What we need is an operational strategy and the ability to say NO - and a professional IT supplier!!
14 November 2019 by David Bott
For the first time in a long while, I made it to the “start the week” meeting but couldn't see what all the fuss was about – aside from the useful insight from Lisa that the metrics work required me to read all the submissions from the Innovation Programmes group before Monday – something I had not picked up from any of the e-mails on the subject. :-( That was followed by a Governing Board preparation meeting and a meeting when Em and Le Golding convinced me that the planned AHRC meeting was a good use of all our time and that something useful might come out of the LWEC Partners Board meeting. Then we had a guy from Wesley Clover http://www.wesleyclover.com/ and another from the Institute for Advanced Broadcasting http://www.creativeatnewport.co.uk/about/institute_of_advanced_broadcasting/ They had two things they wanted to talk about. The first was their Bootcamp programme for young (graduate) entrepreneurs. They had pitched this to BIS and got enthusiasm but no money, so were using us as another way to influence BIS. It is a good idea, and well implemented, but we are becoming more and more aware of this sort of thing and need to move from dealing with them piecemeal as they come in to having a goal that we can assess their suitability against. Nevertheless, we agreed to point out to BIS that this was a good idea and they ought to follow through on their initial response. The second thing they wanted to talk about was why the IAB had not been awarded a grant when they had applied for it. They had applied to the Creative Industries last call and made it through to the second round but then not been successful. We could pull the paperwork, but on the basis of what I saw, I would be prepared to bet they failed to answer the “why government money?” question. Luckily, I had to leave before it got down to brass tacks.
I had to make it down to London for the re-arranged meeting with Ford over Simplify and its place in their plans. I was prepared for the BIS Automotive Unit but also met the Automotive Assistance Programme people (whose role seems to be to give money to the automotive industry to keep them quiet). Despite what we had heard, Simplify has now become the centrepiece of Fords forward plans for investment in the UK and they wanted to know why we hadn’t given them the money. They believed that we would be making the decision the following day and wanted to get on with implementing the programme. I had a long chat with Jane Whewell afterwards because we sort of made the decision months ago that it wasn’t innovative enough to be successful but had put off telling Ford because BIS didn't want us to. We are now a bit painted into a corner. Jane asked whether we could check one last time of any part of the programme was worthy of support, but also made it clear there was no extra money from BIS to support what is more industrial policy than innovation policy. After a train journey back to Swindon, I had a telecon with UKTI in San Francisco and another with Polecat about CoolMission 2010.
The next day was an Executioners Meeting. We talked though the large projects process and made some decisions – including reaffirmation that we wouldn't fund Simplify, but the high point was the long awaited “budget discussions”. We now have rudimentary processes in place to be able to plan next years budget – we have moderately accurate spend profiles for this year, and almost certain competition plan and a manpower plan to back it up. All we need to do is put it all together. I had to leave the meeting early because Maurizio had volunteered me to give out awards at the ICT Excellence Meeting run by AWM. The conference food at the National Motorcycle Museum hasn’t improved much since I last ate there and I was bemused by the main speaker, Peter Cochran’s, approach that anyone born after 1970 was risk averse and unlikely to succeed as a modern businessman – since the audience was mostly composed of such people!! In a rare fit of self-control, I didn't mention this in my speech on how wonderful the Technology Strategy Board was, but did smile when the CTO of the overall winner, Wapple, did point out that he was borne after 1970 and “didn't recognise what Peter had described!”
Wednesday was down to Bristol for the joint meeting with AHRC. We had fielded a good proportion of the Technologists. They had fielded some of their programme managers and key academics. The morning was okay – high level talks from Shearer and Allyson and then 3 live and one technically limited video presentation on their programme themes – but then it got interesting. In spite of some of the weirdest facilitation I have ever seen, we self-assembled into groups of common interest. I first sat in on the one that related to technology enabled learning and found that their academics were gold-dust. They all got Tim Pearson's e-mail address and the instruction to contact him. After lunch, the next session yielded no-one interested in assisted living and the development of new service models, so Heidi and I caught up with a number of operational issues. In the final session, we formed a breakaway group and talked about design, user needs, cultural inertia and electric vehicles. In terms of innovation, this held more new ideas than the other sessions, but it’s lack of real focus means that it would be difficult to take anything specific away from it. And how would we measure the impact of something like that anyway?
Thursday saw a trek down to Cardiff for the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) Partners Board meeting. LWEC is an interesting beast. It is primarily an assembly of existing programmes but seeks to co-ordinate them for maximum impact (and probably minimum cost). In its early days it was mainly the research councils trying to get their science in to influence policy making – and it hasn't really lost that flavour. We joined about a year ago with the intention of helping make it more delivery oriented, but it’s an uphill struggle. Meanwhile they have operational issues. At the last meeting, their Director was criticised for a lack of “outcome” focus and asked to prepare papers on what the goals were. These papers were presented back to this meeting and largely rejected by the Partners. The proposed international strategy was thrown out, the public engagement strategy was sent back for rebuilding (with a statesman like intervention by John Selbourne to ensure it didn't take another 6 months) - only the progress of the Business Advisory Board (all down to our own Em) was passed without attack. The evening reception, hosted by the Welsh Assembly Government with a traditional Welsh curry meal, was a target rich environment for us, and the spadework done by Brain and Fearless Leader was apparent and actionable. By the time I reached my room that evening, I had a voicemail and 3 missed calls from Ford though.
Friday started early and the drive to Swindon was easier than anticipated – very few people appear to get up early in Cardiff, but the Bristol turnoff from the M4 was its usual efficient and polite self. After a catch up with Fearless Leader on all the things that require coordinated responses from us – LWEC (he was about to meet Alan Thorpe), Ford, AWM (they have put in another “large bung to JLR” plan to BIS and they aren’t happy) I spent some time with Green Guy about the Sustainable Innovation Action Group, where we need to pick up the reins again after the lull caused by Innovate. This caused a series of e-mails late on, dispensing tasks to everyone who has green credentials!! We then interviewed a bloke for Emerging Technologies – although I think we decided he would make a great replacement for Mike Biddle! Then, once again and a good argument for planning, I went down to London for a meeting. This time it was OSCHR – and the implementation of the OLS Blueprint, specifically the item on clusters. On the way, I discovered that Ford were now chasing me through Jools!! The meeting was large and late on Friday, so it was interesting to note that nearly everyone had fielded their key players, with Novartis even flying in their CTO from Switzerland!! As is usual with John Bell meetings, the outcome had been decided by John earlier and all the key decision makers had been nobbled, so although Borys kicked up a bit about not being in charge, the meeting duly delivered what I had been told it would. It is not directly relevant for us, since it is mainly about academic funding, but John did thank us for coming and reinforced our role in the roll-out of the masterplan. I also had a nice chat with John Stageman about his new role as default healthcare senior person for the TSB!
Since the meeting had over-run, and the post meeting discussion been valuable, I managed to catch the 6.30 from Paddington. For those than don't know, this is the first Off-Peak train and is therefore very, very full. I managed to get a seat in the carriage where the stag party were practicing for Weston-Super-Mare and it got progressively louder and bluer as the journey went on. It is not often that I am pleased to get to Swindon!!!
Saturday has interestingly, produced it’s own set of problems. Although I knew ITC were going to upgrade the Exchange server this weekend, I thought sending out a note late on Friday afternoon saying that “the new system will block access to unauthorised (i.e. non ITC) devices” was a little poor on customer service. On time, the iPhone stopped receiving e-mails and told me I can’t contact the server, so when on the road I will be flying blind. Since there are several people, both full time and interims, who are subsidising our IT costs because the originally issued Treos were so poor, we now face a bill for a larger number of Blackberries that we had planned. Bizarrely, since the note went on “Staff are reminded that they must not attempt to connect their personal devices to our systems. Only ITC devices may be used. Unauthorised devices will not be able to connect once the work has been completed on Saturday.”, I can still use my Mac, so perhaps they’re not as all-powerful as they think. Why didn't we think through this SNAFU? Up the upside, at least I can blame ITC for not contacting Ford!!