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

2012 winding down….

This has been a funny year. When I say “funny” I’m not exactly meaning funny hahaha though at times life has seemed more like a comedy of errors than a box of chocolates.

I returned to the UK (Yorkshire in fact) at the end of 2011 after a challenging four years in New Zealand.

New Zealand had been challenging on all fronts – personal and professional. As a professional business commercialization consultant I had found it hard appreciating the completely different culture despite the common language and ambitions. Personally – well nothing was the same – marital trouble and strife, a teenager pushing boundaries, an expat existence and then to cap it all – a number of earthquakes and aftershocks that destroyed everything we had worked for, for the last decade and a half. Challenging to say the least.

2012 though has been different. Don’t get me wrong its still been awfully challenging but in part that’s because of the insurance battle we find ourselves embroiled in rather than any “settling in” period here.

I think its fair to say that as a family we were all completely relieved to have our feet firmly back on British soil. Everyone we meet says “Oh my god! I can’t believe you’ve come back HERE from New Zealand”. As a nation, we have SUCH a poor opinion of our country and our own ability. We assume (quite wrongly in fact) that we’re the world’s worst at everything from engineering to innovation to capital raising, and having experience of other countries with regard to certainly innovation and capital raising (Australia, New Zealand, North America and some parts of Europe), I really believe we’re not. We’re actually very good at what we do.

Our economy is in poor shape, unemployment is high, our financial institutions have been rewarded for failure – there are umpteen reasons to be down in the mouth and perhaps I have the luxury of being able to look through the eyes of a prodigal returned – we’ve had a great year as a nation – the Jubilee, the Olympics, renewed national pride that we shouldn’t allow to fade away.

Here’s a list of my “good stuff” this year. We came back broken – physically, financially and emotionally, however in 12 months;

1. The earth HASN’T moved for me. Not once. This is great!
2. We’ve managed to make a home – its rented admittedly and I can’t see us owning a home again for sometime, but we do have a roof over our heads and it’s a nice one.
3. We have an income. I’m lucky enough to be working on a couple of projects with Oxford Innovation who are a really great company with a perfect structure for running successful innovation centres – they’ve separated the facilities management and “added value” business support stuff which isn’t rocket science but does make all the difference. The team is fabulous and I’m enjoying the supportive, ambitious and forward thinking environment.
4. My husband has been able to set up a new business – with seriously limited funds this really wouldn’t be possible in some other areas of the world. It has a way to go but is at least breaking even. He’s working hard and mentally it’s given him the focus he needed.
5. Both my husband and daughter were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2011 but thanks to the support and kindness we’ve received from family, friends, school, doctors, health workers – both are in a much better place emotionally now.
6. We have a FABULOUS dog. She is one of the best decisions we’ve made since coming home and she has really helped us all to heal. I understand from a good friend though that she is a canine version of me – bit bonkers, only 2 gears (fast and stop) and she shifts from terribly intelligent to utterly stupid with lightening speed.
7. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really great entrepreneurs with fabulous business ideas. Some of whom I’ve been able to help in a tangible way, others I hope I’ve helped by just being a sounding board or by encouragement.

Coming home has allowed me to re-connect with people and “things” I hadn’t necessarily realised were important to me. I actually missed the British weather – today is a beautiful winters day, frosty and cold with a silvery sun shining. I live a two minutes from a pretty market town complete with riverside walks and nice cafes. I had missed the architecture, access to decent sized cities, our history, our drive and ambition – I guess what makes Brits British.

We live in a beautiful country, its one of the few countries in the world where you can come from nothing but achieve everything and yet sometimes, most of the time if fact, we don’t appreciate what we have until we no longer have it – until negative change enables us to measure what we had previously. I have that ability now – perhaps that was the lesson.

I am blessed. I lost everything my husband and I had worked for but I didn’t lose the people I care about – we weren’t permanently damaged. My heart does go out to those who really did lose. The families who suffered the loss of a loved one in the earthquakes/aftershocks and those that have had relatives and friends take their lives as a result of the huge amount of constant stress since. My son has lost two teenage friends as a direct result of the Christchurch earthquakes though not actually in the earthquakes – there has been a staggering amount of tragedy related to it that most people are completely unaware of.

I am however optimistic about 2013.

Professionally, I’m now re-engaged with the regional and national innovation community and am keen to get more involved – with UKBI maybe. I’m looking forward to bigger more audacious projects, with assisting Oxford Innovation to grow in this region and to helping grow some great new businesses and entrepreneurs.

Personally, it would be great to get a positive resolution with regard to our earthquake insurance claims (and for others also), though if I’m honest I’m not hugely hopeful. Insurance is big business, not fair business and perhaps that’s a lesson the UK Government needs to consider before it agrees to underwrite the flood risk here.

The lesson from New Zealand is that it doesn’t matter if the Government underwrites the risk – the insurance companies will still hike premiums and make claiming harder. Their business is to keep their profits not pay them out regardless of how that impacts upon a person’s life – its not about ethics or morals or even honouring contracts – its about paying shareholder dividends and Board bonuses.

On a final note though – I am optimistic with regard to a positive and fruitful 2013. Don’t hold that 13 against it – I’m hoping that it will be a lucky year for everyone. I’m looking forward to having some fun, enjoying the company of friends and acquaintances alike and adding value in some way where ever I can.

Wishing you love, luck, health and happiness in 2013!

Amanda