University-Industry Engagement Week

U of Illinois unveils Blueprint, a new way of thinking about corporate engagement

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: October 2nd, 2023

A detailed article on the University of Illinois Gies College of Business “Blueprint” process for developing industry partnerships appears in the September issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here.

The Blueprint program at the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois, crafted in large part based on models and input from the private sector, is finishing out its first year of operation with an important and growing partnership with global IT and consulting company Accenture.

Blueprint is a process as much as it is a program. It seeks to build more strategic and holistic industry engagement by working closely with the company to determine what that engagement should look like. Based on a series of interviews and fact-finding conducted long before the real brainstorming begins, Blueprint functions much like a consultancy, with decision makers on both sides of the partnership achieving buy-in to sustain a long-term legacy, not a short-term transaction.

Following a year at the pilot level, the Gies Blueprint team has worked with 10 companies from various industries — financial services, insurance, retail, B2B industrial supply, consulting, and accounting — involving companies ranging in size from $500M to $60B in annual revenue. In the case of Accenture, both partners say they’ve hit the sweet spot of mutually beneficial collaboration, with UI leveraging its vast pool of expertise while also learning from an industry partner, and Accenture gaining the benefit of world-class research, insights, and talent development for itself and its clients.

The Blueprint process between UI and Accenture came about through Arnab Chakraborty, Accenture senior managing director and North American data and AI lead, who is also a member of the Gies Dean’s Business Council. He approached the college’s staff to talk about the company and the challenges and opportunities it and its clients face, specifically with AI. From there, the conversation moved into the Blueprint framework.

The Blueprint program is not used with every partnership, but for some it’s the perfect approach. “Companies want to expand their relationship and engagement,” says Ning Zulauf, Gies corporate relations manager and program coordinator. “It’s a different way to explore a broader relationship with a company when sometimes they don’t know where to start.”

According to Andrew Allen, assistant dean of strategic engagement at Gies, in some cases it still makes sense to do things more traditionally — bringing a company on campus and showcasing the university’s wide variety of resources and programs. But with certain potential partners, that can be overwhelming. For select companies, the Blueprint process makes more sense.

Here’s the Blueprint onboarding process and timeline in a nutshell:

  • Scoping: Complete scoping call with relationship manager, 1 hour.
  • Discover: Conduct stakeholder interviews and a ½-day discovery session, up to 8 weeks.
  • Develop: Gies drafts custom partnership agreement, 2 weeks.
  • Engage: Finalize strategy agreement and begin implementation, 3 to 4 weeks.

What Blueprint discovers is as varied as the companies it works with. A global retailer might face challenges with onshoring for warehousing and manufacturing; a consulting firm could face difficulties accelerating their brand awareness with students; and a financial services firm might need a more purposeful form of engagement with a college, its faculty, and students. The Blueprint process could result in an enhanced relationship with Gies, or even a multiyear, multifaceted collaboration. Among the suite of possible outcomes are faculty research, training, workshops, sponsored programming, student education, workforce and talent development, access to student preferences and trends, training programs, and professional certifications.

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Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week