The importance of communication
22 August 2019 by David Bott
Another “start the week” chaired by the relaxed and tanned Cyrus, so it was over in half the time. We then had a short discussion on the pre-Innovate dinner, who has been invited, how they have replied and what we are doing about it. From the overall tetchiness of subsequent conversations, I’m guessing we’re not on top of the situation? I then got to meet our second secondee for a research council – Joe McNamara from MRC. He has already worked out the difference between the goals of the 2 organisations and started to suggest win-win moves. I like him!! Lunchtime saw a visit from Rikki Hunt, who I met during the office birthday party. Rikki is trying to make Swindon a complete wi-fi zone. Apparently, the basic infrastructure was installed by the council a few years ago as part of an e-voting initiative, but then they turned it off. Given that Rikki used to own the Jet franchise and sold it before the downturn, his otherwise ambitious ideas (considering his partners, not because of the technological obstacles) might not be so fanciful, and we agreed to swap ideas and meet again. As with all new “friends” I had to explain that we don't just hand out money, but I think he grasped the “select a challenge, fund the best ideas that address it” concept. After a short break, I met with Jackie. She has been expressing some frustration with our uniformly “geeky” approach to life (but particularly the Assisted Living Innovation Platform) and the other week I asked her what she wanted to do about it. This was her response. An interesting “pitch” that we were approaching the challenges from the wrong direction, because we weren’t thinking about the real “customers”, we were addressing the perceived needs of the intermediates – the NHS/DoH. I have to admit to being a bit impressed, and realised the power of Graham’s suggestion that we recruit a nurse all that time ago. She needs to explain her ideas more broadly and we need to help her develop the solutions to address her restatement of the needs. Next up was a telephone discussion with the CEO of Heatric – another TSB virgin. They (as I understand it) make highly efficient heat exchangers using clever manufacturing techniques. After the obligatory “what we do, what you do” conversation, I asked what challenges he had – diffusion bonding of corrosion resistant steels was the instant reply – so Alan, Will and I will do some quick “connecting” and see what happens. We then had a quick chat with David and Michael about how we can better link “space” with the rest of the Innovation Programmes. Nothing earth-shattering, but the need for better internal communications. Finally, Robin and Alan wanted to talk to me about their visit to Bentley. They were impressed by their manufacturing technology (origami of aluminium as I understand it) and wanted to think through whether we could help. Bentley seem to be cropping up a bit recently, playing the “if we do it, it’s a route into Volkswagen” card. We should investigate, but I have my doubts.
Tuesday was a London day, some informal meetings in Kingsgate House before the test of our evolving Financial Services Strategy on the external group that helped us derive it. Paul will probably disagree, but it looked like a train crash to me. Richard managed to misinterpret what the Technology Strategy Board does and patronise those who had helped us think through what a difficult area it is to comprehend. After 90 minutes of “we think you are wrong” sort of conversations, and since I had to leave anyway, I suggested to the meeting that we shouldn't get involved. I believe that this changed the mindset, but then the response to the question “should the government put extra money into your area of activity?” only has one answer.
A quick ride across London got me to the SMMT for a meeting of the remnant NAIGT Technical Committee. We had funded an analysis of the strength of the UK industry to address the priority areas of the NAIGT Roadmap. Before the answer there needs to be caveats. A roadmap does not tell you where to go, it tells you the routes available once you know your destination. The NAIGT keeps its technical options open because many in the automotive industry cannot envisage giving up internal combustion engines for mass markets – even by 2050. Thus, the roadmap allows all technologies and so the analysis of “strengths” does not lead, inexorably, to a strategy for the UK automotive industry. Each player sticks to their own way of doing things – BMW wants to do hydrogen and made sure it was included, Nissan wants to do all-electric (partly because its rival Toyota does hybrids), Jaguar wants to do petrol V8s – you get the picture. We have now given the industry all the necessary information for it to make its choices and we need to make sure they do – I am pretty sure DfT are on the same page but BIS wants to keep the options open for as long as possible to allow tactical investment!!
The final task of the day was to take Hazel Moore of FirstCapital out for dinner. Hazel was the one who hosted the young padawan on his “a week as a vulture capitalist” work experience recently and I needed to say thank you. As it was, FirstCapital have recently won “Best Small Investment Banker” in some competition, so I had to disguise myself.
Wednesday was also a London day – starting with another meeting with the Cabinet Office Digital Dudes. Each meeting is in a different building, so we got to discover that the Admiralty Arch is actually an “E” grade on energy efficiency – the highest we have seen in government buildings. Andrew Stott had been called to No 10, so we got the young guy doing all the work and so had much more open discussion about what they are trying to do. Their project to make lots of government (non-personal) data available seems to be running through Nigel Shadbolts extended university department and so their goals to foster a new “Web 3.0” industry is not making headway. I think they need our help but don't have time to listen to it. C’est la vie. The rest of the day was spent being grilled by Lisa and Steph as to why certain things happened and whether there was an underlying strategy or just a series of happy coincidences, by Guy and Lisa about how to present to the upcoming Board Meetings, and catching up with e-mails, until..... I had been due to have my monthly catch-up with David Godber and, having thought hard about Jackie's Monday presentation, asked her to present to David. I think David had one of those “You had me at hello” moments and we spent some time thinking through how we could turn the restated challenge into a design brief and feed it into Design of the Times in Cornwall, who have apparently identified “social care” as a priority.
The next morning saw a rush back to Swindon for a rescheduled meeting – a Funder’s Panel – which I thought I ought to go to. This was followed by a meeting with Heidi. Paul and Will where we discussed whether it was physically possible to fit in the form filling apparently necessary to give people a tiny pay rise, how we could find enough time to make sure Technologists could give proper feedback to unsuccessful and intermediate consortia and whether we ought to restructure. All great discussions. I then got to go back to London on one of those famous, “we apologise” trains for the second meeting of the ED(SI) Clean Transport Group. This is formally chaired by John Beddington, but he seems to have handed this role off to Brian Collins. The exam question is “what should government do differently to affect the uptake of clean transport and should it pick winners”, although it’s all stated in civil servant speak. The first thing they have done is collected data on the current initiatives. I was bit slow in recognising what they wanted, so our data was missing, but it was obvious that the major effort are ours and the EPSRC. Being late did mean I got to hear all the different ways people had filled in the survey spreadsheet and so the interpretation was largely meaningless, so I didn’t feel too bad. Because the meeting had been re-arranged twice, many departments were represented by junior people who didn't actually knew was what going on, so Brian closed the meeting early. Afterwards, he told me that ED(SI) were looking at this activity as a blueprint for future, similar activities, and that there is no resolution of whether Adonis or Drayson will lead the Office of Low Emissions Vehicles, so there us a bit of a hiatus in its activities.
On Friday I worked at home and got so much stuff done because only a few people interrupted my work. I should do this more often!!