Thinking about my IET Presidency…

It’s a curious and challenging feeling to realise that I will be President of the Institution in less than four months. The run-up as a Trustee, Vice, then Deputy President happens over several years and the immediacy of the final role only comes into sharp focus in the final six months.

What an exciting time, following in the footsteps of esteemed predecessors – particularly Naomi Climer, our first female president. However, I intend to step a little off the established path by including in my mission, a development of the cross-disciplinary engineering theme that lies at the heart of the IET’s current remit. The IET has used a jigsaw puzzle visual to capture this in the publicity for my inaugural lecture.

I have a mental picture of the IET as a ‘comb-shaped’ institution. The model has a broad ‘back’ (the cross-disciplinary bit) with distinct ‘teeth’ (the individual disciplines we cover). These teeth are still centred on electrotechnology, and as the only Institution with this focus, we must ensure we are providing a professional home for colleagues with specialisms in and around electrical and electronic engineering. However, the broad back of the comb can and does connect adjacent teeth, providing an unparalleled capability to support 21st century engineering, and the careers of both industrial and academic engineers. The IET Academy will provide an exciting and developing ‘back’ infrastructure to do this.

As well as developing our membership’s understanding and engagement with cross-disciplinarily, I am keen to continue Naomi Climer’s diversity agenda, and to broaden it by adding inclusivity. By this I mean acknowledging that ‘A’ level subjects other than the traditional ones associated with STEM have value in preparing an individual for an engineering undergraduate course. Our discipline will be enriched by a broader engagement. This has been shown to work in a number of esteemed places of learning.

Concerning academia, the IET needs to engage more deeply with practicing researchers and lecturers. We are, through sematic web technologies, innovating in the processes of providing professional services for them, and this highlights the IET’s value propositions for academics. Re-invigorating the ‘learned society’ will be an important part of this.

The IET has restructured itself through recent governance changes – we will have, in addition to the Membership and Professional Development and Knowledge Services Boards, the Volunteer Engagement Board, which together will form an inclusive and empowered Council membership. This will provide much closer links to members, activities and central governance, which will strengthen our Institution and its effectiveness in the international engineering community and society at large.

The IET (and the IEE before it), has given me a great deal, and I hope I have returned something to the Institution. Certainly, for the year from October, I will be in a position to give back a fair bit more. I look forward to working with members and staff as a joined-up team, delivering to the Engineering profession.


PETRAS – Cybersecurity of the Internet of Things

This £9.8m EPSRC grant award creates a £23m collaborative Hub for research, development, and translation for the Internet of Things, focusing on privacy, ethics, trust, reliability, acceptability, and security/safety: PETRAS — suggestive of rock-solid foundations — for the Internet of Things. The Hub will be designed and operated as an open ‘social and technological platform’. It will bring together UK academic institutions that are recognised international research leaders in this area, with users and partners from various industrial sectors, government agencies, and NGOs, to achieve a thorough understanding of these socio-technical issues in terms of the potentially conflicting interests of private individuals, companies, and political institutions; to become a world-leading centre for research, development, and innovation; and to become an established authoritative and influencing voice in this problem space.

ComPaTrIoTS call


Interview Slides v1

PETRAS Overview Feb 2016_issued

Collaborative Centre for the Digital and Industrialised Built Environment

A proposal is made for BRE with university and industrial partners to establish a Built Environment Collaborative Centre (BECC) operating under a novel business model, to provide a collaborative facility for research, demonstration and scale-up of digital and industrial technologies. The remit includes buildings and infrastructure, promoting productivity and efficiency both in construction and operation, resilience, and international competitiveness for design, engineering and construction companies in the Built Environment sector.

The Centre will entail a new building on the BRE Campus in Watford, supporting at-scale advanced research, demonstration and post-graduate training for the Built Environment and Infrastructure disciplines. It will benefit from BRE’s considerable existing on-site investment in research and testing laboratories.

The concept includes a collaborative facility which undertakes research, demonstration and scale-up of digital, and industrial technologies, promoting productivity and international competitiveness for design, engineering and construction companies in the Built Environment (including Infrastructure) sectors. Industrial technologies are construed as including off-site manufacture, on-site automated fabrication, at-scale additive manufacture for construction, and the information methodologies which connect them such as BIM, CAM for construction, and advanced robotics. Digital technologies that promote efficiencies in operation – distributed sensing via the Internet of Things (IoT) and server-based (Cloud) analytics – are expected to be of great relevance.

Why does the UK need the BECC?

Over the next decade, the built environment sector will encounter particular challenges and opportunities. Productivity and margins in construction are currently low, while client demands for through-life cost-effectiveness and functionality are high and growing. Advanced technologies emerging from academic and private sectors can support the necessary achievement of these demands, but, as a result of risk-aversion and weak absorptive capacity, the industry has been slow in adopting them.


Government requires all public construction projects to comply with Building Information Modelling (BIM) Level 2 standards by April 2016, however there are substantial knowledge and capability gaps in industries serving the built environment sector, exacerbated by insufficient demonstration and sharing of best practice. Driven by a burgeoning and affordable IoT, particularly wireless sensors, further levels of BIM (following the philosophy of ‘Digital Built Britain’) will follow, which permit live, dynamic data to be associated with the static geometrics of BIM L2. These must be understood and adopted in order to take advantage of smart in-use monitoring and preventative maintenance.

The benefits of pervasive IoT sensors allowing in-use smart monitoring have yet to be realised as a means of reducing operational costs and contingent risks for infrastructure and buildings, yet ubiquitous sensing and powerful server-based data analytic technologies are becoming affordable, and these represent an immediately available benefit to productivity and cost reduction.

Resilience of buildings and infrastructure in the context of extreme weather is an associated challenge to be addressed by physical laboratory and field demonstration facilities.

The proposed BECC will address gaps, including knowledge of, and confidence in, available and near-to-market solutions. This will be done through research using at-scale laboratory facilities, and training at professional and technician levels.


The availability of Internet of Things (IoT) field devices – like autonomous wireless sensors – plus Building Information Modelling including Level 3 (Digital Built Britain), big data analytics (in the Cloud) and open data philosophies, provides a rich landscape for innovation and the development of new and productive methodologies for both construction and operation. ‘Connected Homes’ is an initiative BRE already has underway. Open approaches to BIM, IoT and data analytics will promote SME engagement and the emergence of new business models such as smart facilities management, preventative maintenance services, district energy optimisation and telecare to promote aging-in-place.

In combination with technical opportunities, focussed economic, organisational and social innovations are required to ensure appropriate value distribution to the business actors in a ‘Totex’ (Capex plus Opex) – optimising business environment. The proposed centre will provide the necessary cross-disciplinarity to allow specialists to work together on these hard problems.

The recent UK upsurge in construction activity drives a need to increase productivity and to reduce risk. Emerging technological capabilities provide an opportunity for transformative change in productivity in construction and the operation of assets. To secure these productivity advantages, the UK strategically needs an independent facility for the development and evaluation of technologies, methods, services and materials.


A significant benefit to innovation and knowledge productivity will be accomplished by establishing neutral territory to promote pre-competitive collaboration between supply chain peers and their clients, working alongside university and RTO partners. A physical research centre might be based on a university campus, however relatively few universities in the UK have research and teaching strengths in the Built Environment sector. Fewer yet offer laboratory facilities at a scale where experiments can be undertaken with real buildings and sub-assemblies, and none exists on or alongside the UK’s principal research establishment (RTO) for the built environment. The same limitation of little or no laboratory facilities also applies to many blue-chip Engineering consultancies, who largely rely on computer simulation. ‘BECC at BRE’ provides compelling benefits of existing expertise and a well-found facilities base.

Structure and business model

An innovative business model is envisaged to realise and operate the Centre; this breaks away from the Fraunhofer 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 approach. The model is based on joint funding from the public and private sectors for capital and set-up costs, with operational recurrent costs met by the partners alone, although there may be the need for public ‘pilot light’ funding at say 10% of the expected revenue level. The Centre would embody several anchor partners – say four universities and four companies – providing a core subscription income. They would each have an on-site presence and research teams collaborating on pre-competitive close-to-market projects. A larger outer group of ‘spoke’ or associate partners – universities, companies and SMEs would be encouraged to form self-funded temporary consortia around core research projects. Outcomes for these would include project de-risking, skills and knowledge transfer, and network development. For the SMEs in particular (85% of the built environment workforce is represented by these), a crowd-funding model might be used to deliver modules of value as and when needed – e.g. technology updates, CPD, etc.

The BECC is likely to be constituted as a company limited by guarantee – a not-for-profit organisation with stake-holding members including BRE, universities, engineering consultancies and contractors. The facility would be operated by BRE. Capital funding will be by a public-private match of government funding with contribution from member organisations. Revenue funding will be derived from grants, subscriptions, and private sector consortia projects. Governance may be via an independent Steering Board working through an Operations team. ‘Spoke’ associate members – both academic and industrial companies and consortia – will collaborate with hub members in the execution of research projects.

The Centre is likely to comprise a new building on the BRE Campus in Watford, with land donated by BRE. It will support full-scale advanced research and demonstration, plus post-graduate and skills training for built environment disciplines, and will benefit from BRE’s considerable existing on-site investment in research and testing laboratories, also its innovation park in Scotland, promoting regional outreach. BECC may also be associated with facilities based at partner university sites.

Synergies will be realised through collaboration with BRE, including technician staffing by BRE in exchange for access to experimental and analytical equipment. Additionally, the BRE Academy may provide core modules of accredited training for BECC researchers and staff. In a reciprocal manner, the BECC could give BRE Academy students access to the most advanced concepts and kit in built environment research. A team approach focussed on core technologies as well as across disciplines may be helpful, involving BRE technical leaders to diffuse cultures between the BECC and BRE.

BECC will encourage industry and university engagement and collaboration beyond BRE and its core Centre team. It will work closely with engineering consultants and construction companies, and their supply chains to create new productive and cost-effective solutions; these organisations and collaborating universities forming ‘spokes’ of the model. BRE’s University Centres of Excellence, including those overseas (Tsinghua and Brasilia), will enrich this collaboration. BECC will encourage pre-competitive research collaboration, sharing technologies that will promote market development for all, and joining-up parts of currently fractured supply chains.

Fulfilling the needs, modes of operation and themes

The UK construction and built environment sector needs a place where pre-competitive, open-source, enabling research can be undertaken; where companies in the relevant supply chains can co-innovate new solutions with researchers, designers and specifiers. There is also the need to take a socio-technical systems view and to integrate capability and design approaches across social and physical science disciplines.

Research, development and demonstration

The need for new and large-scale facilities is suggested by many areas of research, including:

  • BIM to CAM off-site and just-in-time manufacture – ‘Digital all the way from Design to Build’
  • On-site macro-scale building and infrastructure construction using advanced manufacturing methods, such as at-scale additive manufacture, and automated fabrication of sub-assemblies
  • In-use diagnostics and preventative maintenance, replacing expensive scheduled maintenance
    • Sensing and automated analysis of infrastructure and building states
    • Automated / robotic inspection
  • Advanced materials in construction (perhaps working with the High Value Manufacturing Catapult)
    • Curable soft and formable materials
    • Evaluating aerospace and automotive technologies in construction
  • Making ‘Digital Built Britain’ real
    • Connected homes – the next steps – server-based analytics in the Cloud for energy, wellbeing and security management
    • BIM Level 3 laboratory – integrating dynamic variables with static geometrics – open systems linked by meta-language frameworks
    • Value of ‘Smart Facilities Management’ – predictive rather than scheduled maintenance for infrastructure and buildings
    • At-scale test-beds – data-rich environments of realistic size
  • Structural dynamics lab
    • Optimising design and material use for structures built from novel materials using novel processes
    • Active damping in infrastructure and building design
  • Methods and materials for extreme weather – adapting to climate change
    • Testing current and new methods of making buildings and infrastructure more resilient
  • Design and engineering for behavioural outcomes
    • Influencing resource usage, wellbeing and productivityEarly-win research themes
  • Instrumented structures – relating to ‘Digital Built Britain’ BIM Level 3 demonstration
  • Preventative maintenance for infrastructure and buildings – combining real-time embedded sensors with (cloud) analytics
  • Investment quality energy auditing – de-risking retrofit for energy saving


The availability of experts who will specify, design and deploy new construction and operations management methods is vital. Training need covers doctoral and masters level expertise, plus – through a partnership with the BRE Academy and a local FE college, technician capability. To achieve effective learning we propose:

  • Learning from practice, and alongside BRE staff
  • Postgraduate training through a Centre for Doctoral Training model
  • BECC as a Knowledge Transfer Partner hub – getting knowledge out to SMEs
    • A KTP ‘college’ will be hosted, with staff deployed to SMEs on a time-share basis
  • Research degrees will be available to BRE staff who collaborate with the BECC

Key business and economic uplift benefits envisaged

  • A neutral space promoting pre-competitive collaboration in research, development and demonstration – a ‘slipway’ for launching new technological capabilities
  • De-risking innovation, allowing demonstration to clients and all parts of the construction supply chain
  • Development of Totex-optimised business models, enabling servitisation of the construction and asset operation sectors
  • Active help for the adoption of BIM Level 2 and further (Digital Built Britain) developments
  • Provision of large Civil Engineering laboratories near London – a ‘public good’ with strong potential for job-creation and skills uplift
  • Sustainable engagement with HEIs, Innovate UK and research councils through a governance partnership

Professor Jeremy Watson CBE FREng

BRE Chief Scientist & Engineer

October 2015

Revised January 2016

‘Research and Innovation’ – Solving the Productivity Puzzle: Talk given on behalf of the UK Academies to a fringe meeting of the Labour Party Conference

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to talk about how innovation can boost UK productivity on behalf of the four UK National Academies – The Royal Academy of Engineering, of which I am a Fellow, The Royal Society, The Academy of Medical Science and the British Academy.

What are National Academies? The UK’s Academies operate with state approval and support – via ‘grants in aid’ – and co-ordinate scholarly research activities and standards for academic disciplines, in the sciences and in the humanities. The Academies also provide a hub for collaboration between professional institutions, and play a key role in international knowledge-sharing.

I’d like to make a few basic points about innovation and productivity:

Innovation is the process by which ideas are converted into value — in the form of new and improved products, services and approaches. Innovation often draws on R&D and may involve commercialisation, but it is not synonymous with either. While technology is a common source of innovation, innovation can also derive from developments in design, business models and mechanisms of service delivery.

  • The UK’s productivity lags behind many of the G7 countries – it has slowed since 2007. The UK has the lowest level of government-financed investment on R&D as a percentage of GDP
  • Research, with innovation, turns new knowledge into economic and productivity gains – between 2000 and 2008, innovation accounted for 51% of productivity growth. 32% is directly attributable to Technology arising from scientific research and innovation.
  • Research and Innovation offer substantial economic and social benefits – the Higher Education Sector generated £73bn of output in 2011-12 through direct and indirect effects, and Research, Technology and Innovation Organisations generated £7.6bn, taking account of indirect and induced impacts.
  • The UK is good at Research – We have only 0.9% of the global population and 3.2% of global R&D expenditure, yet we have 4.1% of global researchers and 15.9% of the world’s most highly cited research articles. This means that we have an on-tap opportunity, with appropriate innovation investment, to make a sea change in national productivity.

Despite these very encouraging messages, we have some serious blockers to unlocking and realising productivity.

  • We under-invest, and we do not respond ideally to global competition. The OECD average for R&D investment by governments is 0.67% of GDP, yet the UK invests only 0.49%. In Germany in 2013, government-funded R&D was 0.85%, and in the USA, 0.76%.
  • Evidence shows that public R&D investment attracts further funding – I would mention Alan Hughes’ report to Treasury. Every extra pound of public funding leverages £1.13 to £1.60 of private sector money.
  • The UK has a significant Skills Shortfall – particularly in Engineering. The report produced by Professor John Perkins, Chief Scientific Advisor to BIS, in 2014 shows that we are graduating only 50% of the engineers needed to sustain growth in the industrial sector. Of these, only 16% are women – there is plenty of room for improvement.
  • For small companies, having people able to take on board new technologies – absorptive capacity – is essential to realising the potential of our research excellence. The Dowling Review identifies the need to consolidate and strengthen local support for SMEs to enable them to better engage with the excellence in the UK’s research base.
  • According to surveys, data and numeracy skills are either essential or important to around 7 in 10 employees – at a basic arithmetic level for 3 in 10 – and at more advanced level for 4 in 10. The demand for more advanced skills is advancing. It is therefore essential that all training whether in schools, further education or higher education has an adequate quantitative skills component.

All these needs have to be viewed in the light of the Government’s productivity plan ‘Fixing the Foundations’: Creating a more Prosperous Nation.

A joint foreword by George Osborne and Sajid Javid recognises the role of science in boosting UK productivity.

‘The drivers of productivity are well understood: a dynamic, open enterprising economy supported by long-term public and private investment in infrastructure, skills and science’

And, in a Chapter entitled High Quality Science and Innovation, spreading fast:

‘There is clear and robust evidence of a link between R&D spending and national productivity’

Concerning Higher Education, Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science spoke at the Universities UK Annual General Meeting on the 9th of September. He outlined plans for higher education, including:

  • Plans to implement the Teaching Excellence Framework, outlined in the Conservative manifesto. This includes a financial incentive so that universities offering high-quality teaching are able to increase fees with inflation.
  • A green paper is planned on higher education with proposals to improve teaching quality and empower students, opening up the higher education market and driving value for money.
  • The green paper will also set out plans to reform the higher education and research system architecture, following the Nurse Review of the Research Councils.
  • Key points include continuing with the dual support funding system, and respect for the so-called ‘Haldane Principle’. However, there is a growing indication that funding systems for research and innovation will be simplified, the latter being recommended in the Dowling Review.

Some final thoughts and conclusions:

A key driver of the requirement for public support is the fact that the original innovators often accrue a relatively modest proportion of the aggregate benefit associated with an innovation. For an individual company, funding innovation is inherently risky because the outcomes are uncertain and, even if an innovation proves successful, it is rarely clear at the outset who the main beneficiaries will be.

Furthermore, the benefits may be delivered over longer time horizons than those the company uses to guide its investment decisions and, crucially, there are significant ‘spill over’ effects which mean that innovations can create substantial value for other businesses that adopt or adapt the innovation, as well as for society at large.

Without public sector support, innovation in the private sector tends to be incremental rather than making step-changes. History shows us it is the step-changes that make real effects on the economy. Take fibre optic technology, which has brought super high-speed communications to almost all of us. Or the laser – invented in 1960, with no immediate application – yet now a central part of our lives, with perhaps five or more lasers in every household in computers, cars and sound systems.

The UK has a world-class science and engineering research base, and with smart policy and public sector investment, could be world-class at the full ‘concept to value’ chain.

There are a few areas of low-hanging fruit; one is strategic procurement by government. The SBRI scheme operated by Innovate UK could be very much more effective at growing SMEs if the winners were awarded at-scale supply contracts by the commissioning bodies.

We need to view innovation-led productivity through several lenses – product, service and process innovation. Service innovation can increase productivity and sustainability, for example in infrastructure and the built environment, where preventative can replace scheduled maintenance. Process innovation may be a Cinderella area, but one where digital technologies can make immense impact. This is already being seen in public services.

All of the above need significant public sector incentives to achieve the step changes our society and economy needs.

Government has a pivotal role to play in stimulating innovation. While innovation offers many potential benefits at the level of an individual firm, government support is often essential to encourage companies to engage in innovation. The work of Innovate UK (previously the Technology Strategy board) is to be strongly commended in providing a support framework to do this.

This is because innovation is an inherently risky process with an uncertain outcome, the benefits may only materialise over very long timescales and the innovator often accrues only a small proportion of the overall benefit generated.

By creating a conducive policy environment, using procurement intelligently and providing targeted direct support, the public sector can be highly effective at enticing the private sector to invest in innovation.

In the context of international competition, if the UK is perceived as offering a less attractive location for innovation activities, there is a high risk that companies will choose to make their knowledge-based investments elsewhere.

It is certain that innovation will happen irrespective of the UK’s policies — what is at risk is our ability to drive and benefit from it.

One of the essential ingredients for a successful innovation system is a clear strategy underpinned by a stable and coherent policy framework.

The IET – an Institution to be proud of

Few people are aware of the very significant influence the IET has on society on behalf of the Engineering profession. The Institution for Engineering and Technology is a 163,000-member charity that spends most of its retained income on member services for the good of the profession, and represents the interests of the entire engineering sector with its national and international communities. The Institution has a pre-eminent publishing and Knowledge Service business, which, with membership subscriptions, supports the charitable activities. Impact and societal benefit is achieved in many ways: by providing support and tools for professional development, also evidence and advice to government independently, and with the Royal Academy of Engineering and other professional engineering institutions. An IET staff member recently worked with the Chief Scientific Advisor of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to write a review of the Engineering Skills shortage.

The Institution can boast of being the professional home to five Chief Scientific Advisors to UK government departments: John Perkins at Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), Brian Collins BIS and the Department for Transport (DfT), John Loughhead at the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), Phil Blythe recently appointed to DfT, and myself at the Department for Communities and Local Government. Most of us have also served as Trustees.

As a Trustee and Deputy President, I am particularly proud of the way, through ‘one team working’ the Members, Trustees and Staff work together through a culture of transparency and collaboration, both internally and externally. Together, we seek continuous improvement in our processes and services.

Recent work in process improvement has centred on governance. A strategy development – Governance for the Future (G4F) – is the democratic product of more than three years discussion, debate and iteration with the IET Council, Trustees and other boards. G4F seeks to provide a stronger voice for those members who actively volunteer and a clear pathway from Council membership to the Trustee board for all who aspire to serve at a senior level of governance within the Institution. And soon these proposals will be put to a general member vote.

Service development is also well advanced. The refurbishment of Savoy Place, the home of the IET, is nearly complete with the building in use again from October this year. Savoy Place will be the most impressive and well-equipped engineering institution HQ in the UK, and the clear ‘go-to’ venue for engineering meetings. New policies ensure that member groupings have free access to meeting rooms. This will be of particular importance for meetings of professional experts, and it will underpin the value of institutional membership.

The IET is going places – maintaining while re-interpreting its traditional values, and developing new ways of benefiting its members and society at large. There are some significant challenges though: to avoid disenfranchising older members as new ways of engaging through social media become the norm; to ensure the IET is strongly relevant to all engineering communities, particularly academic as well as industrial; and to encourage young people to develop an interest in engineering careers. Getting more young women into Engineering would be a straightforward way to address the shortfall in engineers available for recruitment in the UK. This will require the right messages being delivered to schools and parents alike; these messages need to include role model narratives and career profiles of successful engineers of both genders.

Enabling local capability through university collaboration

Paper abstract draft, for comment

The abolition of the UK Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) by the Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition in 2012, and the disbanding of the Local Authorities Research Council Initiative (LARCI) left a vacuum in the support of process, service and product innovation for local authorities and Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). Catapult Centres were launched by the Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK) in the same year, with the purpose of promoting technology innovation nationally, and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) were proposed around that time by BIS and DCLG. An un-templated model without core funding, LEPs were envisaged as a means to local economic growth through encouraging collaboration between businesses, local authorities and universities. A gap in capability remained however, exacerbated by the financial strictures placed by central government on local authorities, while increasing their responsibilities. Attrition through cost-cutting became apparent in expert, in-house analyst support across a range of disciplines. Also, SMEs lost access to innovation funding from RDAs, although Innovate UK introduced Innovation Vouchers, which can be redeemed with knowledge providers. Various initiatives have arisen to close the gaps, one of which, the Creative Centre model, is a development by an industrial and university partnership.  This is based on making university equipment and technical support available to SME collaborators, together with a hub for time-shared Knowledge Transfer Partners (KTPs); it is predicated on the existence of underutilised equipment and resources.

Hello world!

My new blog site  – please watch this space for views on:

  • How Engineering changes the world
  • Science and Engineering in government
  • Engineering in universities
  • Professional Engineering Institutions
  • National Academies and Research Councils
  • Sustainability and resilience in society and the built environment
  • Building information Modelling (BIM) – Levels 2 and 3
  • The Internet of Things and Big Data

Professor Jeremy Watson CBE FREng