In March 2015, the then UK chancellor George Osbourne announced the Internet of Things UK Research and Innovation Programme. The initiative was to be led by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), with help from the Office for Life Sciences, Innovate UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Internet of Things UK was allocated a budget of more than £40m, to be spent over the following three financial years.
An evaluation report from economic development consultancy SQW has found that unforeseen delays at the inception phase of several projects, largely due to changes to personnel implemented by the government in the DCMS, subsequent government decisions and further delays ‘in the field’, led to only £30m of funding actually being provided.
Over £10m signed off for IoT R&D was lost in the machine.
Which projects were impacted?
The IoT UK Research and Innovation programme was made up of five projects: CityVerve, a smart city initiative led by Manchester City Council and Cisco; Two IoT NHS Test Beds using IoT technologies in services for people with dementia or diabetes, in Surrey and the West of England; the PETRAS IoT academic research hub, two Catapult Centres.
These were the Digital Catapult – providing support for UK IoT entrepreneurs – and the Future Cities Catapult, which publishes guides and “toolkits” on the business case for IoT in the public sector, and two Accelerator schemes for small businesses.
The report outlines how personnel changes following the May 2015 election resulted in the DCMS having limited experience in running projects of this kind and at scale.
“DCMS had limited prior experience with, and capacity for, sponsoring research and innovation interventions and had not previously co-sponsored large projects with the relevant government “arm’s length bodies” Innovate UK and EPSRC,” it reads.
There was also internal confusion about how the Accelerator schemes would be funded, which led to the £1m slice of funding for that year being delayed and it “becoming too late in the 2015/16 financial year to deliver the planned schemes. The £1.0m budget for that year could not be spent or benefits to SMEs delivered.”
Elsewhere, the Department of Health – which had £10m of available funding – missed out on £4m when it decided to select two smaller projects rather than one single health IoT initiative. Combined their budget envelopes were just £6m.
Finally, problems in establishing the CityVerve project in Manchester led to a three-month delay. The DCMS attempted to take this delay into account by providing extra funding the next year, 2016/17. This was paid for by reducing the Accelerator budget over the same period. But the extra £1.5m was never needed and never spent.
In total, CityVerve received £11m, PETRAS £9.9m, the NHS £6.03m, the two Catapult programmes £4.89m, and the Accelerator schemes just £920,000. The total spend was £30.37m, leaving £10m of IoT R&D funding left unspent.
Internet of Business says
Despite the confusion and lack of adequate organisation and experience, the report found that the IoT UK Research and Innovation programme had made “good progress of delivery … and strong evidence of delivery of the outputs contained in the logic model for each constituent project.”
“Overall, delivery of the IoT UK Programme at aggregate level is behind the timetable anticipated in the original business case, but it has still delivered a substantial volume of activity at project level in a condensed period of time.”
It goes without saying that without the programme, many if not all of the IoT initiatives mentioned wouldn’t have become a reality. The question we will never find out the answer to is what could have been.
Looking to the future, the UK’s latest budget reveals new pushes into IoT and AI development, connectivity, smart manufacturing and the future of transportation.
While investment in these areas may still not be what many would hope for, it builds on past projects, and past mistakes, and at least signals the UK government’s intent to claim a position at the forefront of digital transformation.