FT Innovate Conference, Day 2

The Government seems to be thinking the right way. Phrases like ‘strategy is showing/ delivering’ don’t normally roll off the tongues of digital tsars. Also creating a data and API repository which other public sector units can use is quite a forward step. @MTBracken

In general the UK is now emerging as a strong innovation hub. The narrative of 3-5 years ago, which was all about ‘needing to move to Silicon Valley’ has gone away, as local and US investors have stepped up to build businesses here. As would be expected, the UK leads in areas such as FinTech. With a recent track record of successful European start ups, from Spotify, to Skype, to Raspberry Pi, there is also a ripple effect as senior members from successful start ups step out to create their own businesses. There are now some nine clusters of tech across the UK, including Cambridge, Portsmouth and Birmingham, driven by talent, cost of living, and telecoms infrastructure, amongst others. @ashleyhi

At the other end of the scale, GE are positioning Predix as the OS of the industrial internet. And Marco Innunziata, Chief Economist pointed out that allowing windmills in windfarms to ‘talk to each other’, allow wind farms to reduce the costs by a factor of 6. @marcoannunziata.

One of the interesting challenges of the IOT is the blurring of blue-collar and white-collar work. This is another potential disruption and a cultural challenge. In fact Innunziata describes GE as a ‘part industrial’ and ‘part software’ company, with significant presence in the Silicon Valley.

There is still a big question mark around reaching millennials and the next generation of employees/ customers. On the one hand this is a natural order. One way or the other you will be hiring the next generation over the next 5 years. But to consider this the panacea for changing your corporate culture is misleading. How quickly will the 21 year old you hire become a part of the orthodoxy? Will he or she really understand the subsequent generation – somebody who might be 15 today? Creating an open culture in the longer term needs more than hiring a few young people. @jooteoh.

In a fast changing and unpredictable world, the value of simulations rises, and with the computing power and data at our disposal, it is now much more feasible to run simulations for all the situations which may not be easy to replicate in real life (plane evacuation on water, for example), or logistically impossible (a thousand repetitions of the plane evacuating in water with varying conditions). In the language of innovation, simulations is a very useful way of creating fast-fail models without having to repeat all of them in reality. @simudyne

A new and welcome way of thinking about diversity emerged when Belinda Parmar played up (rather than down) gender stereotypes. This goes with my personal belief that we need to celebrate inequality and use it, rather than trying to create a synthetic equality. Men and women are differently wired. People from different continents and cultures think differently. This is why diversity adds value. If we were all the same, then an all male all asian team would be no different from an ethnically diverse, gender balanced one. So the argument about women’s rights – for equal opportunities – starts to diverge from the argument about the need for gender diversity, in some ways. Belinda’s axis of empathisers vs systemisers, and building more empathy in the workplace, was an interesting one and worth thinking about. @belindaparmar.

3D Printing and prototyping is ready for primetime. With the price of 3-d printers falling to £1000-£2000, and the consumables – a roll of low cost filament which allows you print small components at under a £1 running cost, it will be increasingly possible for hardware and product prototyping to become faster, cheaper and more diy, thereby speeding up the pace of innovation. With more companies getting into specific usages around 3D scanning, this will also open up new opportunities for modelling of people, places, and things. It took about a minute for me to get a 3D scan of myself, standing on a rotating base. @3dify @ultimaker

Christie’s is a classic old world business but Steven Murphy’s session was a wonderful illustration of how businesses can evolve quite smoothly into a digital culture without having to rip the guts out of the operations. I also felt they did a great job of making the brand younger and more accessible. The results were clear – art is now democratic, global, collaborative and digital, and Christies is still at the centre of it. @christiesinc

Also fascinating was the Honest By session with Bruno Pieters. It may be a glimpse of the future, but to build a business that does not start with the objective of profit maximisation takes a very specific type of person. If trust is the new currency of the digital age, then Honest By will never fall short of working capital. #brunopieters

The PerfectPitch session was very instructive, not least, in the way crowds think. 3 Startups pitched their business, not just to the on-stage dragons, but to the audience, in a live crowdfunding model. The audience used an app to commit notional sums in real time, for each of the businesses, based on their funding need, business idea, model, and overall story. This may be a London bias, given the high leaning towards media and media studies, but I found it amazing that a room full of innovation people, were more interested in funding a magazine subscription model (Readbug) than a healthcare innovation (Pocket Anatomy). The magazine subscription model – similar to Spotify, where you pay a fixed subscription per month for unlimited access to a number of magazines is one that I personally would all but opt out of immediately. In the world of Flipboard and Zite, and about a zillion others, and trying to build a model around paid content (talk to Newscorp about this one), you would have to work very hard to convince me. On the other hand as the healthcare space opens up, an app that captures the human anatomy and allows doctors to give patients a much more visual and recordable explanation of their problem, one that can be saved for later is such a good idea. Even if the initial idea doesn’t work, there is a lot of room for flipping this business to something that does work. I would be in there in a flash. The third business was Podpoint, who do the charging stations for electric vehicles, once again, a clear growth area if it can be done well. I had to leave before this one finished.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Awabot – the little robots ambling around the rooms, talking to people. Awabots are operated by humans using controls, but provide an eye level screen for conversation. So you can actually see & talk to the other person behind the robot. Interesting idea, though in it’s infancy and a lot will depend on the dexterity of mechanical operations, and hopefully the addition of more AI into the interface. Meanwhile this little French start up is looking to make friends with you. @awabot

Overall, 2 great days spent and lot’s of ideas sparked. Got to sit in a Tesla and meet some likeminded people. I missed a couple of good sessions – half of Alberto Prado’s (Philips) session and Ron Williams (Simplest). Some of the things I didn’t see were mobile payments – spreading like wildfire as we speak, true healthcare service innovation, and perhaps the kind of 10X thinking that Larry Page keeps talking about. Something for the next year perhaps @ftlivedigital?

As always for me it’s not just about what I hear from the speakers, or speak with fellow attendees, it’s the thoughts and sparks it creates in my head that is the real takeaway of the event. After all, innovation can’t stop after the conference is over – the real work starts now!

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