How Do We Make Digital Thrive in the Warwickshire?
Tuesday 14 November 2017
I recently accepted a position on Andy Street’s West Midlands Combined Authority Digital Board. At our first meeting we discussed our aims and objectives. Mine was to make the West Midlands a place where digital thrives and is seen to thrive. A vision open to wide interpretation as the rest of the Board told me. What does it mean for digital to thrive? What are the markers and the targets we can measure against?
At the same meeting, we also gave our commitment to the UrbanTech Challenge subsequently launched on 6th November. This was a project I had worked on previously in the West Midlands Digital Group where we discussed how to place public sector problems in front of the innovative digital SME community in order to explore collaborative solutions.
The UrbanTech programme launched by the WMCA has four key challenges around wellbeing, homelessness, youth unemployment, and citizenship. There is a £10,000 cash injection for successful businesses plus a three month pilot with the Combined Authority. You can find out more at https://urbanchallenge.io/. While the marketing is geared towards start-ups, I was assured in our Board Meeting that all SMEs will be considered. If you have a digital-led solution that could help with these key challenges, it is certainly worth a look.
Transport is a clear omission from the challenges. In a recent article for Tech UK I discussed the role of the West Midlands, positioned at the heart of the country, as crucial to the movement of people and things for the whole of the UK: http://www.techuk.org/insights/opinions/item/11376-techukps2030-is-utopia-possible-for-a-digital-west-midlands. Transport is a key challenge for this region and also a clear strength. It has been deliberately left off this round of challenges as Transport for West Midlands has its own Tech Accelerator. Information about this is not that easy to find but it appears to be part of the national Transport Systems Catapult: https://ts.catapult.org.uk/workwithus/open-calls-opportunities/
Back to my question: what does it mean for the West Midlands to both be and be seen as a place where digital thrives? In my mind, we have to start with the movement of people and things. Why do we still have people employed in hi-vis to direct us where to park when we have digital signage and beacons that could direct us? Why do we have people patrolling to deliver parking fines when they could be issued automatically with machine learning? I will hear the argument about jobs being lost and to that argument I would respond that we can upskill those people to work in a place where digital thrives. The world of technology is so vast and there is much that can be picked up easily. I am not just saying this. Emerald, the IT business I own, has done it with our own employees from careers in hospitality, retail, and hair & beauty. All of them are now able to work in a place where digital thrives.
Warwickshire is home to some incredible digital businesses. We are home to a high value games cluster. We are home to autonomous vehicles. We are home to businesses exploring cutting edge technology and software development. This should not happen behind closed doors and non-disclosure agreements. We should see it and use it in our everyday lives. Warwickshire could be a place that lives and breathes digital. In all the best ways.
How do we make digital thrive in Warwickshire? TechCentral and I welcome your ideas. Please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org and share your thoughts!
You can also attend our CW Business Festival event on 30th November: https://cwbusinessfestival.ticketleap.com/what-does-digital-mean-to-leamington-spa or our Christmas Drinks on 7th December: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/christmas-drinks-and-chat-tickets-37999329016
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Monday 4 August 2017
Last month Tech Central hosted an event at Warwick Arts Centre bringing digital and creative businesses together. There were a series of round tables to discuss the role both sectors could play in transforming public sector services across the region.
“If we could harness the energy in that room, all our problems would be solved” said one business owner to me afterwards and I know he is right. Something exciting happens when you bring technology engineers and creative minds together and set them challenges. I believe we call it innovation!
But the idea is only the beginning. In my very simplified version of the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale, we need to develop the idea; prototype it; test it; deploy it; and introduce it to market. A difficult journey that often means a great idea never makes it to its final destination.
I have always been fascinated by the story of Apple. As a company, it brought together creative minds, engineers, and commercial thinkers. Creative minds push the boundaries of what is possible by focusing on what problem they want to solve or the difference they want to make. Engineers know what the technology can do and how it does it. And the commercial thinkers provide the business model. It is a team of all three that will see an idea through prototype; testing; deployment; and delivery to market.
The evolution of the iPod is a great example. The creative vision was to allow consumers ready access to the music we want to listen to when and where we want to listen to it. When the idea first appeared to Jobs and team, the technology already in existence could deliver the iPod, which Apple produced in 2001. So we had access to music when and where we wanted with a lightweight device we could carry around easily. But we didn’t all have access to the music we wanted. Originally we had to transfer our existing collection (whether on CD, vinyl, or even mini-disc) onto our iPod. It was no different to any other mp3 player. Then in 2003, Apple brought us iTunes and we could buy music instantly. iPod sales went from 25,000 in 2001 to 2 million in by the end of 2003. And Apple were no longer just a company that made computers. They made people’s lives better.
Then the competitors came. In 2006, Spotify offered us a legitimate music streaming subscription model and delivered true ‘music-as-a-service’. In 2016, Spotify had 30 million paying subscribers. Apple introduced their subscription service as Apple Music in 2015 and had a paying subscriber base in 2016 of 13 million. Although Apple may feel they showed up a little late to this particular party, the dream has been realised. Now we can truly listen to whatever music we want to listen to whenever and wherever we want.
Tech Central’s mission is to support this region to deliver innovation. We want to bring creative minds, engineers, and commercial thinkers together in the way Apple did. We have our next social on Thursday 21st September in the Star & Garter in Leamington so please do come along. We are also keen to hear from any business or organisation who would like to hold their own event to showcase their experience of delivering innovation.
Contact me on email@example.com regarding hosting an event
Tech Central encourage networking and interaction between individuals and organisations with links to digital media and technology, and aim to create the space and conditions that foster creativity, innovation and collaboration.