Look at the grin on his Lordships' face
07 November 2019 by David Bott
Yet another missed opportunity to “start the week”, but I did get into Swindon on a Monday, so I am starting to conform. First up was an update/progress check on the Digital Britain activity. We are getting serious with the TeStBed strand of the work and I was pinned into a chair and made to agree with what the team are planning. It’s pretty adventurous stuff for us, but the best way to keep control of the overall process. I had intended to catch Reg Sell and his “lunch ‘n’ learn” talk on ergonomics, but I have been out for too long, so spent time catching up instead – actually it was more of “being caught up” since many decided they need to pin me down! Part of it was final decisions time on the launch of the Gordon Murray/Zytek project, which was scheduled for Thursday. There are a large number of stakeholders (for which read people who want to take the credit) so we had to have a quick telecon with Gordon himself to agree the actual plan. The last office based meeting was on the “large projects” process. I guess I came away thinking that the continuation of what was the old DTI process is running out of steam. There is no “large projects” budget and many of the consultative aspects of the process have been adapted by Heidi for the “exceptional projects” process. Coupled with the fact that the bulk of the current proposals are in the aerospace area and we have a recipe for confusion. I suspect that it would be cleaner and easier to explain if the “process” became part of normal operations and the budget planning went to the Heads in Innovation Programmes.
The evening was down in the Marriott to start the process of getting the Directors up to speed with the Creative Problem Solving Skills course. Jonne ran through the 3 day course in 3 hours (it hasn’t changed that much in the 25 years since I took it) and started to address the opportunities afforded by having an organisation familiar with the approach. Tuesday continued the theme – with us going through the strengths and opportunities to develop that we face as an organisation.
Wednesday started with a catch-up with Fearless Leader. Truthfully, we spent most of the time co-ordinating diaries and swapping commitments for logistical and geographical reasons. This moved into a discussion of our use of social media. We started experimenting with a variety of these last year and it seemed time to take stock. I think we decided that we would keep using Twitter as an optional communication tool internally, use it externally for those areas of our activity where it offered advantages but not in others. Second Life has also proved useful for some communities, and we are trialling some training in viral marketing in December. Next up was a meeting with James Baker of BAE Systems. FL fixed this up to help me with my responsibilities as “chief contact” for BAE Systems. It was interesting that he seemed more interested in how they could engage more innovative small companies in their defence activities and we see real opportunity for them to take their skills and capabilities into non-defence markets – particularly some of the Innovation Platforms. I think I was volunteered to talk to them about our activities soon. I rushed out of the meeting to just catch the 11.29 by the skin of my teeth. The next meeting was an HR meeting with Neil and an organisation psychologist from Human Factors International. The best way to capture the discussion was by using the words Neil used in a follow-up e-mail and which he has agreed for HFI to use in their publicity = “I have found my Human Factors sessions excellent and invaluable for my personal development. I have previously found it difficult to look inward and really understand, or even recognise, my strengths and weaknesses. The Human Factors sessions were frank yet good humoured and have provided me with a lot of positives regarding my own abilities, as well as ways forward to address my weaknesses. Crucially though, they have also made me recognise where I should focus to become more effective in my role with the Technology Strategy Board, whose mission I feel passionate about.”
This was followed by a very bizarre meeting that Mani had stitched me into. As I understand it, Brian Collins is using BIS to force DfT to take Intelligent Transport Systems more seriously. DfT had originally linked ITS with road user pricing but, although they haven't actually stopped the programme, they have basically decided it won't fly and so are losing interest in our Innovation Platform because they aren’t looking at the wider picture. So, some bright civil servants from BIS are trying to learn the whole idea and history of ITS in a week or so, so they can re-write the strategy and invent an announceable for the SoS. I think I am tasked with coming up with a question he can commission the answer to that will make everyone think about the area and miraculously do stuff. It's a real shame that a complex and potentially highly impactful area like ITS gets treated like this, but, what the hey...
By the time I got back to my hot desk, I found that Lady Claire had stitched me for an interview with BBC Online about the Gordon Murray/Zytek announcement. The person asked a few questions and produced this - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8344532.stm – which is still number 2 a day after. The it was off to the RBS HQ for the London Technology Fund Awards Ceremony - http://www.londontechnologyfund.com/competition/ - where I was the keynote. The back story is more levelling! I was shipped in last year as a replacement for Ian Pearson and they didn't even have the imagination to ask anyone else this year – a sort of “aim low and hit” approach, I guess! Whereas last year was a bit of an ordeal, since no-one in the room had heard of the Technology Strategy Board, this year I was more comfortable. For a start I knew I only had to talk for 10 minutes. Secondly, I knew some of the sponsors from last year. Thirdly, I had boned up on the progress of last year’s winners. Actually, it got better. The first winner was Juice Technology, and I had read David Ways’ account of his visit last week. The next winner was in digital media and the third was in regenerative medicine! By the time Novacem won the Environment award and Stuart started bigging up the TSB, I had relaxed completely!! Afterwards, in the reception, at last 3 of the finalists came up and thanked me for the support we had given them – we really are beginning to spread our influence. I still got some venture dudes telling me they could spend our money better and some consultants offering to tell me the answer, but (although hungry, wine and nibbles are not enough) I was pretty smug by the end of the evening.
Thursday saw an early train out of Waterloo to rendezvous with Lady Claire at Guildford Station and get down to Gordon Murray Design. As luck would have it, Jon Mayton (BIS Automotive Unit) got on the same train carriage at Clapham so we arrived as a posse. Lady Claire had been busy with Trimedia (the people who did the ULCV Demo launch) since Monday and we had some serious interest – 6 journalists in Shalford and some weird stuff on the web! She had also discovered a soulmate in Tiffany, the GMD media person and the assembled company were told were to sit and when to speak. There had been a little kerfuffle the day before when Lord Drayson had removed Fearless Leader’s quote from the press release, so I think she was a bit nervous. Paul proceed to praise the Technology Strategy Board, “the Governments primary innovation agency” and she relaxed!! The discussion went well – Gordon, Bill Gibson and Paul went off to drive the mule of the petrol driven T25 precursor – so it was left to the second string, but the journalists lapped it up. The “money shot” was that they were allowed to see the full-size mock-up of the T25 (without cameras or cell-phones). We got wide coverage – even into the Mail (who got it all wrong) and the Metro (which made Ray Browne’s day). Since it coincided with the publication of the Times review of low carbon vehicles that we had virtually written, we declared it a “media day” but couldn't find any Pinto Grigio. I scrounged a lift back to Guildford and caught the train back to London for a meeting with the Regeneris people who are carrying out the KTP review. Nothing earth-shattering there. I then took one of the oddest telephone calls I have had. The phone rang and a voice said, “this is the British Embassy in Switzerland!” Once I got over the surprise I asked what they wanted and it began to make sense. They are about to meet the CEO of Lonza and had heard about our visit to Lonza Biologics in Slough the other week. Apparently, my “we don't give you large amounts of money for bricks and mortar, but we do make the climate in which to innovate easier” speech has struck home and is being used by Lonza UK to influence Lonza Suisse. Weird!! Bad planning meant that I had to catch a train back to Swindon before driving home, so it was a long day!
I spent Friday working from home – a phone call from WAG about potentially starting a science park associated with a motor circuit in Anglesey, a discussion with Coatesy about a couple of CIKTNs going off the rails and my monthly catch-up with Celia from the BBSRC.