Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet
24 December 2021 by David Bott
By way of nemesis, I had to chair the final “start the week”, but since it was largely depleted, I did manage to close the meeting after 12 minutes, so have achieved something this year! By contrast Obi-Wan chaired the Catapult Catch-Up and it overran its allotted 45 minutes! Admittedly, there is a lot to consider at the moment, but I felt that things got slightly muddier after the meeting.
I then had 2 interviews for Lead Technologists for the Low Impact Buildings Innovation Platform – where we are down to 1 full time person and a lot of interims these days. Sadly, neither candidate was up to the high standards in Innovation Programmes, but we did learn some interesting things about our assessment process and the first stage interview!
After that, it was a chance to catch-up with Sustainability Man (about the Future Cities Catapult progress) and Security Boy (about the m-commerce programme we are starting to work up under our involvement with the Forum for Innovation in Crime Prevention). Finally, it was a chance to catch up with Declan from the MRC. He had confused the Biomedical Catalyst Fund again by giving it to one of his more Luddite colleagues and I had to ruin our pre-Christmas meeting by continually pointing out that they had not understood what we had written down on paper a few weeks ago. I do worry that large parts of MRC regress to the DPFS pathway in both language and philosophy and haven’t really understood what them being made to commit £90m of existing money to match our £90m of new money means for their stock with their paymasters.
Tuesday was my other job in the morning but, as seems to be normal, it cuts across the day job with learning. We are having to make a decision about how we source one of our main component materials and had used CPI to get some estimates. It turned out that they had used the laboratory scale price for one of the reagents rather than the scaled up price and no-one noticed (we have no manufacturing experience in the team) until we started to try to make decisions based on the CPI input. When we did notice, it meant that about an hours debate was rendered pointless, and the tension between the salesman and the accountant was unnecessary! It took a phone call to CPI to sort it out, but I do worry that some of those we have appointed to help small companies are actually in the “how do we grow our own organisation” mind-set.
Wednesday started off back in Swindon with a Low Carbon Innovation Coordination Group (see – http://www.lowcarboninnovation.co.uk/ and note that they have not updated the website with a name change agreed weeks ago either!) teleconference about the status of the Technology Innovation Needs Assessments (TINAs). I have written about these before. They are basically a great idea – bring together in own document all the information and insight into a specific area so that all the organisations in the area can use the same dataset to support decision making. The problem has been that DECC subcontracted The Carbon Trust to do the work and they employed some consultants on a day rate to deliver it. They have spun out the job for way too long and, now the pressure is on them to deliver, they are getting defensive about the projects and not listening to important concerns from their stakeholders. We first discussed the Offshore Wind TINA that I thought we had approved a month ago. Others had re-read the document and realised that the intense editing had introduced its own inconsistencies and they made the writers squirm for a lot longer than the agenda allowed. That meant that the discussion on the Marine TINA (that Rob had briefed me for) was given less time that it really needed and the preliminary discussion of the Carbon Capture and Storage TINA was only perfunctory. Ah well.
Next up were short meetings with Energy Man and Jools to catch up on things that will arise early in the new year – like the case for the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult Board presentation!!! After a quick sprint into Swindon (along with just about everyone else as far as I could see!) it was a monthly catch-up with Development Man – which we carried out in the brainstorm room listening to John Coltrane!
Although I seemed to have missed most of the Web Forum meetings, Paul had scheduled one for Wednesday afternoon, so I sat down with him, Kate and Anne-Marie to go through the various analytics we have undertaken. As far as I can see, what we now have is an amazing amount of evidence that our website isn’t very good and most people don’t like it – but they do like what we are trying to communicate, so it is more about format than content. Many of the pleas for improvement are also very similar to the issues the Away-day Project Team raised some time ago, so I hope we can now get down to sorting them out.
My next task was a trip to Exeter, and on the way I tried to join a teleconference with the Supply Chain Project Board Meeting in BIS. At the appointed hour (and between trains in a deserted Bristol Parkway), I dialled in to the number given – and talked to a very nice man who knew nothing about the meeting. I was stuck! 15 minutes after the meeting should have started, the BIS secretary sent me an e-mail asking if I wanted them to call me. I told her of my attempt and agreed that they should call me. 5 minutes later, she called me to tell me that they would call soon. It was another 15 minutes, and I had boarded the next train to Exeter, before they called – a full 35 minutes after the meeting should have started. It will be no surprise to anyone who has attempted this that the signal gave out within 5 minutes (when they were still doing the introductions) and I lost my connection. Do you know what, I really couldn’t be arsed to call back because the meeting was supposed to finish in 10 minutes! You couldn’t make this stuff up!
I was due to have dinner with John Hirst, the CEO of the Met Office. I was sort of expecting a fairly dry evening, discussing what it was like to be in an NDPB after a career in industry – John had spent most of his career in ICI and we had overlapped by a couple of years – but the evening was quite different! It turns out that John played the drums as a young man, playing in working men’s clubs and various bands around Durham and Leeds and even turned Mark Knopfler down in favour of Steve Phillips (see – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Phillips_(musician). Luckily, his judgment in business has proved better! We also seemed to have drunk quite a bit and the walk back across Exeter was memorable but forgotten!
Next day, it was up to the Met Office. John kicked off with a overview of the operation (1800 people around the globe, BBC weather presenters, etc.) before Vicky Pope gave a review of how modelling and observation and climate and weather complemented one another to produce a more accurate picture of both the short and very long term predictive capabilities of the organisation. Next up, Simon Swan described how they made the website (see – http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/) more accessible by understanding what sorts of people visited it, what type and level of information they were seeking from it and how best to provide that information without jargon or preconception (particularly interesting chat about their “warnings” which are now a combined reflection of the sort of weather danger and the likely impact – e.g. rain on dry ground is less of a problem that rain on already sodden ground). They also talked about their use of mobile apps and social media (see – https://twitter.com/#!/metoffice). I was pretty impressed – and they offered to help us. Then came Phil Evans with a more general description of the products and services they provide, how they are confused by the Cabinet Office’s lack of understanding of what open data might actually look like. Eventually, I was taken on a tour of the operations area – meeting the people who provide the forecast, and those who translate that into the needs of road and rail travellers, airlines and local government. I also met the Twitter team, although Phil ruined the impression of the engagement of senior management by being surprised that they could see my tweet as I entered the building earlier – he doesn’t really “get” social media at all! I even saw the Flood Forecasting Centre (see – http://www.ffc-environment-agency.metoffice.gov.uk/) that was set up after the floods of July 2007! Then it was down to see the very. Very powerful computers they use – they are just upgrading from IBM 575’s (see – http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/power/hardware/575/) to 775’s (see – http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/power/hardware/775/) – and the sustainable way in which they run their computer centre with dynamic cooling. And finally, on the tour, a look at the weather forecast for D-Day – and lots more stories about how weather affects our lives. We have much to learn from how they have carved out a niche as an agency that applies business culture to their activities.
The trip back was not without its amusement. Having caught a train 20 minutes earlier than planned from Exeter to Bristol Parkway, I waited almost an hour there because the connecting train from Wales was very delayed. It meant that the trip home from Exeter took almost 5 hours!!