From confusion to aspiration
05 December 2019 by David Bott
I had meant to drive to Sheffield for a METRC Board meeting, but the intermittent fault with my car prompted me to bow out gracefully and instead go to London. Jools tried to fit in a telecom with a guy from Sentaca, a Swindon based Comms company, but the guy forgot to call until 3 hours after the agreed time and seemed very, very confused about who we were, who he was and what he was asking me to do. I managed to work out later with Helena that he would like to be a specialist provider to the Digital Britain TeStBed but on the basis of this conversation.....
Once in Tracy Island I did manage to grab conversations with Michael Hurwitz, Mani and Mitchell Leimon (who has been running the Government response to the New Automotive Innovation and Growth team report) and attempt to work out the best way to integrate our latest competition under the Integrated Delivery Programme on the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform with the launch of the Automotive Council, due on December 10th. This caused a lot of e-mails!! In the evening Fearless Leader and I had dinner with Chris Mason the regenerative medicine guru from UCL (http://www.chrismason.com/). FL is now seriously well informed about the area and can use the word autologous without shame. The following day Chris sent both of us ISBN 978 0 580 63294 5 so we can achieve postgraduate status in the area! :-)
The next day saw a brisk walk back to Tracy Island for the “metrics meeting”. The work that David Evans, Lisa and Steph have done over the last few weeks, has led us inexorably to the realisation that we, as an Executive, have to take more ownership of and responsibility for the portfolio of our programmes, and so we have started spending time doing just that.
Next up was the second meeting of the Sustainable Innovation Advisory Group. At the first meeting, the externals had told us, in no uncertain terms, that many organisations start down this path and end up using such a group for window dressing and that if we tried that, they would leave. Despite the distractions of Innovate and the whole metrics initiative, we have made some progress – the KTNs are now aware of our commitment to sustainability – some (like Chemistry Innovation) are a long way down the track and providing relevant services to their communities, others are more focused on specific programmes to deliver sustainability in their area. All the responses we received were credible and the SAIG gave us some good ideas about how we go further. We also talked about our growing portfolio of projects to look at evolving business models and value chains. Again, we got a tick in the box for effort and achievement. On embedding suitability in our competition process we are still in the stocks. A read of any of our recent Guides to Applicants would show that we don’t even mention sustainability much, let alone signpost it as a core value. We also didn't have much to show about making our own operations sustainable, although Christian has produced some good ideas. The day job does seem to be all-consuming. To salvage our overall reputation, we played our “social” card after lunch. Jackie gave a typically barn-storming presentation on how we could evolve the Assisted Living Innovation Platform to be much more effective – an evolutionary pathway we are increasingly going down. Most of the external seemed convinced that our hearts were pure, but I think Stewart Davies realised that some of it had been smoke and mirrors, so we have to make real progress before the next meeting or we run the risk of them carrying out their promise.
I went back to Tracy Island for more IDP-LCV discussions. Mani had managed to get Michael Hurwitz, Jane Whewell and I in the same room, so we thrashed through our different ambitions for the latest competition, our different views of what the community would expect and embrace and agreed on a path forward. Some details still need to be battened down, but John Laughlin, Andrew Everett and Heidi have kept up the pressure to resolve the issues and – operating at many levels between BIS, DfT/OLEV and ourselves – we are getting there.
Wednesday started with the Edelman Crystal Ball Breakfast that Guy had stitched me for. It was an interesting panel – John Redwood, a hedge fund guru who was also joint treasurer of the Conservative Party, the political editor of the Telegraph and John Cridland of the CBI. It must be the only time Cridland has had the role of pinko commy faggot on such a panel!! After the statements of prejudice, the questioning was a bit hostile and Edelman got accused of being a bit too obvious about their own crystal ball gazing! Phillip Blond ( twitter at @Phillip_Blond ) managed to make himself obvious and since we had been briefed he was a Comms target I tried to speak to him but he was swamped by big C fanboys and so I instead contented myself with introducing two Edelman employees who didn't know one another. For the record, and as they promised, their coffee is really good.
Next up was the first of a series Heidi has organised for me to see how the Innovation Platform Implementation Plans are evolving. Network Security still needs to work out what its “elevator pitch” is and then link its activities to that strategic goal. Then it was back up Victoria Street to TfL for a meeting FL had fixed me up with. As it happens the main contact was called away to another meeting, so I got a strategy person and a climate change person, and we had a more workmanlike meeting that I had anticipated. Although TfL have been involved in the ITSS Innovation Platform from early on, these people didn't know what we were doing in that area or the LCV area, so I was able to give them lots of reading. Another mildly disappointing interview followed before I had to get the train back to the Midlands for a meeting at Jaguar. My main task was to tell them that there wouldn't be a “Beacon Vehicles” large project, so was a little bemused that they collected me from the gatehouse in Limo-Green and were obviously being nice to me. When I admitted that I had been for an extensive ride in the car at MIRA, they upped the stakes by letting me drive it. The algorithm has been improved since the Atherstone ride, and it now does go quiet at low speeds – and it is very impressive when it does that!! Once I was safely in sight of other people, I told them the bad news but did hint that we were looking to announce something relevant that they could bid into soon. They seem more exercised about the related AWM bid, which is causing some ruckus between AWM and BIS and where we seem to be playing the role of honest broker or (as Heidi puts it) the bearer of bad news!
Thursday started in Swindon and consisted of weaving the work on the possible competitions’ affordability (using Cyrus’s mega-spreadsheet) with a conference call to try to persuade BP to sponsor the Clean & Cool Mission and getting courageously networked by Nigel our Financial Services dude. I also traded my execrable Blackberry 8800 for a 9520 (which has the weirdest touchscreen ever). Somewhere during the day, it appears that we agreed to give an interview on low carbon transport to the Times, so I slipped down to London early so that I could be “comfortable” for it. It is the first telephone interview I have done with an Edelman minder on the same call and was therefore a little odd. The journalist (who twitters as @carbontastic) really knew her stuff, so we went all over the place – in a good way. I gave her a contact to Nissan (about the Leaf) and Paul (the Edelman guy) agreed to follow up and supply her the details of those successful in our competitions to date. The rest of the evening was spent dealing with e-mails and playing with my new communications toy. Sad, isn't it?
Friday started with a bang. I had agreed to meet Terry Young for breakfast. We first met Terry through the NIHR I4I conference but lately have done some interesting work on health econometrics with him. This has confused him to the point where he thinks we know what we are talking about, so he wanted to inveigle us into his larger scheme. Starting with the development of aircraft carriers, he deduced the need for modelling and simulation of various aspects of the health service from first principles and then stuck a (fairly reasonable) price tag of £12m over 5 years on the necessary underpinning research. He doesn't want our money but our support, so I will try to make the right connections and see if we can catalyse anything (see what I did there?). I then discovered that the 10 o’clock morning train to Swindon is quiet enough that you can get a seat in coach D. Following a quick chat at Innovate and a lot of insistent phone calls I then had lunch with Carol Boyer-Spooner. She remains gloriously unreasonable about most things but was in a constructive mood, so we discussed how the CI KTN could interface with many more of our activities than they currently do without the need for a Chemistry Technology Area.
My monthly catch-up with Celia from the BBSRC was by telephone this month and we talked about the role of the Levy Boards in our competitions (are they truthful Blackfoots or lying Whitefoots?), how BBSRC ought to be more involved in our Stratified Medicine work, and whether we should give the Farming community a little more time on the upcoming SAF IP competition to get their ideas and consortia together. As always, progress at the working level makes the strategic catch-up's valuable and fun.
The (allegedly) final meeting of the day was for Anne (the HR guru), the young padawan and I to interview a woman I had picked up at Buckingham Palace. To explain, at the design awards I had talked to a number of people about the link between technology and design and one person had expressed real interest in joining with us in some way. This “interview” was to explore the idea. The hour or so interview was useful, but we then spent another 45 minutes unpacking how we might build design skills in the technologist cadre. I do believe Paul thinks I’m nuts, but is humouring me!!