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One Week Underground in Valencia

18 Feb

Living in a cave – one of many on the edge of Valencia that have been homes for hundreds of years – was not the obvious choice for a visitor to an ultra-high-tech conference.

Then again, something about that enlightened conference was like writing for the samizdat – underground press – digging for stories that must be exposed. And some of those stories, believe me, were about digging.

Gaps in comprehension are a challenge. Even as collective intelligence is facilitated by better digital connectivity the scope for collective ignorance blossoms and curiosity is constrained. The shifting sands of ‘Need to Know’ obscures perception and folks let go of things they’ve not fully grasped.

The cave was, surprisingly, warm and comfortable. Living there was eased by assistance from the owners who lived in the cave next door. It was sufficient. It was a timely reminder that conventional comforts can be recalibrated – and, anyway, the Wi-Fi worked brilliantly!

But I was not in Valencia for historical perspectives. I came to write about business futures. I came to make some small contribution to wider understanding for folks back home blissfully unaware of stuff happening beyond their parish. Stuff that really must be understood – even if it runs counter to their limited experience or unquestioned dogma.

Parochial is a way of describing the silos of specialists. In business and government, as well as in local communities, tribal tendencies need cross-cutting threads to knit together our social and economic fabrics. That need to knock heads together was exposed in my story of the contrast between two technology camps. How is it that experts in telecommunications find it a challenge to talk to each other?

In another way of describing what folks at home are missing, ‘No Valentine from Valencia’ shared what to some in government has long been best left unsaid. But wider comprehension of the real impact of that disregard has still not dawned back home. Where progress is hobbled by lack of vision, only direct experience will lift sights.

The good news for the UK might have been better headlined ‘Digging for Victory’. It wasn’t but, in the heart of the story, the determination to do the job once and to do it properly went a long way to explaining the unexpected accolade.

Three days at an ultra high-tech conference. Four days living in a whitewashed cave. Three stories shining lights on gaps in comprehension. These experiences, and many more, I carry forward to the next great adventure – the influx of folk from around the world to London next June to lift the sights of local leaders from ‘smart cities’ to ‘Intelligent Communities. You may not know it but really, you should hear about this.


Productivity’s New President

2 Feb

Institute for Management Services appoints new president to take fresh approach to UK’s productivity transformation

IMS – the very British Institute for Management Services – seems to have been around forever.   And the terribly British problem with productivity continues to puzzle, despite decades of effort, a long train of government ministers and grand policy initiatives.

The IMS appointment of a presidential successor to Dr. Beeching, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, Monty Finniston and more-recently a couple of Lords, might seem unlikely to make much difference.  Except for one small thing – the least noticed and least understood strand of the UK government’s new Industrial Policy : Place-Making.   Embedded in the latest policy iteration is acknowledgement that local economies are very diverse.  Different places have different needs and priorities.  They are not served well by ‘one size fits all’ policies based on national averages. Bristol is very different to Bolton.

With the legitimization of ‘Place-Making’ – entirely new channels are opened to the incoming productivity president.  Recharged city leaderships are massively motivated energy sources rooted within local economies. Their ‘city sovereignty’ perspectives reflect a new determination to properly manage the shocks and stresses of fast-growing communities.

The energy of new city leaders is undeniable. They wear coats of many party colours. Who better to convene new programmes that could ramp up inward investment, attract talent, grow their local knowledge workforce and get to grips with the chronic mediocrity of digital infrastructure.  In contrast, Whitehall has just celebrated the ‘achievement’ of 95% UK availability of connectivity that is not super, not fast and not broad – and wonder why more people don’t buy it?

Leastways, that’s the story so far. The UK’s productivity wake-up call  could herald a new policy balance – more grass roots than top-down – but much will now depend on finding space in local leaders’ overcrowded place-making agendas and the resources to fuel their empowerment.



On the move – fresh impetus for local leadership

30 Nov

Sometimes repetition works. It’s brilliant for children’s stories.

Sometimes – particularly in politics – reinforcement is needed for messages to penetrate.

Sometimes audience boredom blunts the impact.

But then, amazingly, the message arrives on a different train – a fresh perspective – and the audience is shaken from slumber.

That is why this Social Mobility report is required reading.

I have lost track of the number of times I’ve written of the UK’s economic diversity and the inadequacy of over-centralised policy responses.  Despite the daily evidence the march of the macros remains the average response.

Teasing apart the policy knots (treating causes rather than symptoms) does not come easily to the average big number addict.

At the heart of the Social Mobility Commission’s report the challenge of reconciling the National with the Local is exposed. Umpteen flavours of economic and demographic analysis may have said all this before but now . . .

‘There is enough evidence from around the world, in our country’s own history and, contemporaneously, in local areas to know that, with the right approach, the transmission of disadvantage from one generation to the next can be broken.

‘There is, however, a mind-blowing inconsistency of practice. It is the breeding ground for the local lottery in life chances that exists today. It is, of course, a matter for local decision-makers to attune their policies and priorities to the needs of their local communities. In a heavily resource-constrained climate, local councils are continually having to make difficult choices about where to allocate resources and focus efforts in order to get the biggest bang for their buck. But all too often schemes start up and then wither away. Initiatives often lack scale. Experience is usually not pooled. Most worryingly of all, evidence about what works to improve social mobility is, at best, not properly embedded in local policies and programmes. At worst, it is ignored. When that happens, precious public resources are wasted and the potential for social progress is lost.’

Despite the pleas for consistency – the outrage against ‘postcode lotteries’ – there is also recognition of the need for local leaders ‘to attune their policies and priorities to the needs of their local communities’. That required flexibility is certainly not lost on the recently appointed Metro Mayors and has been a consistent refrain from many city leaders. But after years of denigration (and austerity budgets) Local Governments have lost much of their authority. It’s a rare and brave soul who has leadership strength to develop local economic and community development policies that really meet the needs of their people.

And yet, despite constraints (real or imagined), it does happen. The report cites evidence of places where fortune has changed through dint of local effort. But the report also highlights how those flashes of brilliance are rarely shared.

Perhaps more than the myriad metrics around economic performance and evolving demographics, this Social Mobility study underscores that need for local collaboration and inspired leadership.

This is precisely the agenda planned for a unique 3-day conference in June 2018.

‘Intelligent Communities’ are places that may have the benefit of smart technology and future-proofed infrastructure, but they also prosper under the guidance of gifted local leadership.

This is not new – they’ve been studied in depth by the Intelligent Community Forum for the best part of two decades.

Next June such places from around the world will send their delegates to meet and mingle with local leaders from the UK, share their ideas and successes, form new bonds, learn of new opportunities and celebrate their delight in a renaissance of the places they call ‘home’.


And The NextGen Digital Challenge 2017 Winners Are . . .

23 Oct


And the Winners are . . .

[Westminster, 23rd October 2017]

Announcing the results of the UK’s 7th annual NextGen Digital Challenge Awards, Iain Stewart MP (Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smart Cities) congratulated the finalists for this 7th year of the NextGen Digital Challenge.  In his address at the Awards dinner in Westminster, Ian Stewart summarised the progress being made in Parliament on the policy framework for a range of ‘smart’ initiatives including the advent of driverless vehicles.

Following Iain Stewart’s address, Richard Hooper (Chair, Broadband Stakeholders Group) and Derek Wyatt (Chair, Foundation for Information Society Policy) presented trophies to the winners across seven categories of digital endeavour.

The NextGen Digital Challenge Awards programme celebrates great projects. Every year the awards are adapted to reflect current trends and priorities in digital application.

Whether in Public Service Transformation, development of Digital Skills or new initiatives in Place-Making, these projects illustrate the wealth of creativity and innovation evident throughout the UK economy.

More than a focus on individual leaders, most inspiring developments are the work of collaborative teams who strive to ‘do things differently and do different things’ — innovating to overcome the inertia of established custom and practice.

The Awards Dinner in Westminster also heard former MP Derek Wyatt describe the plans for the 2018 ICF Global Summit in London next June. This 3-day event will bring civic and industry leaders from around the world to celebrate the development of Intelligent Communities.

Digital Challenge Awards Co-Founder, David Brunnen, also thanked the 2017 Judging Panel for their great work in assessing more than 30 shortlisted finalists each with their diverse Challenges, Solutions and Achievements.


Public Service Transformation Award

Winner: NHS Education for Scotland @NHS_Education

2nd Place: Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment @CCEA_info

Digital Skills Award

Winner: Armagh Banbridge Craigavon Borough Council @abcb_council

Joint 2nd Place: Arch Commercial Enterprises Ltd and Young Enterprise East Belfast @YE_NI

Innovative Projects Award

Winner: People Plus with Mendix @peopleplusuk @Mendix

2nd Place: CAST Fuse Digital Accelerator @TechforgoodCAST

Place-Making Award

Winner: Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) @dig2agig #yorkshiredales

2nd Place: Good Things Foundation @goodthingsfdn

Digital Health Award

Winner: Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) @DVLAgovuk

Joint 2nd Place: AHP Suffolk @AHPSuffolk and NHS Education for Scotland @NHS_Education

Networking Innovations Award

Winner: HATDeX — The Hub of all Things @TheHATDex

2nd Place: JT (Jersey Telecom) @JTsocial

Connected Britain Award

Winner: Diva Telecom @DivaTelecom

2nd Place: Tiree Community Development Trust @HIEScotland



Notes for editors:

Further information and photographs available via — +44 (0)7714 325 657

About NextGen

NextGen (NG Events Ltd) has supported digital innovation and sustainability projects for over a decade with a series of conferences, workshops and exhibitions to give voice to innovators, new network designers, applications developers and community builders.

About ICF

The Intelligent Community Forum is a US-based Research Think Tank with an international network of 159 cities and communities. Their research has tracked the evolution of inspired local leadership and the economic and societal impacts that flow from investments in digital infrastructures and their application to community needs. 

Challenges, Solutions, Achievements – and Trophies for projects that must be celebrated

15 Oct


Seven years ago the NextGen Digital Challenge Awards programme was designed to highlight the need for much stronger investment in digital access infrastructures.

The awards were very different from the usual run of industry accolades for people and products.

It took a while but eventually contenders understood that the winners produced brilliant and succinct project case-studies explaining their challenges, solutions and achievements.

Seven years on the rules remain but the field has evolved.  Every year the awards categories have changed to include new frontiers.

From the early, narrow, focus on Urban and Rural broadband deployments, the glittering trophies now also recognise innovative endeavours in the use of these utiities. That doesn’t mean any let-up in the push for better digital infrastructures but it does provide great inspiration for project teams grappling with the challenges of making all this connectivity stuff really useful.

We started again this year with the Open Call – to see what sorts of projects would be nominated. Only then were the contenders sorted, shortlisted and invited to submit their project stories for the 2017 selection of awards.

This process keeps the programme relevant – and, whilst some themes continue, others come into focus. Projects that might once have fitted a general ‘Digital Inclusion’ category may now find they are contenders for the Digital Skills Award.

Right now the Finalists for each of seven trophies are just one week away from hearing if their projects have convinced our independent judging panel. The 2017 awards will be presented at a dinner in Westminster on October 23rd.

  • Why, you may ask, is the Driver & Vehicle Licence Authority (DVLA) competing against an NHS contender for the Digital Health Award?
  • What sort of project, nominated by the Yorkshire Dales National Park, is competing against a Liverpool local currency for (new this year) the Place-Making honours?
  • How come a small village not far from Leeds is battling with the big beasts of broadband for the Connected Britain Award?

What is certain is the Digital Challenge Awards programme has once again served up a rich selection of project examples that will inspire and inform – not least because many of these stories will be used in schools, colleges and universities to stretch young imaginations.

The presentation dinner will not only bring these UK project champions together but will also raise the curtain on an even bigger gathering next year when mayors, CIOs and community leaders from around the world assemble in London for a three-day focus on the making (and sustaining) of Intelligent Communities – the purposeful outcomes enabled by ‘smart’ technologies.

Judging by this year’s crop of project endeavours, we will have many great examples to share with high-powered visiting delegations to the Intelligent Community Forum’s 18th Global Summit. And it’ll be the Finalists in the 2017 NextGen Digital Challenge Awards who will be able to say ‘We heard it here, first, on this channel’!



The 2017 NextGen Digital Challenge Awards dinner will be held at 1 Great George Street, Westminster, starting at 19:00. Former MP Derek Wyatt will introduce plans for the June 2018 events. The after-dinner speaker is Iain Stewart MP – Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smart Cities.

The seven 2017 Awards Categories are for exemplars in: Public Service Transformation, Digital Health, Digital Skills, Place-Making, Innovative Projects, Connected Britain and Networking Innovations. The brilliant hand-crafted glass trophies are the work of artist Helen Thomson (Fantasia Glass).

Dinner capacity is limited but requests for any late availability places should be routed to before 20th October.

For earlier commentary on the 2017 Awards Categories see:


The real digital trends revealed in the 2017 Digital Challenge awards programme.

30 May

Media headlines continually claim great innovative progress – new systems, new Apps and better services.   But, what are the real changes in the UK’s digital landscape?

Hardly a day passes without a flurry of press releases, product announcements, reports and white papers. The spinning rarely ceases even if some digital ideas fly off at a tangent never to return. The realities – the changes that really do impact on the way we work and live – dawn much later.

Long after headline writers have gone hunting elsewhere, some of this stuff is given purpose and made tangible by folks with real challenges to resolve. We all depend on small armies of project teams to work out how to usefully apply new systems and capabilities.  They may not attract headlines but they represent the bedrock of reality. These project teams are true heroes and their work deserves to be honoured.

That is why the annual NextGen Digital Challenge Awards programme is designed to celebrate their digital endeavours. It is also why these awards change shape every year to reflect the real digital trends.  Now in it’s 7th year, the Digital Challenge has once again adapted the awards to reflect the results of this year’s Open Call for nominations.

Seven Key Transformational Trends

These are the seven awards categories selected for the 2017 NextGen Digital Challenge.



Connectivity no longer distance-dependent

Some of our Award Categories have been consistent over many years. Digital connectivity projects are fundamental and the trophy this year will be called the Connected Britain Award.   This year, however, no distinctions need be made between rural and urban connectivity projects.  Older distant-dependent designs are no match for ‘Full Fibre’ and fast wireless technologies – often deployed in combination. Cities that once thought they were in the forefront will now need to catch up.

Digital Skills for everyone

For a few years now we’ve honoured Digital Inclusion projects but that, often-traumatic, struggle to get folk online (classically featured in Mike Leigh’s ‘I Daniel Blake’) is now a subset of a far greater challenge – the need for a much wider range of digital skills education to reach across all age groups and all economic sectors. The 2017 Digital Skills Award will celebrate imaginative projects from across the UK.

Networked Innovations – creativity below the radar

Improving the utility of fixed and mobile access to the Internet are background projects. They not only make services more useful and safe but can also cut the cost of network deployment. The shortlisted finalists for the 2017 Networking Innovations Award will severely challenge our judging panel as they reflect on the challenges and achievements.

Digital Health comes home from hospital

This Award Category first came to prominence last year and the current project nominations are further evidence of massive activity in the health sector – and, this year, not entirely dominated by the NHS. The 2017 Digital Health Award will reflect significant shifts in the way the nation’s health issues are being tackled.

Public Services transformed

In contrast to popular myth (and tabloid headlines) it is in the public sector that great transformational projects are powering progress – not just boosting value for money but enhancing service quality. There can be only one winner of the 2017 Public Service Transformation Award but all of the Finalists’ case studies will be an inspiration to others.

Place-Making with lateral thinking

2017 marks the first appearance of an award that recognises the real benefit of digital investments. When project teams pitch for funding they make judgments about investor attitudes and that can lead to over-emphasis on secondary and tertiary benefits. But no longer. The 2017 Place-Making Award is unashamedly focused on the wellbeing of communities – their economic and social development.

Innovative Applications – whatever next

The imagination of creative digital developers opens up new opportunities and a new wealth of insights into how to put digital expertise to good purpose. The Innovative Projects Award will celebrate those endeavors and honour their achievements.

The Shortlisted Finalists for each of these awards will be announced on June 14th at the Connected Britain conference in London.

Each team will be asked to submit their full project descriptions to an independent judging panel in August.

The NextGen Digital Challenge Awards Dinner and Presentation will be held in October.



Reviewing the situation . . . .

19 May

Ofcom’s recent ‘separation’ stricture has ensured that BT Group’s annual results presentation to the city gave greater airtime to the leadership of its now semi-detached property, Openreach.

Investors need to understand past performance and assess the forward risks and opportunities.  The bigger picture – mighty ships battling against headwinds – was roundly ridiculed as thin cover for self-induced blunders rather than unknowable forces of nature.   Could that overall decline, investors might ask, be offset by Openreach’s discovery and ultrafast colonisation of new Gigabit lands?

Last week, the captain of BT’s Openreach gave his crew early warning of a new direction. But his ship’s crew comprises far more than loyal employees – it’s a complex weave of stakeholders including investors and wholesale customers (Communications Providers – the ‘CPs’) – so the occasion provided anxious risk-takers with opportunities to read the runes.

Openreach chief exec Clive Selley was reported as saying; “So it is my job to collaborate closely with all the other CPs to figure out at what pace we roll out the ultrafast platforms. And we are going to do that hand in glove with the CPs, because ultimately they are the ones that are going to have to compete and beat the alt-nets in the market place.”

Inevitably the tech-media headlines shouted ‘Fibre Rethink‘. But the espousal of an enhanced collaborative credo suggests more than relationship counseling. Was this a concern to nip in the bud any hint of a wholesale mutiny or jumping ship? Why so? It’s a reflection of finding a radically different market situation to that for which the CP crew had first been recruited. They signed up to flog phone-lines and ‘leased lines’.   Now they need to shift to new services that need far greater reliability and capacity and have little in common with the old voice telephony. The CPs have laboured long with short-term fixes and unlikely performance claims. Now they are increasingly attracted to work with those alternative network pioneers and are held back only by the rate of pure fibre deployments.  Meanwhile Openreach still holds to seeing those very different, vastly superior and ‘fit for future’ networks as direct competitors rather than contributors to the greater good.

Other (imaginary) voyages of discovery

Imagine if you will, dear readers, that this is the year 1500.

The good ship Openseas is sailing nervously towards the previously presumed precipitous edge of a flat world – and the crew are mightily troubled by the rumoured fate of earlier voyagers who did not return. On the bridge the captain anxiously scans the horizon but he and his crew are alone. Their resolve to push on can only come from an inner determination. These are complex and confusing seas with shifting currents and a need for confident navigation. With no hope of external assistance they must overcome fears or resign to their fate but they will earn (eventually) the accolade, ‘pioneer’.

And now, friends, imagine that we are in the year 1839.

In the latest episode Dickens’ Fagin is casting around for a way out of social storms on all sides to secure his survival. Desperately he considers the alternatives:

“This rotten life is not for me.

It’s getting far too hot for me.

Don’t want no one to rob for me.

But who will find a job for me,

There is no in between for me

But who will change the scene for me?

…I think I’d better think it out again!


There is, of course, no one to ‘change the scene’ – he alone must choose a new path. To survive, his enterprise must think again to find a new re-formed direction that rejects all previous convictions and missteps along the way. That resolve may be prove to be beyond his reach.

And so, back now to 2017.

Is it any wonder that Openreach is ‘Reviewing the Situation’? Is this the end of ‘the line’ or is this, beamed through pure fibre, a new, low energy, low maintenance, high performance, enlightenment that costs far less and shines far brighter for his enterprise and for the for the entire economy?

So, let’s wrap up this reflection with the answer to a light-bulb joke. It takes only one psychotherapist to change a light-bulb but that light-bulb must really want to change.