I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way!
04 June 2021 by David Bott
Another non-Monday week, so another missed opportunity to revel in the adrenaline rush that is the “start the week” meeting. Instead, on Tuesday, I went to the Annual General Meeting of one of my other jobs. AGMs for small AIM listed companies are odd affairs. As well as the officers of the company, we only had a guy who wanted to get our media business and an accountant from Ernst & Young in the room, and the CFO had 55m proxy votes!
Afterwards, in the Board meeting, I heard a bit more about the KTP they have been battling with the demise of and then got told we hadn’t paid them for a project that most people deem to have been successful, because Manchester University hadn’t finished its audit and the whole project cannot be paid until all have completed their individual audits – so the cash rich university gets the SME penalised. Go figure!
Then it was down to Swindon for a Low Carbon Innovation Group teleconference. Actually, due to timing issues, it was from a lay-by on the A420, but that approximates to Swindon these days! Lots of discussion about TINAs, and a bombshell from DECC that they are writing a strategy based on the TINAs – despite the fact that we all recognise they’re not finished, so we cannot extract the key learnings, it has apparently been dictated that they need to be summarised. Another case of what Obi-Wan famously characterised as “policy-based evidence” is obviously on the horizon. There was much interest in ORE TIC and the on-going process, and I had been deputed to put forward a Jeremy Watson conceived idea for a demand side energy summit. In fact, it transpired that Jeremy was well advanced with planning when someone pointed out that no-one from LCIG was involved, so he got his consiglieri to ask us to “endorse” it. We discussed how the subject was rapidly climbing up the “most popular subject for a conference” hit parade and that Jeremy had it all sewn up anyway so why would we get involved?
On Wednesday, a small band of us (Energy Man, Smart Energy Boy, Sustainability Man and myself) met at Swindon railway station to make the trek to the Isle of Wight. For no really good reason, we had chosen the 2+ hour scenic route through Bath and so got to see some of the more obscure bits of Britain. The Energy Duo sat together and went through documents, but Sustainability Man and I decided to have a 2 hour catch-up meeting (as instructed by my diary tyrant). That included the next steps of the Forum for the Future “what does a sustainable economy look like” project, the idea of working with the Carbon War Room for a conference co-ordinated with Innovate 2011, and lots of other things. We had a brief interlude with Socrates Wife (it is HER island after all) before meeting up with David Green of the Eco-Island project (see - http://www.eco-island.org/) and Andy Stanford-Clark of IBM and the tweeting house fame! We met at David’s house, which is a nice exemplar of what can be done by integrating the various aspects of low carbon living, solar water heating, photovoltaic cells on the roof, an air source heat pump, under-floor heating, a large heat sink to equilibrate heat flows, etc.. David has grandiose plans for the whole island being energy independent of the mainland, but those plans had a ring of snake oil about them. From the discussions, it became obvious that he wasn’t aware of what others were doing and so was missing opportunities for cross-learning. After a nice lunch and more discussions, we set off back to the mainland and the more rapid trip back via Reading.
Thursday was a Swindon day, and started with the first of three interviews for the new Head of Technology role. This was followed by my regular catch-up with David Way, where we tried to work out how to squeeze a couple of gallons of TIC related activity out of our pint pot! I think we agree that the most important task is to get OUR message out there – this will save a huge amount of effort everyone has to go through to persuade people that the rumours and myths are not actually true!! Then it was a short meeting with Neil Ridley, the new Director of the Transport KTN, and my monthly catch-up with Will – who used to work in Innovation Programmes before the High Value Manufacturing TIC started taking up not just the time he allots to the Technology Strategy Board but also detracts from his other job and his weekends! Then came news that out visitor for the lunchtime meeting had been caught up in the Reading signalling triangle, so Coatesy, the young padawan, David Way and I ate the arranged lunch and killed a couple of outstanding actions. We agreed to run the Design “not vouchers” scheme on the Detection and Identification of Infectious Agents competition planned for September and the “enterprise remedial business sense” scheme on ICT for High Value Manufacturing and Construction competition launching on Monday. (Don’t be scared Julie, none of this adds to your workload!). Satisfied both organisationally and prandially, we ended the meeting after an hour. Cancellations are good for the soul! Then it was another Head of Technology interview. It is good to know that there are people in our organisation who are hungry for new responsibilities and articulate enough to explain how they would do things differently.
After some travel instructions from the stand-in Jools, the late Digital Man arrived for our monthly catch-up. (He had not been caught up in the train problem but his London meeting had overrun!) We talked about some of the more pressing issues of the moment. First there were the operational problems with the Collaboration Across Digital Industries competition, where we seem to be so overloaded that we are delaying the start of approved projects, and hooking real irritation from the outside world. Next came the slightly embarrassing superfluity of submissions to the TechCity LaunchPad – we got 221 in the end because the ICtomorrow people let those who had IT problems submit after the deadline – we’ll get ourselves a reputation for being reasonable just before we get submerged in the tsunami of late entries next time! We are now trying to get BIS, the Treasury, Number 10 and anyone who can help us to free up a £1m from the TIC budget to be able to double the prize money and limit the number of disappointed punters – and up our reputation with all concerned for being responsive!
Then it was back into the final Head of Technology interview for the day. When I came out I found I had to call Mike Gregory, who seems to have some Sainsbury money to do interesting things can wanted to co-ordinate with us, and Graham Child of DECC, who seem to be doing yet another “response to being pilloried by the NAO” activity!
Friday was my treat for the week. When I had talked at Inside Government in February, I had added a greyed out “Design” into my list of competencies and so someone from the Loughborough Design School (see - http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/lds/) had invited me to see what they were doing. Mentioning this to Sebastian, I had discovered that he is now employing a number of Loughborough alumni so invited him to join me. We started by re-running the presentation that had started the interaction, with variable speed on the bits I didn’t think they would be interested in, then had an overview of the School. It was odd that they mixed up academics bragging (that neither Sebastian or I were interested in) with fascinating examples of their work with industry. After looking at the work of their students (which had a slightly unreal air, in that there was nothing I actually wanted, a contrast to the RCA events, where I can often see the commercial endpoint of the idea!), I got to see the Environmental Ergonomics Research Centre, where they carry out the pre-design analysis. As result of this visit, I now know more than I want to about where men and women sweat when exerting themselves – this has been interactive with Adidas and been translated into a new range of sports clothing (that will presumable be bought by people who in no way test of limitations but wear it to be trendy!!) – see here http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/lds/video/adidas-usa.html. Meanwhile Sebastian got to look at robots – his new interest since his visit to Pisa earlier in the week, which seems to focus on robots for assistive living!! Then it was back into plenary for more presentations. Although they sometime came up with boring damp squibs (like the system which told people if the radiator was on and the window open by flashing a light next to the window – Doh!) they were mixed with truly inspirational stuff like the third age suit (see – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEDF9ut7iCc). Of real interest was the number of KTPs they had used to build links between the (academic) design community and the technology community. We might well add this to the design “not vouchers” scheme if we can work out how!
The final part of the day consisted of being mildly hijacked by David Williams (part of the London/Loughborough Cell Therapies TIC bid). It was nice to see their set-up at Loughborough – essentially a series of laboratories and offices shoehorned into what was a large empty room left over by British Gas! I now no longer require any imagination to see what could be done with the Olympic Park buildings! Given that Healthcare Man now tells me that there are likely to be Cell Therapy proposals from London/Loughborough, Cambridge, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Scotland, it looks like our plan to bring the community together may require more effort than we had anticipated. Don’t you just love how people respond to new pots of money. Gives you real faith!!