Discovering the world of #Digitalisation

Ducati

Image Source: Siemens

Normally my weeks are hectic and on weeks like this I look forward to unwinding at the weekend with a spot of motor biking, whether that’s trail riding or an afternoon out in the countryside. Being outdoors at the weekend, with just the bike and myself creates a feeling of total freedom and is one of the best ways I have found for unwinding.

If you look beyond the exterior of a modern bike, it’s clear to see that there are some exciting developments happening. Take a brand like Ducati, known globally for its distinctive brand. Huge strides have been made in the past decade on bringing digital development to reality. In Ducati’s case, a wonderful blend of the old and the new has been brought together to deliver the spirit associated with their bikes.

Digital development is incorporated into the design, testing and manufacture of a modern motorbike which is then handed over to be hand built by one of the many talented crafts persons in the Ducati works – the perfect blend of technology and craftsmanship.

Software plays two important roles in the development of a modern motorbike: (i) software developed to manage the operation of the bike and (ii) software in innovating design, testing and development.

In the operation of the bike, #digitalisation helps run the bike at optimum conditions, keeping the rider safe and focussed on the road ahead.

In motorbike innovation, digitalisation has enabled Ducati’s time to market to be reduced from 40 months to 24 months. This has been achieved through the creation of 3D models of development bikes to enable virtual testing, design development and tool design for manufacturing.

Moving these tasks into the digital work has allowed tasks to be carried out simultaneously, resulting in significant time savings.

And it’s scalable – Ducati have so many models (currently over 25) that following the digitalisation path in relevant parts of business delivers tremendous benefits, whilst keeping the “soul” of the bike and the brand intact.

But back to the week ahead.

For this particular week it’s just as hectic as. Busy calendar and busy workload but I’m looking forward to what will be an exciting week. I’m especially excited as I’m joining the #SiemensDigital event at the Festival of Speed (#FOS) at #Goodwood. It’s going to be a great opportunity to explore and discuss the topic of digitalisation.

I expect that there are many questions about what digitalisation really is, what the digital revolution is going to bring and what benefits we might see – so in addition to my own experience with bikes, I’m looking forward to the event to see what other innovations are coming through.

Will post any interesting cases I find!

 

Smart Cities – powered with data to empower us with information

Digital-London-1800x960

Image Source: The Resident

Twelve months ago, my typical working week changed. Instead of the twenty-mile drive from home into the city of Manchester, I began a weekly train commute to another city, the city of London.

There are lots of benefits of taking the train but I particularly enjoy the quality time to both work and reflect as we hurtle through the English countryside. It was on this week’s commute in a moment of reflection gazing out of the window, that I was drawn to the memory of my first ever trip to London. It was back in 1987.

I was one of four primary school children from my North East school and we were on a trip from Newcastle to London. We were part of a delegation of teachers, parents and pupils (including our local MP) who were visiting the House of Commons – to champion the jobs being created in the North East at the new Nissan plant in Sunderland.

As you imagine, at that age it was quite an exciting day and I remember being handed my train ticket and told to look after it carefully. Everything was planned meticulously with a detailed itinerary, laid out with approximate timings and locations for each important milestone on the day. I had a bag full of clothing to cover all weather eventualities. We took the long train journey to London and as the choices were limited (we were unfamiliar with how to navigate around the City), we took taxis from the station to the House of Commons.

It was a day of contrasts. I remember how my jaw dropped when I saw the magnificence of the House of Commons both from outside and inside and also meeting Tony Benn, who was patient and gracious in taking time to talk with us, in a coffee shop. At the other end of the spectrum, I also remember the stress of coping with events that weren’t on the itinerary, like trying to find somewhere for us all to eat lunch and then wondering how we were going to get ourselves back to the station. Without a thoroughly detailed plan, we would have been lost. Even with this in place, there were still unplanned events that we struggled to find the necessary information we required.

30 years later, and I’m travelling into London again but this time from the North West. Have I become empowered with more information and choice? Well the experience is certainly different to my school trip.

The day starts with a weather alert from an app called If This Then That (IFTTT) giving me a heads up on what weather I can expect to face on my commute.

As I leave the house, there’s a message from Trainline telling me that the train is on time and informing me which platform to head to at the station. Plenty of time for coffee and breakfast on the way! No need to collect or print tickets, it’s all on my phone. I don’t need to check the screens as I’m notified again on my phone if there are any delays or platform changes.

Once sitting on the train, I can access a wealth of data on the city I’m going to via London Datastore. I can see environmental KPIs such as NO2 and PM2.5 levels as well as reading up on how collaborators will use this open data source to solve challenges posted by the City.

I can plan ahead via City Mapper to look at the best way to get from Euston to my final destination, regardless of whether I’m new to the City or a regular traveler. There are a variety of choices such as tube, taxi, bus, bicycle or simply walking – if I choose one of the later two options I’m informed of the likely calories I’m going to burn. If I know it’s going to rain there are “rain safe” options to select from.

Taking the tube, entry and exit is now all enabled via contactless payment and for the final walk to my destination, Google Maps guides me from the tube station to the hotel.

Arriving at the hotel, I get a welcome text message from the hotel. I can reply to this text to root any requests, queries or room service back to reception.

No itinerary. No stress if unplanned events occur. Information at hand and easy to use as and when required.

This is part of the journey of London becoming a Smart City – but it is only scratching the surface of what Smart Cities can and could do. There have been major advancements in the last 30 years but all of the experiences above are only the changes visible on my weekly transport commute. In the background, developments in Smart Energy, Smart Buildings and Smart Transport Infrastructure are finding solutions to the urbanization and climate changes challenges. Most of these developments, particularly in Smart Energy and Smart Buildings are invisible to us, as commuters.

Smart Cities is a topic I’ve been interested over many years but it has become an even more exciting topic to explore in my new role. We all know the drivers: the megatrends of urbanization, demographic change and climate change, resulting in London alone projecting a 37% increase in its population by 2050. There are exciting initiatives being rolled out across the globe in cities like Chicago, New York, Brussels, Barcelona to name a few. In the UK, major initiatives are under way in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Peterborough and London itself.

But how best to get a clear picture of what’s going? So far, the most beneficial experience I’ve had to really understand the potential for Smart Cities has been during visits to the Crystal. Here you can see the full picture, including Smart Energy, Smart Transport Infrastructure and Smart Buildings. The exhibits at the Crystal help to add colour to the Smart London Plan and its vision to use the power of new technologies to serve London and improve the lives of its inhabitants.

Why become a Smart City? There are numerous compelling reasons to become a Smart City – (i) to deliver better, more reliable and connected services, (ii) to cope with the increased demand from urbanisation, (iii) to reduce demand on scarce resources, (iv) to reduce costs,(v) to provide a healthier environment and (vi) to gain efficiencies from our changing energy generation landscape & technologies – ultimately overall to enhance our quality of life.

But there is one compelling reason that is more visible to us than the others than the others: to empower the City’s visitors with more information and choice.

So when I look back and contrast my visit to London back in 1987 with my current weekly commute, do I feel empowered with information and choice? Absolutely yes!

Would I like more? Yes, please!

I’m excited by the future ahead and I’m personally looking forward to what’s coming in the next 30 years!

 

 

 

I am a Cyborg – are you?

cyborg-blog-2

Photo credit: Chile Turismo

 

I’m sure like many of you, I had a really busy 2016, both at work and at home, and so it was wonderful to have the Christmas break to rest and recharge. This year we decided to do something to celebrate New Year and so we booked a small cottage in Kielder Forest in Northumberland to get away as a family. The idea had been to get back to the great outdoors and, given that Kielder Forest has the darkest skies in England, we thought we’d take the opportunity to do some star gazing.

Given the remoteness of where we were in Northumberland, one added bonus was that we all had to unplug from our tech gadgets. Fortunately the cottage was well stocked with board games and we all thoroughly enjoyed playing board games after dinner (especially Cluedo!)

With the extra time to reflect, I started to think about the pace of change in 2016 and particularly how technology had accelerated yet again. I was drawn to the question whether this pace of technological changes is a good thing or bad thing? Although I could find lots of articles on exciting new technologies coming in 2017, I found it harder to find articles on finding a healthy balance with technology. I did however read an interesting article from Grant Feller, which gave me a useful lens to see this technology change through.

But as I read more, a voice in my loud became louder and louder. A voice reminding me of a presentation I’d had the pleasure of listening to back in February. The voice I could hear in my head was someone saying “I’m a cyborg and I’m going to convince you all that you are cyborgs too” and it was the opening lines from a presentation that Tom Cheesewright gave at HOME in Manchester – a presentation about the future of technology.

This presentation had a huge impact on me in 2016. It was powerful as I had a really strong reaction to the opening statement – I remember thinking, “I’m not a cyborg and actually I don’t want you to convince me that I am”. From my point of view the term Cyborg was a scary term and it brought back all the memories of hiding behind the sofa when I was a kid watching Doctor Who.

However 15 minutes later I was converted.

Within those 15 minutes, Tom explained the original definition of a cyborg from the 1950s and used a wonderful lens to view the technology changes we are going through. So much has changed in the last 25 years such as processing speed, communication power, cost of electronics and we all now carry around super computers in our pockets.

The message was clear – the term cyborg tends to imply some element of subordination but in reality it gives us extra abilities. Being a cyborg means using technology as a prosthetic extension of our bodies to do things quicker and more efficiently than we could alone. When you stop to think about that message, there are so many examples of how our phones, our tablets as prosthetic extensions of our bodies can give us “special abilities.”

So 15 minutes later, I was converted. I wanted to be a Cyborg!

And that was the reminder I needed about where the healthy balance lies with this incredible pace of technology change. I remind myself that technology is there to give me “special abilities” and that if there’s ever an element of subordination, such as regularly checking the number of Twitter followers I’ve got or LinkedIn profile views I’ve had this week, I should switch it off J

In January I’ve already had a couple of great examples where technology has given me special powers. The first actually occurred whilst we were at Kielder. Now I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t know a lot about star gazing and so in expectation of lots of questions from the children, I downloaded an App in advance. It’s an App that if you point your phone in the direction of the stars, it tells you what the constellation is and helps to visualize it. It made the experience so much more enjoyable to be able to clearly see and name the constellations, that my phone was constantly being passed between our family as we lay in a field watching the night sky.

The second example was on Monday the 9th of January 2017, when we had the tube strikes in London. What could have been a stressful disruption to the journey from Manchester to London, actually turned into an amazing walk across the City. I’d always used the tube to get around London, but with that option removed I learnt the journey I took by tube was actually only a 2 mile walk. With the help of Google Maps giving me directions through my headphones, I was able to take in the amazing scenery as I walked across the City. Something that I’ve been doing more often when the weather allows.

I think 2017 is going to be an incredibly exciting year again for technology. However I’m sure that at times I’ll feel that the pace is going too fast and will be questioning have we got the balance right. But with my Cyborg lens in place, I feel I’ve got better checks and balances in place for 2017 and am thoroughly looking forward to making the most of the technology changes this year!

The real power of #storytelling

storytelling_1

I’ve always been fascinated about storytelling and on a couple of occasions over the past few years, I’ve taken the nerve-racking step out of my comfort zone to see if I can develop into a good storyteller. But what makes a good storyteller? My expectation was that a good storyteller would be someone who could put together a compelling story, deliver it with passion and keep an audience engaged and interested. But is it just this?

Last month, I had the pleasure of being asked to present a best practice example in a European annual conference on Building Technologies. This was a great honour and so I jumped at the chance.

The brief was clear: “share a best practice example from the UK. We want to make the conference as interesting and interactive so please try to use a different approach than the usual presentation and if possible use as little PowerPoint as possible.”

So I decided to tell a story.

But where to start from? Before getting into the details, I decided to indulge myself a little and find some inspiration from some great story telling resources. I love listening to great stories – so out came the Story Teller DVD with John Hurt (watched all 8 episodes!) and my favourite ever TED talk (We need to talk about an injustice by Bryan Stevenson). Brilliant examples of how to tell a story and keep the audience hooked. So feeling inspired and with a few tips captured on paper already I  moved onto the next phase.

I like structure so invested in an on line TED course run by Chris Anderson. Wonderful guidance on how to structure a compelling story: (i) identifying the key idea behind the story, (ii) crafting a common throughline (iii) using vulnerability, humour, strong characters and tension to bring the story to life and (iv) making sure I had a powerful start and end to the story.

So with the skeleton of a structure I set about writing the first draft. The story centred around an incredible journey we’d been on with one of our customers over the last four years. As I’d personally not been with the business during the majority of the four year period, I interviewed our Projects Director who had been through every day, week and year of this journey to capture the facts and his firsthand emotions.

The idea was simple – I wanted to share  the significance of having the ability to walk in our customer’s shoes and how this had been the key to our success. Empathy,  understanding and seeing the challenges from their point of view had helped our team find the right solutions and approach.

So I drafted the story and over the next few weeks, with input and feedback from a number of trusted colleagues, I went through nearly 7 different drafts. This feedback was invaluable. I felt that writing a compelling story was like whittling a piece of wood – I had to keep going back to the story, make small adjustments, get opinions and feedback from others and keep “whittling” away until the final story started to emerge.

Once complete, I sent a copy to our Projects Director for final comment and then set about rehearsal. And then it was off to the conference.

Until then, I was expecting that telling the story and watching people’s faces in the audience would be the highlight of this experience. The truth is that, although I thoroughly enjoyed telling the story and although I received lots of positive feedback and comments from the audience, these weren’t the highlights of this experience.

The highlights came from two unexpected sources.

I have two young sons who enjoy a story at bedtime so I used the three nights before the conference event to read this particular story to my kids and see if I could capture their attention. My seven-year-old son was so taken with the story during the rehearsals at home, that on the Sunday before I flew to the conference, he insisted that he wanted to read the story to me. Twice.

The excitement, the passion in which he read the story to me gave me all the energy and confidence I needed that this story had the power to capture imaginations! Also he made me promise that I’d give him a copy to take to school as he wanted to read the story to his teacher and class mates.

The second surprise was when I got back to the office and the Projects Director asked me how the event had gone. He shared with me that he’d printed the final draft of the story out, taken it home and let his wife read it. His wife had been through the real journey over the last four years and had watched and listened to her husband go through the emotional roller coaster over this period.

These two events outshone the actual experience of delivering the story at the conference in a way I couldn’t have imagined. And it brought home the real power of a story; it’s not just about watching the faces in the audience and capturing their imagination.

It’s about telling a story that others want to share.

 

The 4th Industrial Revolution – are we missing a trick?

Blog

Image credit: Google & Genesis Nanotechnology Inc

I love that recent quote from Prince Phillip – “Everything not invented by God, was invented by an engineer.”

It fills me with excitement as we enter a period where we are certainly going to need our inventive skills! I’m referring to:

  • Taking the first steps into the fourth industrial revolution;
  • Mapping out an industrial strategy for the UK;
  • Looking to rebalance the economy; and
  • Managing all the angles and permutations from the recent Brexit decision.

Particularly for the 4th Industrial Revolution, the U.K. stands at the forefront. There have been some inventive steps taken in closing the skills gap, inspiring the next generation through STEM subjects, developing the Internet of Things and unlocking the potential of Big Data, and whilst all of these have a crucial role to play in the next industrial revolution, I wonder if we’re missing a trick.

And that missing trick is materials.

Not only is the topic of materials one of our strongest areas of invention in the UK (just look at graphene and the development in 2D materials), but materials was the bedrock upon which the first industrial revolution (iron), the second industrial revolution (steel) and the third industrial revolutions (rare earth metals) were built.

We’re not missing the trick completely. The topic of materials is on the radar as evidenced in the Great 8 report  and the establishment of the National Graphene Institute, the Graphene Engineering & Innovation Centre and the recently announced Royce Institute, but as we enter the fourth industrial revolution, I’m worried that we in the UK are not taking full advantage of the inventive powers we have in materials.

The fourth industrial revolution is all about connectivity, flexibility and personalisation. It’s a batch size of 1 at mass production prices. It’s about smart devices, smart sensors, smart products and smart factories enabled by Big Data.

If we are going to take a leading role in this new era, we are going to need to use our internationally recognised power of materials research & development and apply this power to:

  • bring to market solutions for the exponential growth in data storage;
  • use 2D materials in making devices, sensors and products smart; and
  • use 3D printing to unlock the dream of a batch size of 1 at mass production prices.

Where I feel we are missing the trick is that materials needs to move more to the centre of our radar, rather than, as I feel, a poor relation to the more exciting topics of skills gap, Big Data & Digitalisation.

The inventive steps we are taking in material research and development deserve to be taken advantage of – to create a vibrant and buoyant manufacturing sector providing solutions for data storage, manufacturing smart devices, sensors and products and running smart factories built on 3D printing for flexibility, customisation and personalisation.

Currently I feel the challenge we face is ensuring that we exploit this advantage and avoid the train passing us by.

So back to Prince Phillip’s quote. I think if we’re going to show that everything not invented by God, was invented by an engineer, then my hope is that the engineers in question are fully aware of and encouraged by both government and industry to use the incredible materials inventive powers we have in the UK. If this is achieved I feel excited we will continue to lead from the forefront and will enter the next stage of the 4th industrial revolution confidently.