demand follows power supply rather than the other way around

Though DSR is not yet ready for full development rollout in Poland, the Warsaw-based BlueSoft technology consultancy should initiate DSR trials with a view to taking the lead in establishing the standard in Poland’s electricity market.

That’s a key recommendation of a four-year Circular Economy-Internet of Things project, funded by the European Union, that is now in full swing at the Circular Economy Centre, Cambridge Judge Business School.

“Demand side response is one of the most effective circular economy models in overcoming electricity volatility, inefficiencies and cost in Poland’s energy market,” says a summary of the recommendations by participating Cambridge Judge students. “The continuous advancement in technology innovation such as Internet of Things enables the implementation and efficacy of this model.”

BlueSoft Project Manager Urszula Rak said the input of two teams of Cambridge Judge MBA students had sparked “extensive internal discussions” that “significantly enhance the circular economy principles awareness within the organisation”, with an eye to stimulate new approaches that add customer value.

One of those Cambridge MBA students, Alex Powell (MBA 2018), said: “The opportunity to work with a company on a real issue in a foreign country with classmates and create tangible results was extremely rewarding. Learning about and applying circular economy principles to traditional business models was an eye-opening experience; it has changed how I approach supply-demand relationships”.

The Circular Economy Centre at Cambridge Judge was awarded 237,000 euros (£204,000) out of a total 1.7 million euro European Union grant, with funding underwritten by the UK government. The grant is shared by two other European academic institutions, Ecoles des Ponts ParisTech in France and Foundation for Research and Technology in Greece, and three industry partners – consultancy BlueSoft of Poland, telecoms firm Cablenet Communication Systems in Cyprus, and professional service firm Deloitte in Brussels.

For Cablenet in Cyprus, circular economy recommendations by the Cambridge Judge students include: providing customers an application that runs on hardware devices they already own; using built-in monitoring devices to enable technicians to pinpoint fibre optic cable breaks remotely; and installing solar panels on Cablenet amplifiers to generate power that is then stored in batteries.

For Deloitte, the Cambridge Judge students were able to apply their previous work experience on various projects ranging from circularity in the utility sector to alternative finance to industrial construction, often addressing cybersecurity risks in these various sectors.

“The secondment gave me an opportunity to interact with professionals with a working knowledge of cutting-edge industry initiatives and developments, and to understand real-world constraints and processes at play,” says Dhruvak Aggarwal, MPhil in Technology Policy 2018.

“The students interacted constructively with me and my colleagues,” Massimo Felici of Deloitte said in an Impact Statement on the project. “I would like to identify means for enhancing the visibility of our collaboration as well as the work conducted by the seconded students.”

The Circular Economy-Internet of Things project is an EU H2020 initiative funded by the Marie Sklodowska-Curie RISE programme at the European Commission, and runs from July 2018 to June 2022. The Cambridge Judge share of the grant pays for MBA, Executive MBA, Master of Finance and MPhil in Technology Policy students to spend time with the three industry partners, and by the end of 2019 these students will have completed 40 months of secondment.

For example, five Cambridge MBA students were on secondment with Cablenet in Cyprus in March and April this year for their Global Consulting Project, an integral part of the Cambridge MBA programme.

“Working with the Circular Economy Centre and Cablenet in Cyprus was definitely one of the most wonderful experiences of my MBA,” said Natalia Dziergwa (MBA 2018). “It was a great opportunity to learn about the shift from linear to circular economy whilst utilising my experience so far to advise the client.”

Cablenet Operations Manager Chris Aristidou said the MBA team’s “recommendations for improvement have already started to filter through into customer life-cycle management, product development, supply chain and partner collaborations. An immediate example of this is the branding of the reusable bags we give to our customers with the slogan ‘Think Green, Go Purple’ (the company’s branding colour)”.

Dr Khaled Soufani
Khaled Soufani

So far, 40 Cambridge Judge students have been seconded to the three industry partners, and more students will be seconded over the next two-and-a-half years of the EU project.

“This project has been warmly received by the industry partners, and has provided invaluable experience for the dozens of Cambridge Judge students who have already participated,” says Dr Khaled Soufani, Director of the Circular Economy Centre and Faculty (Professor level) in Management Practice at Cambridge Judge. “The project marries circular economy principles to the tangible issues faced by companies every day, and our students have already provided useful and cost-efficient recommendations to those partner organisations.”