From Cuba to Blackpool
03 October 2019 by David Bott
I was in Swindon on Monday morning and there was no “start the week” - how did I cope? Instead we had an Innovate update and a Gravel Pit morning. It was then a series of “catch-up” meetings – so much is going on we are in danger of tripping over one another without them!
Tuesday started early in London with a teleconference to brief Natasha Whatsherface about innovate. Huw and others had worked rather hard to make sure that she had been sent a lot of briefing information and the call was to test what level of maintenance she required. Since she hadn’t read anything enough to understand, that goal went out the window, but we did discover a couple of things. Firstly, that she kept on referring to “cue cards” so we need to give her the words for a short, scene-setting introduction and the questions she can set the debate off with. We might also think about giving our panellists a bit more time to state their cases. The second thing we learnt was that Quadrant were on her side, not ours. I was not impressed by them!! I had been sitting in a meeting room at MRC for this and so was well full of gummy bears by the time I had to go to the next meeting – with MRC. This was the first of a new series of quarterly meetings to catch up with one another. It worked quite well, and they are beginning to be our friends, although they still like holding meetings to talk about what they are going to do and we like talking about what we have done. After 3 hours, more gummy bears and no lunch, I was on a sugar high for the next meeting, which is just as well.
It was down to our new Tracy island, London HQ, for a meeting with the cross-Whitehall group discussing the response to the NAIGT report. The basic civil servant analysis is that the report was a bit weak, asking for a Leadership Council, which in truth has no money and no real power but which the Auto industry thinks will solve their problems as it will give them direct access to politicians and policy-makers, and setting an indeterminate goal called Test Bed UK. There was some head-scratching about how to make the response a bit more than “yes, of course, but what will you do with it, and, yes, of course, but who will pay for it?” The rest of the week filled my in-box with various attempts to “sex-up” the response document.
We still don't have wi-fi in our touch down area, but Obi Wan and I discovered that the canteen has BT Openzone whilst discussing his proposed metrics framework. I showed him the work Andy Haslett and I had done in ICI (a long time ago) and we saw many parallels, but our lack of ability to measure money output, even on a several year timescale, makes our task more difficult.
The final meeting of the day was with James and Bronwyn of Polecat, but in their guise as mild-mannered SME supporters – as we first met them. For those that don't know, they picked us up last year as potential sponsors of WebMission. We got a lot out of a small (and therefore Cyrus friendly) sponsor deal and have been noodling on what to do next. Their proposal is to change focus and move from software to environmental products and services for their 2010 effort – if WebMission continues with a focus on software, we may still continue, but they want a new challenge. Fearless Leader and I agreed to develop the idea – although I think his mind was elsewhere.
The next morning was my last chance to learn about information assurance, and since we had no internet access in Tracy island, I stayed in the hotel to learn and test myself. I found the level weak and the tone of the training patronising – if you tried to use that in industry you would have a revolt – but managed to finish in time for the cut-off, although I did wonder what would happen if I didn't do it. Would I stop getting e-mails and lots of work to do? Having done that, I set off for the Grosvenor Hotel and the Inside Government meeting Le Golding had stiffed my for – see http://www.insidegovernment.co.uk/economic_dev/research_and_development/ . The morning was a bit predictable, but the afternoon started with a guy from HEFCE defending the Research Excellence Framework. Having taken part in the RAE I am deeply cynical about the motives and outcomes of this stream of activity. Next I gave the “up and at ‘em” version of the “Introduction to the Technology Strategy Board” presentation and got a lot of people asking me why other government agencies aren’t as focussed. After me was Nick Stuart of UKTI and we spent some time over coffee wondering why we don't actually do more joint stuff, rather than just talking about it. We will meet to progress. I rushed back to Tracy Island to meet with Marie-Ann McKenzie – now they have £6m burning a hole in their composite pocket, they want us to tell them how to spend it in an exciting and useful manner – I really should have known better that to suggest an X-Prize all those months ago – now I have to work out how to do it!!
Thursday was a bit bizarre, and definitely a day of 2 halves. The first was a meeting with the Innovation Research Centre people at Imperial. They know a lot of theory and have some useful access to pockets of business, but I still find time spent with them feeling like we could do more if only we spent the time to understand one another rather than them seeing us as a source of more funds. Having spent a hour with them (and a high powered team from our side) I made my excuses and caught the train to Swindon for a meeting with BP. This was much more fulfilling, we lots of real opportunities on both sides. They had fielded their A team and I felt a bit bad that we only had the EGS contingent – we need to recognise that most of the large guys are looking to spread their influence and like our condensed challenge explanations. The evening was consumed with a drive up to Lytham – slightly spoiled by the edition of Leading Edge – see http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00mwwgc#synopsis which had lashings of Borys being important – although Roger Highfield did demolish his arguments afterwards. I also discovered that Lytham has its own equivalent to Fawlty Towers.
Friday, I awoke to a good North West day, grey skies and rain at various levels of intensity. I was there to visit BAE Systems at Warton. I am sure they saw it as another chance to lobby an awkward sod on ASTREA II but I learned a lot about the overall company and the way it fits together and got to unpick their progress on unmanned aeroplanes. They are still playing the “we have the technology and the others will catch up soon“ card without stating the challenge and when I told them they would compete for money with “looking after old people” and “averting climate change” they started to get it. I also had a great chance to quiz the synthetic environment people on the difference between their work and serious games – the middle managers were dismissive, but the geeks engaged in a debate on the difference and UK capability which I need to capture somewhere.
The latter part of the afternoon, I explored the human response to congestion as I traversed the M6 car park.