In­no­va­tion and agility vi­tal as we face fu­ture

Karen Cher­rett, of PA Con­sult­ing, looks at the op­por­tu­ni­ties for the Welsh econ­omy once the pan­demic cri­sis has passed

Western Mail - - SATURDAY BUSINESS - ■ Karen Cher­rett is a se­nior as­so­ciate at PA Con­sult­ing, mem­ber of the Dig­i­tal Re­view Panel and cochaired the Wales Pol­icy Fo­rum we­bi­nar.

CORO­N­AVIRUS has dom­i­nated me­dia cov­er­age and so­ci­etal con­ver­sa­tions for months. Prior to lock­down, we with­stood a pe­riod in wait­ing, hop­ing and be­liev­ing it wouldn’t im­pact on life in the UK too harshly. Two months in and talk has turned to the UK po­ten­tially fac­ing the high­est death toll in Europe.

For­tu­nately, the eco­nomic im­pact may be lesser than other na­tions, partly be­cause the UK econ­omy was show­ing stronger signs of re­cov­ery pre-virus, but also be­cause our abil­ity to adapt and in­no­vate is glob­ally re­spected.

At the re­cent Wales Pol­icy Fo­rum we­bi­nar, mem­bers of the aca­demic, in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial worlds in Wales dis­cussed the op­por­tu­nity po­ten­tial for Wales com­ing out of cri­sis. The first half of the we­bi­nar fo­cused on skills and ca­pac­ity for sci­ence in­clud­ing data sciences; the sec­ond half con­sid­ered the legacy po­ten­tial of in­dus­trial, sci­en­tific and aca­demic col­lab­o­ra­tion wit­nessed through the lock­down. The speak­ers in­cluded for­mer pan­el­lists in­volved in the au­thor­ship of the Welsh Gov­ern­ment’s re­port Re­view of Dig­i­tal In­no­va­tion for the Econ­omy and Fu­ture of Work in Wales.

Speak­ers re­flected on what the re­view con­sid­ered is re­quired of the Welsh Gov­ern­ment to de­velop Welsh ca­pac­ity, ca­pa­bil­ity and am­bi­tion to be­come a “dig­i­tal na­tion”. Im­por­tantly, they recog­nised that the lock­down has ac­cel­er­ated the adop­tion of dig­i­tal so­lu­tions in many care and health set­tings – for ex­am­ple, en­abling GP on­line con­sul­ta­tions, de­ploy­ing de­vices to help older peo­ple stay in touch and en­abling on­line learn­ing for all ages.

In­ter­est peaked when dis­cussing how gov­ern­ments across the world have fa­cil­i­tated cross-sec­tor col­lab­o­ra­tion to adapt, in­no­vate and in­vent dig­i­tal and sci­en­tific so­lu­tions to the de­mands of Covid-19. The ques­tion de­lib­er­ated upon, and now fac­ing Coun­sel Gen­eral Jeremy Miles, is how to sus­tain mo­men­tum and col­lab­o­ra­tion through re­cov­ery to de­liver a step-change in Wales’ jour­ney to­wards “Wales 4.0”.

The dis­cus­sion cited suc­ces­sive Euro­pean and na­tional ini­tia­tives to de­velop col­lab­o­ra­tive work­ing be­tween academia and in­dus­try, and con­sis­tently set­tled on three ar­eas that we have learned prac­ti­cally un­lock the po­ten­tial:

■ Pur­pose, pace and pro­duc­tive out­put are nec­es­sary to bridge the di­vide be­tween academia and in­dus­try. Covid-19 pre­sented a prob­lem to solve, a clear need to solve it (and quickly) and a fo­cus on spe­cific health out­comes. All sec­tors have been gal­vanised into ac­tion and quickly tran­scended or­gan­i­sa­tional bound­aries and even com­mer­cial terms and usual re­stric­tions of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights and tri­als be­fore li­cence. Our own ex­pe­ri­ence in run­ning in­no­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy ser­vices proves that de­liv­er­ing de­sign, pro­to­typ­ing and even pro­gres­sion to man­u­fac­ture at scale can be achieved in weeks and months – as PA did with the ORA kitchen towel and more re­cently scal­ing and co­or­di­nat­ing UK man­u­fac­tur­ers’ re­sponse to the ven­ti­la­tor chal­lenge.

This of­fers great ex­pe­ri­ence for aca­demic re­searchers and PhD stu­dents, but not over a pe­riod of a three-year pro­gramme. How do we in­stil agility when academia wants to study over three years but com­merce needs a so­lu­tion in three months?

■ Knowl­edge-ex­change pro­cesses are vi­tal but only ef­fec­tive when they en­sure that the right knowl­edge gets to the place where it can be de­ployed, tested and used with im­pact. Many past EU-funded ini­tia­tives have been shown to fo­cus on the in­tended out­come through fund­ing call and in­cep­tion stages, but quickly re­vert to the sim­pler process of mon­i­tor­ing and man­ag­ing re­source ex­pen­di­ture and use than ac­tual im­pact.

Shar­ing through com­mu­ni­ties of prac­tice are also great ideas but only if they are formed and fa­cil­i­tated as part of the re­quire­ments of the funded pro­gramme and ex­plic­itly hold a ben­e­fit for the com­mu­nity of users.

■ Un­der­stand­ing the aca­demic of­fer and busi­ness need fa­cil­i­tates an early con­ver­sa­tion that needs to con­tinue of­ten and in the same lan­guage of mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial im­per­a­tives. Only 5% of the SMEs pro­gress­ing through the Ac­cel­er­ated Growth Pro­gramme are tak­ing ad­van­tage of the var­i­ous busi­ness-fo­cused ini­tia­tives be­ing of­fered by uni­ver­si­ties in Wales. This is not due to lack of in­ter­est by busi­ness nor en­gage­ment by uni­ver­si­ties. It is more a mat­ter of aware­ness, ac­ces­si­bil­ity and ba­sic un­der­stand­ing.

A pro­gramme of sup­port specif­i­cally de­signed for SMEs needs to recog­nise that SMEs may be one or two in­di­vid­u­als work­ing flat-out to get prod­uct in­no­va­tion off the ground. Seek­ing to en­gage the busi­ness lead on cam­pus to fill out forms, show­case fa­cil­i­ties and meet the team is just too long a process when the time could al­ter­na­tively be spent with an on­line men­tor or busi­ness an­gel of­fer­ing feed­back on proof of con­cept or fund­ing.

Covid-19 has proved that the right scale and need for col­lab­o­ra­tion can and will draw sec­tors, com­mu­ni­ties and even com­peti­tors to­gether for the greater good. If Wales is to use the learn­ing and ex­pe­ri­ences from this cri­sis to sup­port de­vel­op­ment of the path­way to Wales 4.0, we must also look at how we did things be­fore now, how we have had to adapt and show agility in re­la­tion­ships needs and re­sponses to de­mand, and then build fu­ture sys­tems to repli­cate and build upon the mo­men­tum we have ex­pe­ri­enced to de­liver bet­ter and more ag­ile out­comes.


> Lock­down has ac­cel­er­ated the adop­tion of dig­i­tal so­lu­tions, such as on­line learn­ing for all ages

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