When does security mean safety and when does it mean defence?
08 May 2020 by David Bott
Another Cyrus “start the week” – over before we knew it and mainly notable for the low number of people there – extensions to 3 day weekends seemingly a time effective holiday mode. I next went into discuss the next evolution of the Implementation Plan for the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform. The fast-moving nature of this area has meant previous Implementation Plans had to be regarded as for the guidance of wise men, but we did come up with some interesting questions about how best to capitalise on the progress of the last 3 years.
Next up came a walk across to Polaris Home for the Mentally Bewildered for my monthly catch-up with Celia Caulcott. BBSRC are “moderately interested” in the next stage of the Hauser process because they are convinced that their institutes are an example of good practice. We discussed the relative positions and achievements of the centres that I knew and mostly agreed that they might not be ideal examples of what is needed – although it is difficult from the first Hauser Report to work out actually what it recommends. I then got a bit of a chance to catch up with things before a meeting – organised by Lady Claire – on how the media strategy fits in with the competitions process. Some time ago the Comms team had recommended that we ask for accessible abstracts to be part of all proposals. These would give us agreed text for press releases, the basis for case studies and another (less technical) view of what success might look like for the assessment process to consider. Innovation Programmes had endorsed this addition to process because it made out lives easier and offered the promise of better integration in the later stages of the process. The problems with the move from TUVNEL to Holly had meant less available resource and the Competitions Team had deprioritised this area – so it hadn’t happened. I think we agreed that it should be reprioritised and that extra resource should be made available – because not having it caused extra work for other bits of the organisation.
Another fruitless interview followed and the day ended with my weekly briefing from Jools, a discussion with Zahid about the progress of the Regenerative Medicine competition suite and a trip down to London so that I could be up early the next day.
Wednesday started with an early jaunt up to Liverpool Street to rendezvous with Andrew Everett. We had received an urgent, last minute, invitation to visit the senior guys of Ford at Dunton to discuss “matters”. We had been en route to Essex anyway, so we took it. The problem is with their Focii (the formal plural of Focus) and the battery systems. Their supplier had decided to skip a generation of technology and cease work on the current system that Ford had intended to use in their cars for our Demonstration programme. This would have meant that Ford would be supplying cars to the general public with inadequate safety testing and they had decided they couldn’t do it. For the record, we applauded this decision. Their choice was to supply an equivalent number of Ford Tourneos (do not look at pictures, they are ugly but practical) a few months late, or the next version of the Focus almost a year late. They asked for our input to their decision. We suggested that the sooner they got out in the field the sooner they would get user information and that, therefore, we would go with the Tourneo. This was the same conclusion they had reached so the meeting ended amicable and swiftly – so much so that they had time to tell us there were materials problems with the flywheel KERS system and we offered to help with advice and connections. They then gave us a lift a few miles along the Southend Arterial Road to our next meeting.
Last year, Finmeccanica has asked us for help – they were going through the fairly standard process of trying to take their defence industry honed skills into new markets and had noted our “success” (their words, not ours) with Innovation Platforms. Both Fearless Leader and I had declaimed on the process to them several times and they had gone away to set up an “Innovation Hub”. As they reached the end of the internal process, they had asked for a sanity check and so we decided to “do a Cisco” on them. Accordingly, a small team (Heidi, Andrew Everett, Andrew Tyrer, Neil Morgan and I) sat in the conference room at Selex Galileo (one of the UK based operating companies owned by Finmeccanica, a fact our CRM system has yet to recognise!). They talked through their goals at high level, we talked through the theory and practice of “challenge led” innovation for a couple of hours and then broke for a tour of the facilities and lunch. Like many defence companies, they have lots of demonstrators – what looked like Second Life for people who put lots of extras on LandRovers and Hummers, integrated sensor arrays for finding out where insurgents or people with big guns are, a poorly explained system for finding Improvised Explosive Devices and a really cool Infra-Red detector (the physicists will get the pun there!) We went back into the meeting and went through more details on transport, digital and energy and they professed real usefulness on their side. They are set up as a small group of people in the centre who have to persuade operating units to support their ideas. I wish them luck, but they have a long way to go.
Thursday was a London day and first up was a discussion with the Chair of the Intelligent Transport Systems and Services Innovation Platform Steering Group to tell him we were winding up the Platform and making ITSS a part of a wider Transport activity. I think the signalling had been sufficient that he wasn’t surprised and we talked through what needs to be done next – an appraisal of the achievements of the Platform over its 4 years lifetime, management for success of the portfolio of projects that have been funded and continued pressure on DfT to develop an implementable policy for the area. I then went off to the ERA Foundation Lunch and Lecture – where I saw Allyson in the distance. I am never quite sure why I get invited and it does seem to be settling down into a “close friends” format, but it is undoubtedly a good chance to network with a particular subset of the great and the good. Other than catching up with Norman Price, Colin Brown, David Vincent, Jane Galsworthy and few others, the most exciting part was when the person sitting next to me realised he was eating glass – he was not happy or comfortable and left fairly quickly. My table ate more carefully after that! The talk on how energy policy impacted manufacturing was interesting but largely historical rather than policy informing, so it wasn’t a wrench to leave.
After a brief encounter with Derek in a coffee shop just off Trafalgar Square to discuss how we ride out the resource situation in the Energy Generation and Supply, I wandered down Whitehall to meet up with the young padawan for a meeting with Sally Davies. As Chief Scientist of the Department of Health, Sally is an important link for us into what the Government wants to achieve in the healthcare area and therefore what they might “buy” as products and services in the future. She has appeared cautious about Stratified Medicine in the past, I think because she was being lobbied from all sides to “do something” in the area without being given any clear ideas of what should be done! When we arrived, it was obvious she wasn’t feeling well and she quickly professed to having a bad headache. Interestingly, she then told us that she had been appointed interim Chief Medical Officer as well and, in that role, she was interested in supporting our activities in the Stratified Medicine area. She mentioned that she had not felt comfortable offering that support as head of the NIHR because, under the OSCHR agreement, MRC had the lead in the area. She also said that – in terms of disease burden – her priority order would be cancer first and then musclo-skeletal inflammation. This is subtly different from the path OSCHR is taking and the one favoured by the ABPI, but comes close to our evolving ideas. She supported the idea of us working closely with Cancer Research UK and Arthritis Research. This gives us the potential for an accelerated development process for the Innovation Platform in the area and the possibility of joint funding with CRUK and ARC – our first joint funding with a charity I believe?
Friday was an extremely odd day. I was in London and sitting in 1 Victoria Street amongst our civil service colleagues came close to being an out of body experience as senior people came through with worryingly regularity to communicate what they didn’t know. The spell was broken by a call from Zoe to discuss the approaches we have had from TechHub about us providing support to them “because they are what Hauser was talking about”. One thing we think might be interesting is to work with HP, Cisco or IBM (the ones we know about) to put a string of those virtual meeting rooms in centres such as the Stevenage BioPark and TechHub for (pseudo) entrepreneurs to be able to communicate (in cyberspace) between communities and locations and build cross sectoral links.
The final commitment of the day was my much-delayed induction into the Design and Technology Alliance. A flock of people from the Home Office, the Design Council, UCL and Conran & Associates gathered in one of the flash new meeting rooms on the 5th floor to discuss the next phase of development. It was fascinating. The lady from UCL, who is a practising criminologist, can see the opportunities for crime in the most bizarre places. The Home Office guy can quote the cost of not addressing any subsection of criminal activity to 2 decimal places and the assorted designers were pregnant with ideas of how to tackle the areas. I was the sole technologist in the company and one of only 2 who understand profit and loss accountability. I got asked great questions – have considered the burglary impact of retrofit? – have we thought about how electric car batteries have value and hence could be nickable? There is the opportunity to build low-key questions into our competitions about the development of new technologies and truly design out crime, but in the meanwhile I am on a steep learning curve about the criminal mind. Be afraid. Be very afraid!!