Professional musings….reflections of 2012

I guess one of the things I REALLY need to consider next year is some WordPress training! My level of skill in this regard is low to say the least.

So, this time last year I was lucky enough to have landed back in the UK, have my feet planted on terra firma (a wonderful thing that solid ground) and had secured a great research project with ORION, Canada courtesy of the fabulous Dr Darin Graham. At least I didn’t have to worry about paying the bills and, given my somewhat more fragile state than is the norm, also didn’t have to leave the house or even my PJs. Don’t ya just love research projects.

The project was all about trends in high performance computing – which I know next to nothing about. In all honesty, I tried to get to grips with the technology and then decided to concentrate on what Darin had in fact actually wanted me to focus on – the business needs and user requirements (which is why he chose a non-techie for the project!) – which of course have little to do with the actual tech – just what folk want to achieve with it.

The conclusions would not surprise you in the slightest – the market is rapidly expanding across almost all sectors (especially academic – the sector of interest) as accessibility increases both as a result of reduction in cost and new models – cycles on demand for instance. The challenges as far as increases in use by academic users were again no surprise;

– financial. how do higher education (HE) organisations move budget from capital to operations in order to take advantage of cloud options that are WAY more cost effective and available? how can they manage their cashflow in order to support bursts of activity? whats the cost implication of owning a data centre vs outsourcing to the cloud? Oh and then of course there’s that HUGE debate on security of data/IP…
– folk. how do we change the culture to encourage real collaboration when historically academics are incentivised to work alone and keep their stuff secret until they publish? how do we encourage the IT departments of HE organisations to embrace new models of service instead of feeling threatened by them and how can HE retain the computing talent they need when these same geeks are seen as rockstars within IT organisations?
– future. Well this year panned out exactly as expected – even the fabulous human genome folk in Cambridge HAD to move to the cloud. By the time their data centre expansion had been completed they ahd out grown it.

So what are the implications for Yorkshire with regard to data centres and South Yorkshire’s ambition to be “Cloud City”? Personally I’m struggling to see the benefit but maybe I’m simply not knowledgable enough. Data farms don’t employ that many people but do suck up a HUGE amount of energy (though I appreciate that there have been some really interesting developments regarding greener data centres this year) but seriously, by the time we’ve it built what are the chances of it being obsolete? I guess the fact that Amazon Web Services are involved at least brings expertise but hey I’m not convinced….

What else.

So, I also spent some time trying to raise capital for some start-ups. There are some great ideas and entrepreneurs in this region. I also believe that there is plenty of money. However what I found, even with those funds that have targets such as Finance Yorkshire and Screen Yorkshire, and with regard to the angel investors that I met as a result of working with Angels Den, is that finance is taking much longer to secure and Ts and Cs more onerous than ever before. One telecoms entrepreneur I know was offered a number of deals some for realistic equity stakes but with SO many constraints he was unable to agree to any. I also saw my first “time sensitive” offer this year. One entrepreneur literally had 4.5 days to take advice, do his own due diligence and decide whether he was taking the money! For me, deal sizes were the same but more often syndicated than previously – so whilst the region isn’t completely risk averse, it is spreading that risk more than it used to.

As for the banks….I have NatWest coming to see me in the New Year and to deliver a presentation to the Barnsley DMC which will apparently show that they ARE open for business and ARE lending…given the above the question should really be “at what rate? My first born child?”.

Mixed in with the capital raising were another couple of interesting projects that were essentially illustrations of how folk do and should work together to find common goals and mutual benefit – where this is lacking, targets are irrelevant, it’ll all go horribly wrong. Products and services need to be client focussed, when they are the KPIs sort themselves out. Leveraging relationships should = how we work together to the benefit of all concerned and NOT = how can your networks be useful to our targets…! Business has changed its face. With perhaps the exception of the financial sector (coz anyone who know’s me, know’s I’m certainly no fan of insurance companies and as for the banks et al – well in my opinion they’re still WAY too Gordon Gekko), business is now all about client/customer retention. About doing the right thing, building a mutually beneficial relationship with your client that will last beyond this one sale and that’s a great shift – long may it last. And for those companies lagging behind – well they’ll either refocus and retrain their staff or they’ll go out of business because buyers, whether they’re the public or professional are less tolerant of poor service and quite frankly have more options.

Since the summer, I’ve been “professionally meddling” with Oxford Innovation Ltd (OI) on their Barnsley Digital Media Centre (DMC) contract. I’ve known OI for many years but never envisaged working with them previously. Since I’ve been away though they’ve been through a massive period of change and the company now has an interesting and, as I’m beginning to appreciate, great structure for innovation centre management. They completely separated out facilities management and the “added value” business support stuff so that Centre Managers literally take responsibility for the centre by owning the P&L, and regional directors, such as myself, concentrate on aligning centres with local or regional economic development and inward investment strategies, design business support initiatives and manage the delivery of that. Of course we also get to peacock around the region flashing our tail feathers engaging in all matters business LOL!

As mentioned earlier as a result of all of the above I’ve met some great entrepreneurs this year for whom I really hope 2013 brings everything they wish for:

– Vanessa at Quiddle – fabulous platform to encourage financial literacy and management to tweenies and teens
– Sam and the team at Stashmetrics – excellent workflow tool (can’t say anymore for fear of reprisals!)
– The fabulous and terribly entertaining Martyn Gould with LEESA
– Those interesting folks at Valley Telecom (special thanks to David Longstaff and Ian Dabson for their patience and advice)
– All the great businesses in and connected to the Barnsley DMC with whom I am currently and professionally meddling including Cream, Bigfoot, TeamActiv/FitIn, AffliSearch, Elite-Bods oh and a particular site that, whilst challenging is a fantastic opportunity to do some really great collaborative science.

There are many more – best wishes and heaps of good luck to you all!
Ax