Tuesday was a busy (and long) one, then. We kicked off in Kings Place in the morning with the TSB briefing then started all over again in the same room that afternoon with the launch of the TSB’s Digital Strategy for the coming period.

The afternoon was introduced and generally hosted by Frank Boyd, one of the directors of the newly formed Knowledge Transfer Network, who briefly talked us through the KTN’s work before handing over to the TSB’s Head of Digital, Nick Appleyard who presented the organisation’s current and upcoming position on the digital industries. Some headlines, then:

  • The stakeholders in the digital space the TSB seeks to link up are the development or tech community and the businesses on whom an impact has been made by digital. The latter group often struggles to understand digital but the former group, as steeped in it as they are, struggle to find a route to market.
  • The TSB achieves this “joining up” with its IC Tomorrow team and via the KTN.
  • The principal elements of the idea cycle are conception, IP, business models and technology. But all too often the missing piece is the user.
  • So the TSB really seeks to fund projects that are user- and market-led.
  • UK is a great place to build digital technology businesses because of users’ expectations and behaviour: we’re Europe’s leaders in online and mobile penetration and the world’s leaders in terms of online transaction.
  • The TSB has launched the Connected Digital Economy Catapult in order to provide a platform and tools to help tech SME’s reach new markets.
  • Collaboration is hugely important to the TSB, and current partners include Nesta, ESRC, Creative Skillset, UKTI, and on and on…

Nick handed over to KTN’s CEO Chris Warkup whose opening remark struck a chord in the room: that the UK is great at innovation but not so good at the exploitation of new ideas. He then talked us how the new KTN was going to work. Here are some headlines:

  • The new company merges 14 previous KTNs.
  • Knowledge Transfer isn’t something that can simply be conducted virtually; rather, it’s a “contact sport”.
  • Often businesses have lots of information and knowledge to hand, but can lack wisdom.
  • The KTN seeks to drive cross-sector collaboration, join up business, technologists and funders, build multi-disciplinary teams and help the TSB in ths scoping of competitions.
  • He ended with a line of Matt Ridley’s, which I’ll paraphrase: “The future’s most limiting resource won’t be water or oil, but good brains.” (Matt, of course, is, in his own terms, a rational optimist; being rather more of a glass half full guy when it comes to civilisational development I think I’m rather more with Jared “Collapse” Diamond on the lack of water front, but still, I take his point.)

Chris was followed by the first of two talks from companies who’d received TSB funding. Jeff Clifford and Graham Jack represented Double Negative, the largest visual effects company in Europe, and often in the world. They discussed the huge changes in their field over the last decade, with the requirement for CG increasing dramatically – a real headache both in terms of logistics and the use of artists’ time. They went on to illustrate their work with a showreel of scenes from the upcoming Thor 2, which showed pre-VFX shots with finished ones; they were, of course, barely recognisable from each other.

They went on to say how innovation in workflow was absolutely essential for them, and that’s where they’d focussed for their TSB-funding work. SIM, a project run in collaboration with FilmLight and Surrey University sought to address these issues, and a project about to start is ASAP : a Scalable Architecture of Production.

Next up was Pilgrim Beart, founder of AlertMe.com, and the chief architect of Hyper/Cat, a TSB-funded project looking to create interoperability standards to join different verticals all working in the Internet of Things space. He opened with the fascinating observation that as the number of connected devices on the planet grew to outnumber, vastly, the number of people, then devices were going to have to start “looking after themselves”. And what was getting in the way of the IoT actually happening? Interoperability between verticals.

So Hyper/Cat sought to crack the problem, or at least examine how it might be cracked down the line, with a multi-party demonstrator. The outcome had plainly been successful, and Pilgrim outlined the chief drivers of its success:

  • Learning by doing
  • Strong relationships
  • An early market
  • The development of a process for coming up with a spec
  • Global potential – the UK can truly lead here.

He finished with the observation that in 10 years the very term Internet of Things would be long gone; we’ll simply talking about “The Internet”.

The day ended with a panel discussion on the challenges facing digital innovators, hosted by Jon Kingsbury, currently at Nesta but about to come over to the KTN as Head of Digital Economy. Jon was joined by Allesandro Guazzi of Sentimoto, who are developing smart wearables for older people; Emer Coleman of TransportAPI, who make apps based on public data made available through APIs; and Databarta’s Jane Lucy, a specialist in the use of digital media to deliver campaigning. The panel took questions from the floor and debated a range of issues, including:

  • The desperate lack of tech talent, especially devs and most especially Ruby devs.
  • The importance of the engagement with Europe and the Horizon 20/20 project.
  • The difficulty of actually doing x-disciplinary collaboration.
  • The value of mentoring.
  • The importance of “social”.

Jon put a final question to the panel: what could the TSB do to improve the situation. Three answers came through loud and clear: skills development; help finding the right collaborators; and a push for open data standards.

It was a nice, sparky ending to a generally lively and hugely informative afternoon.

Simon

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