How data and intelligence are not the same thing

Data is more and more seen as a panacea to improving business performance and providing insight. Think: data on customers, employees, machines, logistics and so on. But let’s not forget that technology is merely a tool, and data the raw materials we mine. It’s what we do with that material that matters. Duncan Davies, Commercial Director for Notify Solutions, wants to see more organisations mining the data and engaging with it to dig out the diamonds of insight and innovation.

Not a day goes by without a media story about data. Sometimes it’s the use and control of personal data (see Facebook), sometimes it’s about the stealing of data (see Yahoo) and sometimes it’s about how blindly trusting we are of ‘the data’ (see predictions on Brexit and Trump).

There’s a mistaken view that harvesting data is what it’s all about. That having the data in a cool database (ideally ‘up in the cloud’) will just throw out “answers”. Even better, if you can apply some ‘artificial intelligence’ to that data…that’s really sexy. Bringing in software tools that help gather all this data is seen as the end goal. The budget is spent. The software is deployed. And bang!

I’d argue that a lot of companies stop at that point and simply rely on the basic dashboards and standard reports they are given. Don’t get me wrong: some of the world’s greatest inventions have been stumbled upon completely by accident, or while the inventor was looking for something else (Steven Johnson calls this Serendipity and Exaptation in his great book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’). But by and large, this pursuit of data for its own sake risks losing sight of the bigger fundamental: the ability to ask the right questions. We gather all this incredible data and it just sits there waiting. Containing diamonds that might never be found.

Asking the right questions drives what data you look to gather, and what you’re looking into that data for. Even better to then share that data within the organisation so that different perspectives can be applied. But you have to do this proactively; putting data in a glass cabinet and hoping people will glance at it as they pass isn’t going to work. It needs to see a cultural shift from measuring everything, to measuring what matters.

As an innovative technology business, we’re obsessed with making data faster and easier to access (and it’s in the Cloud!). But there’s still a crucial step that businesses need to grasp, which is that data only equates to intelligence when it’s properly interpreted and delivered in a useable way.

This is a challenge to the sort of apps that are now being produced to collect data. Our Health & Safety app, Notify, is awesome at gathering really good data very quickly, and sending it to a ‘back end database’ for actioning and then into a funky dashboard for review.  We’re working on predictive algorithms that will alert users to impending issues, but in truth without the skills to interpret data and information, our users still risk missing the opportunity to engage with the data, to use it to pose questions and to drive behavioural change. We can help (we’re lucky enough to have our own data scientist) but I’d argue it’s the company that best knows the questions to ask.

Taking the data, asking questions of it, and then making changes based on that data that can be measured; now that’s intelligence.

So the next time you look at a product and get excited about all the data it can collect for you, make sure you ask yourself whether you have the organisation skills and resource to do something useful with it that truly helps your business improve and innovate.

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Why you can’t afford to ignore the new Health and Safety sentencing guidelines

By our Commercial Lead, Duncan Davies.

New sentencing guidelines were issued in February for breaches of Health and Safety (H&S) regulations. It’s safe to say this didn’t make the front pages.

The new guidance was devised independently of the HSE (although the HSE provided input into the process), and comes in a couple of “easy-to-use grids” that allow you (in theory) to estimate your potential level of fine for a particular offence.  The idea is simplification and there’s a link to the new guidelines at the end of this post.

At a recent seminar at the Safety & Health Expo 2016 in London, roughly 50% of the audience raised their hand when asked whether they were aware of these changes.

If you’re in the 50% that don’t know, here’s a few thought-provoking questions:

  1. How many £1M+ fines have there been since the law changed in February 2016?
  2. What’s the longest prison sentence that’s been passed down in the last 6 months?
  3. Are you aware you can receive the same fine irrespective of anyone being injured, if there is shown to be culpability and a lack of H&S procedures?

Before we share the answers, it’s important to recognise that this new guidance is intended to send a blunt message to business: that Health & Safety is no more the preserve of the overly cautious, process-obsessed, budget-starved, H&S professional tucked away in a broom cupboard.

Health & Safety is now well and truly heading to the centre of the Board table. We’re now seeing the reality of directors themselves heading to prison, and fines being imposed that are ‘meaningful’ where previously they might have been a mere ‘slap on the wrist’.

Some argue that the new guidelines are mostly designed to increase a source of income from large companies, who now face the largest consequences of these new guidelines. A more public-spirited person might say they are intended to make the workplace safer for more people.

A key aspect that’s changed is that there’s now a focus not only on harm done, but also the harm risked. In theory this makes a lot of sense. If two companies commit the same ‘sin’, both should be liable, even if only one of them is ‘lucky enough’ not to actually hurt someone.  In reality it’s going to be a painful process to prove what could have happened, but didn’t.

All of this means giving renewed focus on employee engagement and to those projects that build a safety culture; more than ever, businesses will need to rely on employees, subcontractors, suppliers, and partners to create that culture. It means that vigilance and capturing near miss information is more important than ever. And it means that Health & Safety professionals are going to have to give their boards more data and more tools to help them manage this business risk.

And the results to date of these changes? Well a quick poll of publicised cases since February 2016 reveals 10 cases with total fines of £13M, with one case seeing a company director sent to prison for six years.

A recent report from IOSH highlighted that in the period February to August 2016 there have been as many £1M+ penalties as there were in the previous two decades.

It remains to be seen how recent high profile cases, such as Alton Towers and Foodles Production, will be prosecuted. What seems certain is that this new blunt instrument is going to be used to grab the attention of all those people who’ve not yet recognised that the H&S landscape has fundamentally changed.

For more information on the guidelines, see pages 4 and 5 of: www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/HS-offences-definitive-guideline-FINAL-web.pdf

 

 

 

 

Can small businesses benefit from the Northern Powerhouse?

Control F1 MD Andy Dumbell on his perceptions of the Northern Powerhouse initiative and why it’s so important to support small businesses in the region.

As cofounder and MD of a small tech business based in Yorkshire, and as a resident of the north-east, I have a vested interest in the North and support initiatives that will benefit the region.

With this in mind I recently attended the 2016 “UK Northern Powerhouse International Conference & Exhibition” held in Manchester, with the objective to understand what the NPH (Northern Powerhouse) is all about, and how it could benefit our region and its small businesses.

Prior to the event, like a lot of delegates I only had a vague understanding of what the NPH is; a concept that aims to rebalance the UK economy, pushing growth outside of London into Northern cities – from Liverpool through Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Teeside and Newcastle. It’s also a vision backed by the Chancellor George Osborne, who some say has staked his political reputation on its success.

That’s all well and good, but what does this actually mean for small businesses? What is the plan and who is leading it? How do we get involved and where are the opportunities? My hope was that the event would help answer these questions and leave us all feeling inspired and brimming with enthusiasm!

The conference was hosted by John Humphrys, who as you can imagine was witty, engaging and tenacious. It was split over two days and predominantly consisted of individual presentations and panel discussions. The calibre of the speakers was high and the format encouraged audience interaction through a social networking technology called slido.

The conference also offered some powerful networking opportunities with CEOs and other top executives of some of the largest companies and organisations in the UK, across various sectors. I formed promising connections with people whom I’d normally struggle to meet. For instance, I secured a private meeting with the President and CEO of one of the largest supermarket chains in the UK to talk about his challenges, what my business does and where we could potentially add value to his. We swapped business cards and my business has been invited to present to some of his senior team, to explore how we might work together.

On day 1 Lord O’Neil of Gately, Commercial Secretary to H M Treasury, kicked the conference off with his keynote speech on the governments’s NPH agenda with a focus on connectivity, communication and education. He talked about the NPH being a two phase project with the first currently underway, targeting awareness, devolution and improvements to transport links to better interconnect the North.

Phase 2 will be a continuation of the first, extended to address challenges in education and skills and their interplay with business. Lord O’Neil aspires to improve the outcomes and aspirations for the North, and central to phase 2 will be a low cost travel card similar to London’s Oyster card that can be used to commute across the North of England.

O’Neil’s introduction was a good start. The intention to provide better transport links should create new business opportunities whilst making commuting to work quicker, simpler and more cost effective, opening up access for businesses to a wider talent pool and encouraging local people to work in the region. However, connectivity issues within cities was not discussed and needs to be addressed in parallel to this wider piece.

There was considerable focus on education and skills throughout the event, especially given recent negative press on declining education standards in the North. I raised a question during a panel discussion on Science, Research and Skills: “what role will the NPH play in improving education standards and building a skills pipeline to meet future business demands?”

Professor Liz Towns-Andrew, Research and Enterprise, Yorkshire Universities, gave a passionate response and talked about her efforts to embed enterprise in the curriculum to create more business savvy graduates. She also highlighted the importance of listening to what employers and industry needs, and the necessity of getting these parties more engaged with further education.

This was encouraging and we heard about a number of further promising initiatives throughout the event. For instance, the International Festival of Business (IFB 2016) hosted in Liverpool later this year, a global gathering of international reach and significance. Over three weeks business leaders and thousands of international business delegates will get together, opening up opportunities in new markets. The festival includes a series of events, workshops and panel debates, with the intention to forge new connections and help businesses to secure new customers from key markets around the globe.

What wasn’t clear, though, was the role the NPH will play in all of this. Will it simply remain a concept; a platform for interested parties that share their ideas, debate and network, or will it be a real entity and the true driving force behind significant change? This wasn’t crystallised and the NPH is facing a fair amount of criticism. Social networks are loaded with frustration over the lack of a clear plan with some critics labelling the NPH as a gimmick without substance.

Geographical focus also presents a bit of an issue. Manchester is likely to become the capital of the NPH; it was quite telling that the chancellor’s first speech on the concept was delivered here, with events such as this one hosted in the city. But it’s important that the organisers rotate event locations across the north and don’t neglect cities such as York, Sunderland and Hull. It would be great to see future NPH events hosted in Newcastle and other major cities; otherwise we risk Manchester becoming the northern powerhouse and a new divide forming, breeding imbalance within the North which will undermine the initiative’s whole purpose.

So was the UK Northern Powerhouse International Conference & Exhibition worth attending? Personally, I didn’t achieve all of my objectives and like a lot of delegates, my understanding of the NPH is still relatively vague. Yet whilst I didn’t leave feeling wholly inspired, I am hopeful, and believe that the NPH – which is still in its infancy – can accomplish its vision if given the necessary support: as delegates we are responsible for ensuring ROI when investing our time and money into such activities. Returning to my original question – can small businesses benefit from the Northern Powerhouse? – I would say yes! Get involved; network, debate, collaborate and help play an active role in the NPH story – it’s what we make of it that counts.

Just how innovative is the UK?

Our Product Development Director Dale Reed shares his thoughts from the 2015 Innovate UK Conference. 

Innovate UK is the UK’s innovation agency; an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. They host an annual event to highlight the best and brightest of British Innovation, with exhibitors and seminars held over a two day period in London.

What was constantly highlighted throughout the event was just how innovative we actually are in this country. Consider these statistics:

The UK represents around 1% of the total global population and yet; we produce 16% of the world’s published scientific papers, and we host 4 out of the world’s top 10 Universities.

Then consider some of the inventions that have really shaped the world we live in today:

Computers? Charles Babbage, British.

Telephone? Alexander Graham Bell, British.

World Wide Web? Tim Berners-Lee, British.

Television? John Logie Baird, British.

You can also add to that list radar, the endoscope, the zoom lens, holography, in vitro fertilisation, animal cloning, magnetically levitated trains, the jet engine, antibiotics and, indeed, Viagra!

Some years ago, Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry made a study of national inventiveness and concluded that modern era Britain had produced around 55% of the worlds ‘significant’ inventions, compared with 22% for the US and 6% for Japan. The point is that the Brits have a long history of innovation and it’s something we should be mightily proud of.

The downside is that however good we’ve been at inventing things, we’ve not been that great at commercialising them. Almost all of those inventions mentioned above have been vastly commercialised by businesses outside of the UK (really only jet engines and antibiotics contribute anything significant to our GDP). We also lose a great deal of our brightest minds to businesses overseas.

Fortunately this seems to be one of the areas that’s being changed, as evidenced by some of the talks I sat in on at the event. Many universities are now teaming up with businesses to place students and under-graduates – something which benefits all parties. Despite some difficulties around IP protection, it’s a huge boon to the student to learn some business sense and commercial ability before being employed full time. The employer gets some very bright minds to help them think around their problems. Many students go on to work with the business full time on graduation, and many businesses continue with the scheme year on year because it’s been so successful for them.

There are also now a lot of Catapult Centres right here in the UK (https://www.catapult.org.uk/). These are a network of world-leading centres designed to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in specific areas and help drive future economic growth. They are a series of physical centres where the very best of the UK’s businesses, scientists and engineers work side by side on late-stage research and development – transforming high potential ideas into new products and services to generate economic growth.

By bringing together the right teams who can work together and innovate, and just as importantly commercialise, the centres are ensuring the UK can continue to be at the forefront of innovation, particularly in technology and the sciences.

Graphene of course is a well-known British invention which I think will soon be joining the list of the world’s most life changing innovations in fairly short shrift. The number of applications seems almost limitless at the moment. We already have the National Graphene Institute, built as part of Manchester University, and fortunately the UK is working hard to ensure we are capable of commercialising the potential for Graphene. Work on another £60,000,000 building – the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre – is currently underway, which will help look at how to move the research into actual production.

We also have a lot of expertise in quantum mechanics, and again companies in the UK are now working towards commercialisation of highly accurate sensors utilising quantum – for example an accelerometer based on the quantum interference of ultracold atoms. These will be able to provide highly accurate location and accelerometer information without any need for GPS or external factors. Although quite large at the moment it’s expected that they’ll be microchip sized within the next two years. Obviously this could be a huge boon to mobile, telematics and asset tracking systems. It’s currently being developed for use with submarines so they can determine their position accurately without having to surface to use GPS.

Overall I came away from the event feeling extremely positive and excited to be here in the UK at a time when there is so much potential for new technologies and innovation. I’m very much looking forward to Control F1 being a part of it!

Control F1 wins an Examiner Business Award!

Last night the Control F1 team were suited and booted for the Examiner Business Awards, and we’re delighted to share that we were the proud recipients of the University of Hudderfield’s Innovation and Enterprise Award.

We fought off stiff competition from worthy finalists Wellhouse Leisure and The Flood Company Commercial Ltd. to win the accolade.

Our Co-founder and Technical Director Carl said:

We’ve put a lot into research and development – to the point of really pushing the boundaries – and it’s wonderful to see it paying off. Innovation is a core value for us and we’re delighted to have this recognised through tonight’s award.”

CF1 EXAMINER

Control F1 named a Little British Battler!

We are extremely pleased to announce that Control F1 has been named as a Little British Battler as part of the “Magnificent Seventh” TechMarketViews Little British Battlers Day. This accolade is awarded to innovative SMEs who are punching above their weight in business – a category we are very proud to fit into!

Out of hundreds of applications, we have secured one of the 12 highly sought after places. The other 11 SMEs from across the nation include enterprise auction platform Perfect Channel, analytics providers Aqila Insight and nanotechnology experts Memset. As the only winner that’s headquartered in Yorkshire, we’re extremely proud to be distinguished as an example of the innovation, expertise and drive of the Northern Powerhouse.

The award provides a platform to showcase the skills and ability of our fantastic – and ever growing – team at Control F1. We are currently expanding at an extraordinary rate, working in many different sectors and innovating in all.

The Control F1 team will head to London on 12th November to receive bespoke feedback from TechMarketView Research Directors and Senior Partners from London’s technology merchant bank MXC Capital.

Our Managing Director Andy Dumbell has commented:

“We’re delighted to have been named a Little British Battler – we may be relatively small in size, but our ambitions are big! In fact, it has been a big year for us all round – we’ve quadrupled our turnover, created over 30 job opportunities and secured external investment. Winning this accolade is the icing on the cake!”

Knowing of the success of the previous winners of the Little British Battler Programme, this takes us a step closer to achieving our goals, and we are extremely honoured to have won this coveted title.

TechMarketView will be publishing highlights from the day as well as the Little British Battler Report, which will be published in early December. Keep an eye on our social media channels – we’ll be live tweeting from the event, as well as covering the release of the highlights and subsequent report from TechMarketView.