Profile: Dr. K. (Hari) Srihari
The roster of research and manufacturing firms includes
Universal Instruments, General
Electric, Motorola, Sanmina-SCI, Endicott Interconnect, Texas Instruments,
Maines, United Health Services. It's a list that any private-sector
research consulting firm would be thrilled to have as ongoing clients.
That's exactly how EMRS (Electronics Manufacturing Research and Services)
feels about them, too. Except that EMRS is not the private sector; it's
the research arm of the Department of Systems Science and Industrial Engineering
(SSIE) in the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science.
The firms aren't clients, but sponsors of research performed by "consultants"
who are, in fact, SSIE advanced-degree candidates who work side-by-side
with sponsors' in-house experts and University faculty.
The director of, and guiding force behind, EMRS is SSIE department chair
and professor Dr. K. (Hari) Srihari. "I absolutely love my job,"
he ebulliently says about his department, EMRS, his students and the success
of all three. He explains that he now understands and agrees with the
answer given by a colleague, former professor Peter Engle, when Srihari
asked him some years ago why he worked so hard. "This is my hobby,"
Srihari remembers him answering, "and they pay me for it."
absolutely love my job." --
Dr. K. (Hari) Srihari
He recalls the beginnings of one of those "hobbies," EMRS, in
as now, its focus was, Srihari says, "to explore research that fosters
increased efficiencies, effectiveness and reliability and minimizes the
cost of manufacturing."
Back then, it had one sponsor, Universal Instruments, a global electronics
productivity specialist headquartered in Binghamton. Today, 15 sponsors
support EMRS, where currently about 85 percent of its research is focused
on electronic manufacturing and packaging, 10 percent on healthcare and
five percent on logistics and transportation.
Back then, about 10 students participated in the program. Today, 38 advanced-degree
students are part of it, working on site not only in upstate New York,
but also in Silicon Valley, Texas and Alabama. In fact, since its founding
and under Srihari's mentoring, more than 150 master's degree students
and more than 50 PhD candidates have participated in EMRS, contributing
to real-life research with real-life applications.
Today EMRS is one of the single largest research groups on campus and
a splendid example of University-industry partnerships with long track
records of success. It's also, Srihari proudly notes, completely supported
by its industry sponsors, who have consistently provided funding of at
least $1 million every year since 1999 ($12 million total since it was
Srihari attributes this success to those who came before. "We remind
our students that the group is good because of the excellent work of the
students and staff who preceded them. Each one," he says, "helped
develop our reputation. The people who are here today are standing on
The reputation they and Srihari have developed is one based on surpassing
the expectations of its sponsors, each and every time. EMRS has never
lost a sponsor (although there have been brief hiatuses for some during
economic downturns). The University's increasingly high academic profile
and admissions standards, along with the success of SSIE graduates in
the marketplace, add further credence that attracts both prospective sponsors
The secret to EMRS is, well, no secret at all: It's hard work and astute
research before a project is even awarded. Says Srihari, "We differentiate
ourselves from other research groups by finding out what our customers
want. We don't go to them and say something like, ‘Here are EMRS
strengths; can you use them?' We want to know their needs, their critical
pathways. We try our best to find out about their technical roadmaps and
their challenges two and three years from now, and how our research can
The professor acknowledges that this kind of approach "may give us
ulcers, but it gives our sponsors value because we provide research that
has a practical application for them. We are there because it makes good
business sense: Our skill sets and expertise meet their business needs."
Srihari explains that it's not unusual for EMRS and SSIE to collaborate
with other faculty, students and programs, if they are the appropriate
experts for a sponsor's research needs. "The sponsor and the project,"
he says, "drive the resources."
At this point, it may sound that EMRS is more like a business, and it
is -- the business of education. Srihari defines EMRS as a three-way partnership:
the customer, the University and the student. "The customer,"
he explains, "gets what it wants done; the University enhances its
status as a research university; and the student gets an opportunity to
provide and enhance his or her research expertise."
Notes Srihari, "The true bottom line is that we are not a company.
We are a University, and our first job is the education of our students.
Our faculty and staff understand that the student is both our customer
and our product." To students, Srihari says, "We emphasize it's
not a research-or-classroom choice, but both, and we expect an A grade.
We also expect them to handle other department responsibilities that often
have nothing to do with the classroom or research, but which improve our
efficiencies as a team."
Students deliver on these expectations because Srihari and the department
faculty and staff help make it so, starting with communications and mentoring
between all levels. There's a student advisory board, "where ideas
for improvement to the department are encouraged, from technology, efficiency,
effectiveness, administration, and so forth." There's empowering
students, with a team leader assigned to each EMRS project who can make
tactical decisions, and providing each student with a PC and other tools
Srihari is pleased that, last fall, the department was able to fund all
its full-time students. Yet for him, that's not enough; he keeps a list
of nine non-funded, part-time students on a whiteboard in his office to
remind him that his department's goal is to try to find funding for everyone.
He talks about those who did come before -- "a fantastic group of
graduates" -- and about an alumni network that has an energy all
its own, with people exchanging e-mails about job openings and other events,
and whose common denominator is SSIE or EMRS.
He gives credit to a talented, very collegial team of people in his department
who work exceptionally well together. "There are two distinguished
professors in the building," he says, "and both are in this
department," although he fails to name them. The distinguished professor
award is the highest honor bestowed by SUNY. It's awarded to full professors
who are nationally or internationally recognized for achievements in research,
scholarship and creative activity. Among other considerations, a recipient's
work must be of such character that his or her presence will tend to elevate
the standards of scholarship of colleagues both within his or her academic
field and beyond.
Dr. George Klir is one of the recipients. And it's probably no surprise
that Srihari is the other.
-- Sandra Kazinetz