DigiCatNETV 12 months in – Part 1

Naomi Morrow, Project Manager at Digital Catapult Centre North East and Tees Valley

Naomi Morrow, Project Manager at Digital Catapult Centre North East and Tees Valley

Naomi Morrow, Project Manager at Digital Catapult Centre North East and Tees Valley, reflects back on their first year in operation. 

Following the announcement the North East & Tees Valley (NETV) consortium had been awarded a local Digital Catapult in November 2014 and a crazy four months of preparations, we finally launched our Centre in March 2015 with an event in Sunderland attended by over 100 local business leaders excited about the possibilities ahead. So, now what?

This was the initial response from myself and my team as we approached mid-March and realised we needed to start doing rather than just talking about what our plans for the regional Catapult were. The first seven months of being a local Catapult Centre has been interesting; coordinating and managing the expectations of all five university partners and two Local Enterprise Partnerships is no easy task. We needed to face the facts; we weren’t going to change the world overnight, we weren’t even going to change the world of data any time soon, but we could start taking steps in the right direction.

What we have discovered in the last six months is that our project, ‘the controlled delivery of data’ is a proof of concept project. Our aim is to get organisations in the North East of England and beyond to realise the value in the closed and hidden data they collect and save. This sounds great in principle but how do we do this in reality? Our experiences so far have shown us that we need to take small steps. If we go into an organisation and ask for their sensitive data without them knowing why and what they will achieve by opening it up and sharing it, we will be laughed out of the door. But if we deliver solid case studies, take reasonably low level data and do interesting things with it, they will come back for more and maybe next time they will be less sceptical.

DigiCatNETV launched in March 2015

DigiCatNETV launched in March 2015

What is success?

This approach is working so far with an amazing success story being our recent project with Barclays. This was a national business challenge taking place across London, Manchester and Sunderland, attended by SMEs in all locations. They worked on six challenge areas identified by Barclays and explored low level organisational data, hosted on Newcastle University’s Cloud Innovation Centre platform. After two intense days of planning and scoping solutions, there were over 20 amazing pitches from SMEs that Barclays found difficult to choose from.

Here at Digital Catapult Centre NETV we were overjoyed to hear that they wanted to commission four or five of the solutions on the back of the pitches! This is definitely one way of measuring success – our ‘bread and butter’ is to create opportunities to SMEs through the projects, through data.

But how did we get to that point? We’ve had to quickly develop a robust project process to guide data owners through the steps, pitfalls and possible outcomes. This not only manages the organisations expectations but also reassures them it’s not going to cost them either a lot of money or a lot of resources.

Four stages

This process has four stages:

  • The initial conversation: introducing NETV and its aims and illustrating the potential benefits engaging in a project would bring the data owner(s)
  • The data discussion: myself and a data expert from one of the university partners will discuss the data, restrictions and security and how issues can be overcome. The intended outcome of this stage is to ensure everyone has a clear understanding of what can be done with the data, agrees on timeframes and puts into place frameworks for releasing the data
  • The scoping meeting: this is where university partners, interested SMEs and the data owner(s) discuss how the project may look and what format it should take. The project or event type will be decided upon including challenge and focus areas. A date for the event will be secured including data to be made available four weeks beforehand.
  • The event: based on the challenges identified, desired outcomes of the project and the type of data being used, the event can take several formats, from a traditional hackathon to a business challenge day, or even a longer research project analysing the data with clear outcomes at the end.

In Part two of ‘DigiCatNETV 12 months in’ we introduce our ‘Project Spectrum’ and explore these event and project formats in more depth. For more news, follow Digital Catapult Centre NETV on Twitter @DigiCatNETV. Don’t forget to follow us too @DigiCatapult

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