Looking for inspiration

I like to look across sources for analogy and stimulating ideas. A couple of things have recently caught my eye.

I find it amazing how hard it is for people (including me) to see the implications of new technologies and ways of working. In retrospect, once a change has happened, it’s obvious what the outcome would have to be. But when the change is happening it’s not so clear.

Going up

Ground floor
Perfumery, stationary, and leather goods, wigs and haberdashery, kitchenware and food. Going up…

Can you remember the theme tune to Are You Being Served?

I’m old enough to remember the lift operators in Aberdeen’s E&M and Watt & Grant department stores. They were replaced by automated lifts in about 1980. The stores have both succumbed – one to the shopping mall, the other a victim to digital retail.

Being a lift operator was a skilled profession, making sure that you stopped the elevator car level with the floor and opening the concertina iron-work doors with the brass handles.  Apparently New York’s last lift operator was only made redundant in 2009 Link

The Economist 1843 magazine just ran a story making the connection between the elevator operators strike and the adoption of self-driving cars. We could probably do the same with roles in the oil field.

The elevator strikes in 1945-47 crippled the city, and led to calls to redesign the city so that only low-rise development was permitted – to reduce the power of unions.

Of course, the answer was – as we know – automated elevators. But a lot of change management was required before people started to use them. Innovations such as emergency stop buttons, telephones for help and recorded announcements all came about in this time.

I’ll wager that we will look back at some of the manual ways of operating an oilfield we use today in the same way was we look back at the anachronism of the elevator operator.

Electricity – who’d want that?

Another story that I picked up on and found illustrated a point was this one [Link]. It’s written by the BBC’s Tim Harford. He asked and answered the question why did it take so long for electricity to displace steam in the factories in the North of England. It was decades after the invention that it was fully adopted.

He explained that it required a redesign of factories before the economics made enough sense for people to abandon centrally powered manufacturing and move to individually powered machines. We’ll see the same adoption economics in oil field operations and technologies such as 3D printing.

Digital Marketing – a lesson for oil and gas?

Today I found another article that resonated. This one is from Marketing Week [Link]

Mark Ritson makes the case that the separation between Digital Marketing teams and Traditional Marketing is ridiculous. What I think he’s saying echoes my point that there should be no separation between “IT” and “The Business”, because IT needs to be just how things are done around here. It’s true in Marketing, it’s true in Oil and Gas too.

“… On the one hand you need to avoid being precious about your digital creds. Signal early you are entirely comfortable losing the D prefix from your title and, for good measure, add something re-assuring like ‘I do not even know what digital means anymore’ or ‘isn’t everything digital now?’.

The merger process means that anyone who is a member of the extreme digerati will be the victim of the new regime. You know the type: obsessed with AI, convinced in the long-term value of VR, boastful that they don’t own a TV. They will be the first to go when the revolution comes.

Digital experience is a prerequisite

But make no mistake, it’s no good proclaiming that digital is wank and it’s time to get back to basics, pull all the money from Facebook and get it back into ‘proper’ media. The post-digital era cuts both ways.

While idiot digerati will be exposed, so too will those who aren’t open to the potential of all the new research and media options that have appeared over the past decade. When Alastair Pegg, the leading marketer at Co-op Bank, noted that that there was “no such thing as digital marketing” he followed up with the corollary that “all marketing is digital marketing”.

I think I can see the parallels between what he’s saying is happening in Marketing now, and what will overtake the world of Oil and Gas operations in the next 3-5 years. What do you think?

To innovation and beyond – 2019+

My first post of the year – a look ahead for 2019 – was a bit tongue-in-cheek. Now The World Economic Forum (WEF) is meeting in Davos, Switzerland, I thought I would provide a more insightful analysis.

The WEF will be considering the implications of the 4th Industrial Revolution as the headline theme for their annual conference. If you’re new to all this here is a I4.0 primer from CNBC [Link]. 2019 is going to be a year where industrial innovation takes centre stage. 

The thinking from WEF is always good, detailed thorough. I think that some of the crucial themes for unlocking innovative value will be focussed around opportunities and risks. Here are some of my current favourites.

The Opportunities

  1. Using information and reconfigurable platforms to provide new solutions to stakeholder experience. This will establish new ways to create, deliver and consume the core outputs from industrial processes.
  2. Removing the idea of separation between “IT and the Business”. The two are now conjoined. Being good at tech will be a prerequisite of being good in business. Technology will be embedded in every way that work is done, products are created, consumed and delivered.
  3. Empowering the front-line will be crucial. The winners will be faster organisations where workers make autonomous decisions and are rewarded for outcomes. As an analogy think of Deliveroo drivers. For many reasons, more refined models of work-coordination are required but the core autonomous nature of the work is being previewed here. Decentralised decision-making and autonomous action guided by technology removes many of the tasks performed by middle management. I hope we will start to see teachers, dentists, doctors and nurses no longer filling in spreadsheets and working as relecutant automatons directed by ill-informed command-and-control resource-allocation systems.
  4. With power comes responsibility. Without middle management, new forms of controls (and motivation) will be needed to spot problems and reward behaviour. Surprisingly for some, I don’t believe it is the front-line worker, but middle management, that is most under threat from AI, visual computing and big-data. I hope the CFO won’t push progress only on AIQ but that marketing and talent managers will push the AEQ agenda. It’s important we understand not only economics but also pride, satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment.
  5. Innovation may not be in new forms of technology. The tech available to us now is far ahead of our application of it. Deployment options are already available but not used. Innovation will come from the application of existing technology to new areas of business. Those stuck with old infrastructure will not be able to reconfigure fast enough to keep up. Value will arise from designing new ways of working. Capturing the value will rest on finding ways to get the rest of us to work that way too.

And now the risks

  1. Innovation will come from networks. Big companies will look to small companies for ideas, small companies will be formed from collaborative networks of individuals. Ideas will be mashed-up to cross-fertilise creativity. Guards must be in place to avoid exploitative situations – if they arise unchecked it will mean that the small-guys can’t and won’t play for long. Without them, brilliant ideas will never be used. Rights management is crucial for the distribution of the value created. In the way that song-writing credits generate performance fees for artists. Licenses for ways-of-working are needed to stimulate innovation, and society needs to enable easy access to legal enforcement to uphold claims against copying without permission.
  2. Massive generalisation follows: Young people are frustrated by old-people’s inability to embrace new ways of working. Technology savvy folks are orders of magnitude more productive than their peers. They are quicker to make decisions and to multi-task. This leads to not only high-productivity but also to high-error rates. Iterative short-cycle experimentation and learning-by-doing is the hall-mark of agile strategy. This is not an approach that has been adapted to high-risk industrial work-settings. This leads to a clash of culture and an inability to attract and retain talent.
  3. Innovative individuals will continue to pursue independent careers in increasing numbers. Old industries will die, vested interests will be disenfranchised. The world of work, taxation, social contracts, pensions and access to finance will have to evolve to cope with this. To create a consensus and establish a sense of fairness new-politicians will need not only wisdom but also to deploy the old-tools of oratory and persuasion. There will be big disagreements across society and between nations. It will be necessary to create hope for those who fear being disenfranchised. They will not go quietly into that good night.
  4. Politics of property will come to the fore – the control of assets will be important. Whether that is physical real-estate where low-paid important workers are unable to afford to live where the people who need them reside; property from an accumulation of historical data that provides an unassailable lead and monopoly positions; or the “IDEA” that one person has spent 10 years creating that is exploited by a large corporation without reward. Society will need to find ways to address the control and distribution of property in a world where labour and working-time may not function as a distribution & motivation method.

I will spend time exploring these themes during the year – I have a number of initiatives already kicking off for the year and I hope that you’ll be able to help.

2019 – The Year Ahead

Happy New Year

As we enter 2019 I’ve managed to already break my first resolution – to get this blog post out before everyone gets back to work. As an excuse I’ve had a very busy start to the new year. As a warning, I think we will all have a busy year this year.

When looking forward, I often find it useful to reflect first on the past and see how thoughts are changing.  After you’ve read this post, please revisit this one [link]. It was written in March 2016 – Trump had not been elected, the Brexit Referendum had not occurred, Cambridge Analytics had not been exposed and Russian interference in the US election was not known about. An extract from the post reads as follows:

With modern communications and the ability to mobilise quickly we’ve already seen massive changes in the way the people (or, in Greek, demos) interact with conventional democratic systems and capitalism. [….] Whether that’s the Arab spring, so-called ISIS, Brexit, the mass-migration of populations or the astonishing rise of Donald Trump, things are getting decidedly odd in traditional politics. […..]

Cyber-politics is a whole new dimension. Whether cyber aggression is aimed at accessing private information, denying or altering the dissemination of information or compromising the physical integrity of machine-based systems the ability of people to alter the course of events through “hacking” has never been so great.

As the 4th Industrial revolution unfolds there will be more disruption ahead.

On the positive front, last year we saw the unveiling of the first industrial strategy for Britain for a generation link. I’m seeing the ripples of this throughout the industrial landscape of Britain, including a member of the Bestem network  who told me about some very innovative work he’s doing with the railways – all funded from central government. The funding he has access to is much larger than the whole OGTC [link] annual budget and he just needs to fill in a form to get it. It’s very light weight, no committees, websites, offices, equipment, industry sponsors – just get on with it. And he has. Big time. Oil and Gas is still not innovating, but we are good at committees and wasting each-other’s time.

My top predictions for 2019

  1. Attention will continue to swing away from economics & finance and towards science, inventiveness and engineering (genetic, information, computing, transport).

  2. Competition between nations will intensify with value-capture swinging towards creators and away from traders and rent-seekers.

  3. Politics will continue its rise – no more will debates be settled on the economic benefits of an argument. Politicians will start to use emotive language more. Manuals on speech-writing for rhetoric, bathos and pathos will be dusted off along with words and phrases including: trade, craft, pride, sacrifice, service, future, humanity, community, future-generations and “for-our-nations-children”.

  4. Language will continue its progression-regression. Old words take on new meanings. In my field the fourth industrial revolution became digitalisation, I am sensing that this is now becoming “innovation”. Again.

  5. Productivity will increase and the british economy will grow. Not, you understand, because it will objectively do so – but because the way we decide to measure it will change. We are already moving to double-deflation accounting in April [link] . You can expect more of this type of thing. It may be good for us.

  6. The Oil business will still be ruled by old-world economics and yesteryear-practices. I remember the dot-com boom in the late 1990s when there was genuine fear in my part of the Schlumberger world that we may be acquired by  Yahoo. Now Google (which was only formed in 1998 and not floated until 2004) could swallow Schlumberger many times over – but frankly, my dear, doesn’t give a damn. It’ll be the same this cycle, the Oil business will still work, be profitable and vital – but paradoxically become increasingly (and proportionally) less relevant to measured world economic activity.

  7. The Big-Oil innovation committee will, after a multi-year tender programme, finally hold a committee meeting to issue the PO for the automated remote light switch. After their youngest member retires on full final-salary and is the last to leave the building this will be used to turn off the lights. By SMS. Sent by his secretary. From the last electrons of his dying Blackberry.

  8. Elon Musk will either be killed in a freak mid-air collision between him and Richard Branson, or will buy a small nation (to be called Matrix) and will be joined John McAfee [link] and Larry Ellison. They will declare independence.

2019 looks like it will be a fascinating, scary, depressing, joyful and amazing ride. Strap-on, tune-in and don’t drop-off. All the best my friends, it’s going to be a wild-one.

Self driving and the digital avalanche

Justin Rowlatt just published an interesting article (he admits it is provocatively one sided) about the inevitability of self driving cars and the disruption it will cause. The article can be found here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45786690.

I urge you to read the article, because it describes accurately the confluence of forces that causes avalanches and a split between the new and the old. When technologies hit a certain point the economies of network, scale and of learning kick-in to reduce the cost and increase the convenience of switching to the new, while the exact opposite happens to the old – making the switch happen in a non linear avalanche of change.

Justin’s article includes a photo of a New York street in 1900 and then in 1913 – in the first, the street is full of horse buggies and one car, in the latter the situation is reversed. The Model T Ford motor car was introduced in 1908.

For electric cars – just like in parts of the world where you still find many horse (and Ox) drawn carriages – motor cars as we know them will not disappear; the rate of manufacturing switch will be slower and cars bought today will still work in 20 years time.

A few years ago I made a calculation that, because of these and other factors, the internal combustion engine would take 50 years to be replaced even if the rate of uptake of electric vehicles accelerated. Justin makes a great point that, because of the effects of self-driving, we need, perhaps, only 10% of the current fleet to change and we’re done. Economics will kill the current car and nothing else matters.

This reminds me of why Amazon can (and has) destroyed the high-street. It doesn’t need to take 100% of the business, but – because bricks-and-motar retail has high fixed costs and low margins – they only need to take 10% of the revenue and Mrs. Smith’s Bookshop is toast.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will be made on lots of changes like this. The facilities that the self driving car will enable (and the infrastructure needed to support them, and spin offs around that) will mean new industries emerge and old ones die. And it will happen quicker than we imagine.

Elon musk, for all his bluster about electric cars, is really re-inventing manufacturing [Link]. Not only will his disruption hit the auto industry, but any form of manufactured assembly of mass-produced product. And that’s just about everything consumers buy.

Get ready now!.

The Fourth Musk(eteer)

Introduction

Amazon reinvented how we bought books. In the process they re-invented the way we enable people to find and order almost any type of goods. Once ordered, the company arranges to have to have our orders despatched and delivered. Amazon seems to have become an unstoppable force in the world of retail – laying waste to high-streets, department stores and shopping malls along the way.

I see something similar beginning to happen at Tesla. Elon musk has moved on from innovative products such as the electric car and is now on the cusp of reinventing manufacturing. Few people seems to have noticed how general his approach can be and how it can be applied to making just about anything, and making it anywhere.

Innovator’s Dilemma

If you haven’t read “The innovators’ Dilemma” by Clay Christiansen [LINK]  it may be time to do so, or if you have brush up on the contents again. This book was first published 1997, as the world was going internet and computer crazy. It has stood the test of time.

The basic premise of the book is that industry incumbents tend to innovate by making their products better. All their customer focussed research and development is structured to avoid making products that are demonstrably worse than what they have in almost every way. But upstarts can and often do launch products like that to serve market segments uninteresting to the incumbent.

But innovation, it turns out, is dynamic and pretty soon the upstart is learning to get better to the point that their offering becomes “good enough” for a large slice of the market served by main suppliers.  The most demanding customers will still be pushing for extra features from the incumbent but this becomes increasingly difficult to achieve and scale economies fade (as the mass-market defects). This leads to the demise of the once dominant generation and the rise of the innovator.

The examples that Clay based most of his early published research on where the manufacturers of disk drives in Silicon Valley. But he drew the parallels in other industries. The book considered end-product (the disk drive), whereas now I am seeing the same market dynamics emerge in processes and services. Where the first steps of the new methods are not quite as good as the traditional, but the direction of travel means that the inevitable result will be an unstoppable revolution in the way things are done and the way things are made.

Amazon warehouse success and Tesla’s manufacturing innovation

Earlier I wrote about the innovation that was happening in the Ocado warehouse. [LINK] Amazon has quite a lot to say about efficient warehousing but (I don’t think) are licensing their technology to others. The innovation that has happened here has digitalised the warehouses and made them more efficient.

Elon Musk is doing this for manufacturing. What I find interesting about the approach to manufacturing in the Giga Factory [LINK] [LINK] is that it’s fundamentally different approach than updating a car manufacturing plant to become digital. It’s the reverse. Let me explain.

Amazon didn’t apply digitalisation of retail to book buying, they applied book buying to a digital retail and supply chain – once perfected it was instantly ready to serve across categories. Tesla is doing the same in manufacturing. Once you’ve learned to manufacture in an automated way – it’s a small step from cars to any other type of product.

A good place to start

Books were a good place for Amazon as it was a very inefficient process and bad for the customer. It turns out that car manufacturing is also a great product to choose to apply to digital manufacturing because there is demonstrable market for the finished goods. They are poorly served by the current process and the incumbents are being held back by two big forces – the internal combustion value-chain, and the clogged thinking born of mass employment and model for command-and-control distribution of labour and “industrial man”.  See “My Years at General Motors” Alfred P. Sloan [Link]  for insights on what the world of manufacturing has been striving to emulate since the 2nd industrial revolution started.

How does this apply to oil and gas?

There are two reasons why this is relevant to Oil and Gas.

  • firstly we are organised very much along the lines of division of labour and command and control described by Sloan. If this model is now under threat from people like Musk then we can assume that world of work as we know it in our industry will also change;
  • secondly as Patrick Von Pattay said in my interview with him [Link], perhaps the threat is not going to come from an incumbent applying digitalisation to make their existing oil and gas operations better, but perhaps it will come from someone who has learned to be an efficient operator of facilities who is now going to include oil and gas to their process. Like Amazon starting to sell electronics as well as books.

Conclusion

For the next 25 years, I suggest closely following the advances in automated manufacturing which is happening in Nevada right now, and imagine how such changes in working practice can affect our industry. Because they will.

Get out of the way of digital Chris

A friend of mine runs operations for one of the larger players in the North Sea. He has a chap who works for him. For the purposes of anonymity, I’ll call him Digital Chris.

Digital Chris is a very valuable person. He’s what’s referred to as a “Barrel Chaser” he’s the trouble shooter, the ideas man, the guy that gets things done. Digital Chris adds thousands of barrels of production each year. Production that would otherwise be locked up due to process constraints, lost through shut-in’s and trips or lost through delays getting things back on-line. Digital Chris probably contributes a few million pounds of cash that drops straight to the bottom line.

It’s odd then that not everyone is like Digital Chris and that people like him are so rare. I remember there was a chap I met who worked at Elf in the 1990’s who I’ll now refer to as “Digital Martyn”. I hope he won’t mind me name checking him – Martyn Beardsell – https://www.linkedin.com/in/martyn-beardsell-5639aa1/

Digital Martyn worked as a reservoir engineer and seemed to be able to use software tools he had available to construct answers to geological modelling and reservoir production questions in ways that others couldn’t. He could take information from many different disciplines, combine them and use it to solve sub-surface puzzles in new and imaginative ways.

Digital Martyn and Digital Chris are digital pioneers, a different type of digital twin if you will. They may not think of themselves this way but they are. The problem-solving results they achieve are not only orders of magnitude faster & better than whole departments of people, but I’d go as far as to say that they spot and solve problems to unlock opportunities that would otherwise be lost forever in the fog of bureaucracy.

What’s interesting now is that if you walk into a G&G department they are no longer divided by discipline as they were once: Geology, Petrophysics, Geophysics, Reservoir (with geochemists and bathymetry not knowing where to report); instead they are organised as “Subsurface” and divided by business objective Exploration, Development and Production.  Computing power and data was the underpinning of this change. All companies now organise their G&G departments and behave in the way that Digital Martyn pioneered 25 years ago. I suspect 25 years from now all operations groups will organise and behave in ways that Digital Chris, and those like him, are pioneering today.

The BBC reported that there will be a requirement for 10,000 digital workers in Oil and Gas in the next 20 years. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-44067949 On average that means each of the 50 or so operators need to find 10 Digital Chris clones each year. My friend has only found one in the last 15 years.

If Martyn and Chris are twins separated by 25 years and, if Digital Chris is a pioneer, there are three things the wise oil company executive should do: Learn to spot more digital pioneers; develop and grow them; and help them be successful in their roles.

To help you spot them, here are the traits of a digital pioneer:

  1. Is technically advanced in area of specialty
  2. Is a creative problem-solver
  3. Maintains broad overview of situation
  4. Prioritises attention to areas that maximise value
  5. Digs into extreme detail when required
  6. Tests Hypotheses with data, discarding ideas when necessary
  7. Develops networks and creates social and political capital
  8. Naturally works across organisational boundaries
  9. Can’t stand bureaucracy and form filling

 

Once you’ve found them here’s a few suggestions to help them develop and grow

  1. Develop tools to gauge the business impact of decisions
  2. Create common language to enable discussions on relative value
  3. Share strategic vision and what will be considered “good”
  4. Reward the identification and quantification of problems
  5. Provide unfiltered access to whatever information is needed, even if only needed for curiosity
  6. Encourage diversity of approach and non-conforming ideas
  7. Ensure that safety is not compromised by new ideas without killing the idea-generation process itself

As they develop, it’s your responsibility to help them be successful in their roles

  1. Prevent nay-sayers from using trivial detail to thwart progress
  2. Align interests by addressing the gap between process-driven functions like finance, procurement and IT and those working in the white-heat of operational time-frames
  3. Deploy technology that reduces information-friction and promotes transparency
  4. Try to work with the minimum of forms, reports, emails or meetings

 

It’s going to be a long process to re-equip the whole workforce with digital skills, some of that will happen naturally as new workers enter the industry. There will be a need for conversion to new ways of working to be established within existing workers as well.  The challenge is going to be attracting new people with digital skills, embracing those new skills and associated ways of working (letting them flourish and keeping work meaningful and not frustrating) then combining them with the know-how from established practices in the industry.

In the short run we’re going to need to work in teams – and teams with diversity of thought and approach. Not the sort of team I’ve seen (and experienced) where all new digital methods are pooh-poohed. Not the type of “team” where the old guard try to reprogramme the progressive new digital guys to adopt the way it’s done here – and the digital guys opt out and are replaced with IT people (who haver IT skills but are not Digital, see traits above). The IT guys end up going off on IT projects for their own sake and impose so many restrictions on technology adoption by the operations teams that the whole thing falls flat and fails.

Be Digital!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Grand Challenges

Comments on Jodrell Bank Speech

Theresa May, British Prime Minister, May 21st 2018, Macclesfield

In yesterday’s post I had high expectations of scooping a major news story, but no. Maybe it’s because I don’t own a television, but I am very disappointed by the lack of coverage of a speech that history may look back as a turning point when we, “as a nation” – to borrow a phrase, shifted our focus from banking and finance back to inventiveness and engineering. Maybe that’s just my hope though.

I’ve listened to radio 4 and searched on the BBC and ITV websites, but all the references to the speech are in relation to Brexit and are all sound bites. They all miss the point entirely.

The speech was full of historical rhetoric about how great we used to be in science and name checked a roll-call of the great and the good. It therefore managed to tick both the jingoistic and nostalgic boxes. This was, however, not a light-weight speech but instead sets out a direction of travel and intent that we should all be aware of, because it has the potential to change our industrial history.

The full speech can be read here https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-speech-on-science-and-modern-industrial-strategy-21-may-2018

Like with Harold Wilson’s “white heat of revolution” speech where I didn’t comment on his pro-soviet views, I will also not comment on the Brexit views contained within this speech. That is as divisive and full of misinformation as was the capitalist/communist argument in the 1930s to 1960s and a rabbit hole that yesterday’s media went straight down – missing the point entirely.

Here are some of my highlights of the speech. Some of these, as predicted, do echo the structure used by Wilson in 1963, though to be fair, perhaps it was closer to the 1961 speech to congress by JFK [link].

On the scale of change of the 4th Industrial Revolution we now face, referencing of 1945 Britain

Their grand-parents lit their homes with oil lamps and travelled by horse and cart, but they would live to see jet travel and space flight.

Echoing the 1960’s speeches

[…] the world today stands at the threshold of a new technological age as exciting as any in our past. Great changes in how we live, how we work, how we trade will reshape our economy and transform our society in the years ahead. This technical revolution presents huge opportunities for countries with the means to seize them. And Britain is in pole position to do just that […]

[…] But success is not automatic. We are at the forefront of scientific invention because we embrace change and use regulation not to stifle but to stimulate an environment for creativity […]

[…] Scientific research is a noble pursuit and a public good – whether or not it leads directly to a commercial application. But when a discovery does have the potential to create or transform an industrial sector, time and again British entrepreneurs have been the first to capitalise on it[…]

[…] However, the nature of innovation and progress is that new technology inevitably replaces old. And in the twenty first century, some parts of the country that once thrived because of innovation and technology has seen the jobs and opportunities of the past fall away […]

[…] Our challenge as a nation, and my determination as Prime Minister, is not just to lead the world in the 4th Industrial Revolution – but to ensure that every part of our country powers that success. […] Nurturing the talent of tomorrow – through more outstanding schools, world-leading universities and the technical skills that will drive our economy.

On Investment in Science and Technology

£7Billion in new public funding for science, research and innovation […] goal of 2.4% GDP invested by 2027 […] Could translate into £80 billion investment over the next decade.

On Education in new technology

£26K tax-free bursaries for new teachers in priority subjects […] New T-Levels as good as A-Levels […] New Institutes of Technology […] National retraining scheme to help workers of all ages adapt their skills to the jobs of tomorrow.

On other elements of the strategy

Renewing and extending our infrastructure with faster trains, bigger stations, better roads […] Delivering the next generation of mobile and broadband connections […] Right regulation, modern employment standards, effective corporate governance.

At this point in the speech Theressa May laid out what she calls 4 grand challenges. Noting that it’s hard to predict exactly what breakthroughs lie ahead, she set out a Mission for each of the challenges with promises of more to come. So stay awake!

Grand Challenge 1: AI and data

Mission: Use AI and data to save lives.

In short use AI and data to predict diseases that kill people which if detected early are treatable.

Grand Challenge 2: Healthy Ageing

Mission: 5 extra years of healthy living by 2035.

Use technology to keep people happy, healthy and independent in their own homes, change employment responsibilities and innovate new products.

Grand Challenge 3: Future Mobility

Mission: Only zero emission vehicles by 2040

We pioneered trains and jet air travel, so this should be a doddle. A bit light on details though. But get on with it, we invented Formula 1 for heaven’s sake.

Grand Challenge 4: Clean Growth

Mission: Halve energy usage of new buildings by 2040.

Well pretty much what it says on the tin for that one.

These four missions are just the beginning – and in setting further missions across the four grand challenge areas, we will work closely with business and [the private] sector.  In each one of these four missions, scientific and technological innovations have the potential to create jobs, drive economic growth across the country and deliver tangible improvements for everyone in our country.

Conclusion

This is the first use of the term “4th Industrial Revolution” by a British Prime Minister. It shows a recognition that big changes are underway in the structure of society and the way it integrates with the world of work and therefore inevitably in the distribution of wealth and allocation of capital.

The OGTC in Aberdeen must be a happy place today, if there is anything to note for them there will be much more funding for institutions like them and their influence on policy can only increase.

Of the four “Grand Challenges” it seems to me that “AI and Data” will be required for the other three too, so the structure is a bit wrong. The missions however seem like a good concrete way to lay things out – though, to be fair, they are not really up their with JFK’s mission announcement at Rice University in 1962 [link]

At least she didn’t say : We didn’t choose to go to Cheshire because it is easy, we do this and the other things because they are hard. Have you seen the potholes on the M6 or the price of a train ticket to Prestbury?

Though technology may even have reached that far North. I am reliably informed you can now get an Uber in Prestbury. There is – exactly – one. British enterprise knows no bounds.