I’ve got those “fin de siècle” blues again

What can I say, without the unpredictable drama of Birdlip Hill, the trek to work every Monday morning now no longer deserves comment, which gives me space to emphasise the awe-inspiring importance of the “start the week” meeting.

Afterwards, I had the standard download from Jools about what I was doing during the week and had a PDR with Energy Man, which took me up to lunchtime.  I sat in for the first 30 minutes of the “not-lunch and learn” on ICtomorrow – to watch Digital Man’s growing insight into the challenges and opportunities in this rapidly evolving space get a nice showcase – before another potentially interesting interview, this time for a Creative Digital person.  A quick catch-up with Digital Man and Karen (the words) about the impending TechCity LaunchPad and how to explain what we were trying to do to a wide variety of communities.  Then another PDR, this time with Transport Man.  It’s amazing how quickly a Monday can pass!

Tuesday morning saw me in Oxford for one of my other jobs – which at the moment is teaching me a lot about the politics of shareholders in AIM listed companies! – before getting back home for a series of telephone calls.  The first, with the MRC, was partly about TICs, where they keep asking the same questions – either because they don’t understand or don’t like the answers – but also about joint competitions.  There is a tendency for them to think that their best academics aren’t involved in our projects because we have a competition selection process that somehow prioritises strong commercial themes to the exclusion of all other criteria.  This leads them, inevitably, to the idea that they could run our processes better.  It took about half their time to tell them that it has worked with the EPSRC and BBSRC and that we’re not going to radically change – and that the best way to get good academics involved in the projects is much earlier in the process!!!  Then I did an interview with the Epoch Times (see - http://www.theepochtimes.com/).  This had come out of the WebMission and, although we focused on bigging up the companies on the Mission, we did throw in a series of teasers about ourselves and UKTI and why we were doing the Missions.  This led this one guy (guided I suspect by the excellent San Francisco Grayling dudes and dudettes) to think about whether the US could learn from how the Brits do it.  I put on my best “responsible investor of taxpayers money” voice and explained what we do what we do and how we do it and he professed himself satisfied.  I look forward to how he writes it up because the last thing he did (about Crisp Thinking) was pretty good – see http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/technology/cyberbullying-meets-its-match-with-crisp-thinking-53694.html.  The rest of the evening was reading and (only slightly) editing the various bits of paper for the TechCity LaunchPad.  Nice work by the Communications Team from a standing start!

Wednesday started with another trip to Swindon.  First up was a briefing on a meeting with the EPSRC that afternoon – since I had mysteriously become the lead article!  Then it was 2 Funders Panels, both on Stratified Medicine.  We had a good discussion with Cyrus and the Chief Accountant about what stratified medicine was and how it would change the way the healthcare industry was structured.  It was the sort of discussion and exchange of views we don’t have enough of around the office.  We also decided to fund some really cool projects.  As a distraction, I had a PRP with Jools – not sure who was assessing who!  Then there was a teleconference with BIS and UKTI about the media side of the TechCity LaunchPad.  As with all of these things, the various media types in Government are keen to be “in the lead” but less keen to bother to understand what the event or message is, so Lady Claire set them straight, helped by Eric the Dealmaker, who took time out from hobnobbing with important people to support our cause.

Then it was off to the EPSRC Bilateral.  I have to admit that I cannot remember being at one of these before and needed that early morning briefing.  There was a rather pointless discussion about the research councils using _connect where I thought Coatesy was going to kill someone, then a discussion about strategies, where I showed the wider focus non-Milliganesque diagram and we talked about the things we had talked about in the last 2 RCUK meetings – with about the same level of output actions.  I think we all agreed that the meeting was a bit redundant and that the CEO meetings should evolve into a combination of that and this meeting!  I then went off with the Goth Heidi to discuss the GE experience and how we could hunt in packs more often – next up, Siemens!

Thursday was another Swindon day, and started with a depleted Executioners Meeting.  First up was a go-through the future budgets to try to understand and address the potential £35m overspend in 2012/13.  FL had obviously been plotting and he showed – with the benefit of his glamorous assistant – that he could take out lots of money by only slightly changing some assumptions in the budgets, cutting budgets where we had demonstrated we didn’t know how to usefully spend the money and generally being a bit more in control.  That got it down to £21m.  Then he looked at the underlying assumption of the model and showed that rounding up the “efficiency” ratio in the model from 86.4% to 90% added £9m to the overspend.   He then told me to implement the £10m cut for 2011/12 (in Energy and High Value Manufacturing) and look to move a few more competitions back in time to lose the rest of the potential overspend.  And then he rested!  On the back of understanding where we did, and didn’t, have money, we signed off a slew of PAFs.  The original intent had been that we discussed and agreed them as a team, but the process degraded very quickly and got circumvented.  This actually delayed many PAFs because they got lost in peoples inboxes.  This led to the appointment of Jools as PAFmeister, but she could only monitor, not enforce.  This all got brought to a head when there was a question of running out of money and the need to have a better financial planning system.  Anyway, only 3 got “not signed”, each for a different reason.  Then we discussed the Governing Board discussion on TICs, trying to work out what they had meant us to do next, and whether it would work.  This is not as simple as it sounds, given that we all remembered the discussion differently!!

We had (of course) run over, but Will seemed comfortable that his PDR was foreshortened and we had a nice chat about life, the universe and everything.  I then got “courageously networked” by Paul Tuffs, the first “out of Innovation Programmes” networking I can remember doing in several years.

Next was an internal autopsy on the WebMission.  Although it looks to have been a huge success in terms of its metrics for the companies, we began to see “opportunities for development” and so Lady Claire and Zoe and I poured over the entrails and tried to work out what had gone off the rails and why.  I think we got a good idea – and how to fix the issues going forward.

Then it was back into courageous networking with Malcolm Hannaby, and I was reminded why we wanted him in the organisation so much.  

Then, it was the monthly catch-up that David Way and I enjoy – a sort of courageous networking for Executioners!  We talked mostly about TICs (of course) although the KTNs and KTPs also featured.

My final task of the day was Healthcare Man’s PDR, although because we had timed out of office time, we did it over what passes for dinner at the Hilton hotel.  I hope he didn’t think that dinner with me was punishment for his years performance!  :-)

Friday was yet another Swindon day – that’s 4 this week – and started with a regrouping of the Executioners – with one of the missing ones back but the other a disembodied voice on the phone.  We started with a discussion of the outcome of the Governing Board and how it should be written up in the minutes, but then strayed into the AOB from the previous days meeting.  ERDF was dispatched, Grant for R&D had a desultory outing but then we got onto the website and harmony was lost.  Business Process man and I were on one side – saying that the website was our presence in the outside world and needed to reflect the organisation better, and that therefore we should manage it better.  We would characterise the others as saying “we have a process to engage, why don’t you do it”.  They probably think we’re awkward sods.  We are, so we agreed that we would join the “website design group`” or whatever it’s called.

FL then gave his monthly update to the troops, and despite saying he was only going to be 10 minutes, was actually on his feet for 30!

I was anxious about timing because of the imminent arrival of the UKTI Flash Mob (Bob Driver, Rosa Wilkinson and Simon Carter).  As it happens they hadn’t eaten on the train and had taken the long walk around (for a fag break) so we had plenty of time.  We started with a general introduction and were going to split into 2 groups but Coatesy can’t resist the opportunity to influence, so we did a demo of _connect for the first 45 minutes before breaking.

The Communications team took Rosa and Simon into the next room to talk about Innovate 2011 and Technology World 2011.  I wasn’t in the room, but from the mood of the UKTIers afterwards it didn’t go as swimmingly as I had hoped.

I stayed with the _connect group and watched as Coatesy, Mark McNally and Lee “sold” Bob on the both the concept and the implementation.  Every time he came up with a problem, they knew a lot more than him about it, had solved it or were about to solve it.  If we don’t get heavily engaged in their roll-out of “going global” after that, it will be enemy action.

Rosa had had a last conversation (about the Olympics) with Allyson, but had to leave, so Bob, Simon and I were joined by Lady Claire to continue the discussion of what UKTI call “entrepreneur missions”.  They are concerned about the overall cost – compared to their standard trade missions – but they accept our goals are different and are happy to continue to co-fund around 4-5 a year in our focus areas.  We did agree to institute more of a planning process, for each area and integrated into an overall plan.

The memorandum of understanding was also mentioned in passing and we agreed that FL and their CEO need a “summit” to sign off our burgeoning interactions.  They left pretty happy with their trip to Swindon – I think!

The final thing to mention was a conversation with Sebastian about his interest in what he calls “digital manufacturing”, but what we call (at the moment) additive layer manufacturing.  It has been rapid prototyping and other things in the past, but keeps cropping up.  Sebastian was making the point that it encapsulates the intimate interaction of design and production and might be an area where the Creative Industries and the next manufacturing SIG worked together!

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