The importance of follow-through
29 August 2019 by David Bott
Although it started with a Monday, this week had no “start the week” for me. Instead I went to London for a meeting of the “Low Carbon Innovation Group”. This started about a year ago as a means of making sure the CEOs of the Carbon Trust, Energy Technologies Institute and Technology Strategy Board had something to talk about when they met – a bit like preparing for summits – and to prepare their “joint” presentations. It seems to have recently acquired a status out of keeping with its provenance and we will be joined by DECC, EPSRC, ERC and so on, so this was the final simple meeting. We have things to talk about. The simple model we started with, whereby we carved up the territory and acted independently stopped working about a year ago, so we are now into co-ordinated or integrated activities. This means that the whole organisation needs to understand the roles and actions, so random press releases, brochures and discussions with DECC about funding now take up the time. First up was the self-aggrandising brochure on low carbon vehicles from the ETI. The criticism was accepted, but I bet nothing much changes!! Then came the recently stated desire for “independent activity” from the Carbon Trust on the marine sector – the original proposals was to co-ordinate our £15m of revenue (our money) with their £22m of capital (from DECC). CT had told us only a few days before that they couldn't wait for us, and so were going it alone. DECC weren’t best pleased. We agreed that this was wrong and actually seem to have affected both sides to move together. On top of these fairly forthright discussions, the idea for a front end website seemed a different world. CT had tabled a proposal for www.lowcarbonworkinggroup.orgwhich was generally accepted, but it was only one way – so we suggested that a link back from our websites would be more convincing. We need a picture of the 3 CEOs working together (you know the sort of thing, shirt sleeves rolled up, coffee on table, no biscuits eaten) and (in a nice acknowledge of our better visual sense) a request for any suitable “innovation” pictures.
Next up was lunch with Ash Gupta. Ash has been circling our Low Carbon Vehicles activity for some time now. Most recently, he put together a proposal for an Edinburgh based demonstrator which bombed because the tram project had taken all the councils’ money and time. He wanted to meet because he didn't understand how we made decisions. Over tapas, he explained his life history, his involvement with the Michelin electric vehicle activity, his deal-brokering activities, his involvement with our low carbon activities (the LED lighting connection turns out to be with a company we like and respect) and so on. I explained why we did things and then how we did them. He gave me a large amount of reading and I agreed to get back to him in a few weeks. He is a likable guy, with an extensive rolodex, but doesn't seem to have developed much real traction. He does, however, import Fender guitars!!
Next up was a meeting with Steve Fletcher of CIKTN. Steve is responsible for the SUSCHEM activity within CIKTN and wanted to know what had happened in my meeting in Frankfurt the other week. I get the impression that the UK chemical industry is having difficulty engaging with Europe – the big companies are already European, but the small ones only see competition, not collaboration and the academics just see money. We also touched on the chemical industries growing understanding of, and ability to engage with, our programmes. He pushed “formulation” again and I suggested that using the Beacons and Building Capability completions might be a good route.
Then I joined a David Way driven teleconference on “entrepreneurial training”. My prejudice is that the word entrepreneur has been devalued to mean anyone who does a half way decent job, but the idea of providing support to those who get our financial support through our competitions, with the twin goals of supporting our “investment” and developing the management base, seems like a laudable and achievable goal. At some point, the telephone in the meeting room was disconnected, so I assume someone thought I had contributed enough!!
Final commitment of the day was dinner with Brian Collins – the only time I can now get uninterrupted time with him. We discussed the Office of Low Emission Vehicles, his frustration with ETI, his infrastructure aspirations, and the Stewart Davies idea of an IGT in ITSS – which Brian broadened to include the wider use of complex data sets and mash-ups. I got home before midnight, so avoided the pumpkin status!
Tuesday saw a trek to Swindon. First up, David Way, Kate and I met with a person from A*Star. It was supposed to be 2 people, but one had to miss the meeting. David went through a presentation of what we did and we seemed to hook some interest, but since A*Star is essentially a Research Council, it is not immediately clear to me the value of any direct relationship, other than reputation and the ability to drink at Raffles. Next came a meeting to discuss the new purchase order system. I think it’s fair to say the Chris got a hard time – not because it was a bad idea but because there had been insufficient consultation with the people who had to make it work on a day-to-day basis. A PRP meeting was followed by a run-through of the draft slides for the Board Away day. I thought we were supposed to be impersonating the Board (reasonable but probing interrogation) but we ended up proving that we still don’t all seem the same organisation.
Wednesday, I had decided to work at home to catch up with my e-mails, but a conversation with Jim Farrow meant that I actually spent most of the day chasing down invitations to the pre-Innovate dinner. Most had not received, or did not recognise, our invitation and many were happy to come, although a sizable number had previous commitments.
Thursday started with an introductory meeting with Mitchell Leimon, who has been brought into the BIS Automotive Unit to organise the Government Response to the NAIGT recommendations. Either he has Sir Humphrey level skills of duplicity, or he understands the TSB role and frustration with the “sitting tenant” slant that the NAIGT has taken. We had a good discussion about what the Government could do to accelerate the change in the automotive industry and personal transport use space. A rapid transit from 1 to 66 allowed me to join an interview for an interim to head up our activity on technology enabled learning (nee Immersive Education). Very good, although living in Cromarty does lead to some interesting commuting discussions.
I then went down to Shalford to join the final panel at Gordon Murray Design. This was being run under the “exceptional projects” route, where we combine the interactive aspects of the “large projects” approach with the smaller budgets of a normal competition! We early on learned that companies with exciting aspirations and a track record of delivery don’t always fill in our forms well enough to get funded, so we have spent some time trying to understand what goes wrong and correct it. The visit to their facility was insightful, in that many of the questions the assessors had in the sterility of our meeting room evaporated in the presence of real examples of work. It was also interesting that the 2 principals had gobs of self-belief and that scored them down on “risk management” and “implementation plans”. Nevertheless, the statement that “these are the best guys in the UK to deliver this” had a nice sound to it.
Friday was another WFH day, with more pre-Innovate dinner invite chasing and an amusing e-mail exchange with ITC about how accepting invitations on the iPhone running OS3.0 with Exchange Server 2003 produces bizarre acceptances. I also managed to extract enough information from the data provided by TUVNEL to submit the TSB funding to the ED(SI) Clean Transport Group, although I did find it a frustrating and insightful process.