Category Archives: Birmingham Smart City


Digital Birmingham’s Heike Schuster-James discusses her observations following a year working on the Future Council programme.

I have recently returned from a year-long secondment to the Future Council programme, where I helped initiate change in the organisation. In this post, I’m going to share some of my observations and in particular why digital culture matters.Future Council

For those that have not heard of the Future Council before, here is a summary of what it aims to achieve.  In brief, it’s about change on a major scale to make the council fit for the future because of external pressures such as diminishing budgets, changing demographics and growing expectations of citizens about what councils can do. And of course there have been a number of critical government reviews of the council’s activities (e.g. Kerslake Report) recommending improvements.

In response, Birmingham City Council brought together a range of activities to develop a new organisational culture, improve how we work in partnership with other organisations, develop neighbourhoods and change how we deliver frontline services and back-office functions.

DigitalWhy then is digital culture so important? Firstly, let me clarify what digital is about, because it is NOT about hardware or software or simply using social media.   A quote from one of my favourites, the Government Digital Services (GDS) blog (quoting Tom Loosemore) says: “Digital means applying the culture, practices, processes and technologies of the internet era to respond to people’s raised expectations”

To make this statement a bit more tangible, think about:

  • social media and the direct communications they offer to anybody and how it promotes sharing of good ideas
  • open data and how it promotes transparency
  • how the internet empowers people because anybody can find information or set up a trade
  • agile development that promotes taking quick small steps, fail fast and improve.

Here are some examples of how digital culture could become a powerful tool to support the objectives of the Future Council:

Evidence based decisions and service design

Frontline services as different as social care, housing or waste management aim to work differently based on:

  • Understanding citizens and their needs better
  • Designing services based on citizens’ needs and demand for the service

This means getting the data, digesting it and talking to more citizens to qualify analysis results where necessary; sharing our ideas early and seeking feedback. Online media are an easy way to do this.


Frontline services aim to work differently based on:

  • Seeing people as bringing their own strengths i.e. everybody can be an asset
  • Enabling people to be independent and resilient
  • Learning from other organisations and seeing them as equal partners

This means talking to people at eye level and listening to them like we do in the hierarchy free world of social media.  It means to look outward and be curious like picking up suggestions from your favourite blog or Twitter stream.


Frontline and back-office services are due to undergo major changes to reduce costs through better response to customer needs and a lean approach. Thus improving customer satisfaction by focusing on what’s most important and at the same time cutting out unnecessary offers.

Most activities could benefit from an agile approach and it could be done at a really small scale. To resolve one problem in one team at the time, change one behaviour or communication when dealing with one group of citizens and see if it has the desired effect. If it doesn’t work, take note and try something different. If it does, try and apply in a wider context.


With so many changes planned that affect citizens and staff good communication becomes paramount. It means listening to others and the world wide web is a great tool to gain local insight by individually following the communities we serve online (web, blog, twitter, instragram… you name it) or by processing social media trends large scale for the organisation.

It means sharing and keeping people up-to-date for example through blog posts and tweets rather than press releases and the willingness to be challenged and engage in dialogue, with anybody.

Personally, my most exciting experiences last year were, when I got the chance to have a conversation with people, going out to meet the public at District Community Workshops and then turning things on their head by having a ‘listening post’ at TEDx Brum.

To contact Heike Schuster-James, please click here.

Action needed on digital skills crisis says Committee

The Science and Technology Committee publishes a report warning that the UK risks being left behind if the Government does not take more action to address the digital skills crisis.

Report findings
12.6 million adults in the UK lack basic digital skills; 5.8 million people have never used the internet; only 35% of computer teachers in schools have a relevant degree and 30% of the required number of computer science teachers have not been recruited; and 13% of computer graduates are still unemployed 6 months after leaving university. This digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63 billion a year in lost GDP.

The gap between digital skills possessed and digital skills needed demonstrates a long-running weakness in the UK’s approach to this crisis. The Committee is calling for:

  • Digital skills to be made one of the core components in all apprenticeships, not just ‘digital apprenticeships’.
    Industry led vocationally-focused digital careers advice in universities.
  • Universities to provide ‘code conversion courses’ to help graduates from non-computer science backgrounds enter the tech sector.
  • After introducing the much needed computer curriculum in schools, the Government to establish a forum for employers to feedback on the continuing development of the curriculum, and Ofsted to include it in its school inspections.
  • A review of the qualifying requirements for ‘shortage occupation’ IT jobs under ‘Tier 2 visas’, to allow SMEs to get critical digital skills from abroad.
  • Apprenticeship scheme processes to be simplified to allow SMEs to participate more easily.

Chair’s comments
Science and Technology Committee Chair, Nicola Blackwood MP said:
“The UK leads Europe on tech, but we need to take concerted action to avoid falling behind. We need to make sure tomorrow’s workforce is leaving school or university with the digital skills that employers need.The Government deserves credit for action taken so far but it needs to go much further and faster. We need action on visas, vocational training and putting digital skills at the heart of modern apprenticeships.

The Government’s long-delayed Digital Strategy must now be published without delay, and it must deliver. The Government has introduce a range of measures to help, particularly by expanding the scale of the apprenticeship programme and introducing a new computer curriculum in schools, but it needs urgently to present a vision and coherent strategy that brings these together.”

Digital strategy

The MPs question why the Government has taken so long to produce the long-promised ‘Digital Strategy’ and call for it to be published without further delay. The Committee warns that the Strategy needs to go further than merely listing cross-government digital activity, but present a vision for the future delivered by collaborative work from all involved—industry, educators and Government.

Download the report here

Digital Birmingham have been nominated for a #DL100 Award!

We are pleased to announce that Digital Birmingham have been included in this years Digital Leaders 100 listing and nominated for an award in the ‘Digital Council of the Year’ category for Birmingham City Council!

2016 Finalist Logo

It’s wonderful to be recognised for the teams continuous hard work in the areas of digital and smart and its lead in piloting and exploiting digital technologies to work towards developing an inclusive, sustainable & green economy.

Show your support by voting for us here – voting closes on Friday 27 May 2016!




Birmingham listed in top 3 of UK smart cities!

A Smart Cities Index Report – the first of its kind – commissioned and released earlier this week by Huawei UK has listed Birmingham as the 3rd smartest city in Britain ahead of the likes of Glasgow, Manchester and Leeds!

To be listed as a ‘contender’ in this report goes to show that the collaborative work we have undertaken with Birmingham’s Smart City Commission and with partners since the launch of the Birmingham Smart City Vision statement in 2013 has come a long way and it’s a great boost to be given this recognition on a national scale! Particular highlights in the report include the work being established around the East Birmingham Demonstrator and forthcoming HS2 related activities.

Further details and the full report can be found at

BIS issues call for evidence for business broadband

This Call for Evidence aims to learn more about the fixed broadband needs of British businesses, both now and in the future.

In February 2016, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills announced a joint Review into Business Broadband by the Departments for Culture, Media and Sport and Business, Innovation and Skills, to explore the barriers facing businesses in accessing affordable superfast broadband. The announcement set out that the Review would look at:

  1. The broadband speeds that businesses need now and in the future;
  2. The barriers that exist for businesses to get the affordable, high speed broadband they need; and
  3. The issue of leased lines and the role they play in the market.

The aim of this Call for Evidence is to learn more about the fixed broadband needs of British businesses, both now and in the future. The connectivity needs of businesses will inevitably vary greatly depending on the size of business, their pattern of internet usage,
and the sector they are in, and as such, it is important that the Review and any resulting action properly reflects these differences.

Please provide responses to Responses to this call for evidence should be limited to 3,000 words in total and responses must be received by 3rd June 2016.

For more information, please visit

PRESS RELEASE: Innovation Birmingham launches Serendip® Smart Cities Incubator

Innovation Birmingham alongside the West Midlands Academic Health Scienc...


Innovation Birmingham has launched its application process for its upcoming Serendip® Smart Cities Incubator programme, as the site’s new £8 million iCentrum® building rapidly nears completion.

A core element of Birmingham’s ‘Knowledge Hub’, the 11,845 sq ft (1,102 sq m) Serendip® Smart Cities Incubator will be based on the first floor of iCentrum® and will co-locate promising start-up businesses with large commercial partners. Within these challenge-led incubators, the commercial partners will help to mentor qualifying early stage tech companies and may, in turn, become customers or distribution channels for the start-ups.

There will be at least four sector-specific Serendip® ‘quarters’: Digital Heath, Intelligent Mobility, Internet of Things and an additional incubator, which will be delivered by Innovation Birmingham in collaboration with the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network, Centro and the Transport Systems Catapult, RWE npower and Barclays. The ethos behind the space is to harness the power of serendipity and encourage the translation of ideas, relevant to the Smart City agenda, into new products and services.

Successful applicants for the Serendip® Smart Cities Incubator will be based at iCentrum® from 1st April 2016, and will be supported by Innovation Birmingham’s mentorship programmes, which enables them to work directly with commercial partners to market-test and refine products and services. These businesses will also benefit from free high-tech office space, mentoring from experienced entrepreneurs; a 180-seat presentation auditorium with 7m+ wide HD presentation screen and access to over 100 evening networking events and workshops.

Providing space for 400 high-value skilled tech jobs at any one time, iCentrum® will generate £25 million of GVA per annum to the local economy and is the first building to be completed within Innovation Birmingham’s £40m development zone.

Dr David Hardman MBE, CEO of Innovation Birmingham, said: “We are thrilled to be working with these corporate partners to deliver the Serendip® Smart Cities Incubator, so creating a unique facility in the UK. This challenge-led programme will provide a fantastic opportunity for UK start-ups to work directly with established commercial partners and benefit from their longevity and expertise.

“Working with these partners is very exciting for the region and will help us to further drive the city’s reputation as a national centre for digital excellence, as well as helping to create many new high value jobs in high-growth businesses which will have fantastic economic benefits for Birmingham. We are committed to nurturing new talent and providing the right support and facilities to ensure these businesses stay and excel in the city.”

The Innovation Birmingham Campus is currently fully let, with an extensive waiting list for space from new and growing tech businesses. Significant investment has ensured its 135 technology tenants can already access 30Gbit/s broadband speeds – equalling the fastest internet connection available anywhere in the UK. Construction has also recently begun on the 5,812 sq ft Universities Centre, which will act as a detached extension of the site’s Faraday Wharf building and will further enhance the site’s already impressive tech offering.

To apply for Serendip®, please visit:

PRESS RELEASE: Barclays announced as fourth partner in Innovation Birmingham’s £8m iCentrum® incubator project

(l-r) Cliff Dennett, Dr David Hardman MBE, Joanne Haden, David Hamilton ...PRESS RELEASE FROM PARTNERS AT INNOVATION BIRMINGHAM 25.02.16

Barclays has become the fourth partner to join Innovation Birmingham in delivering a new incubation facility at the Campus’ upcoming £8 million iCentrum® building.

Barclays will launch a 2,500 sq ft business incubator which will feature within the Serendip® Smart City Incubator; designed to drive innovation and open up a wealth of opportunities for tech start-ups.

The incubator will work alongside the Innovation Birmingham mentors to create a unique support package for qualifying start-up and high-growth potential early-stage digital and tech companies. The new facility will launch in April 2016 soon after the opening of iCentrum®, located off the A38M Aston Expressway, which opens in March 2016.

Located on the first floor of the 42,149 sq ft iCentrum® building, the business incubator will join three other sector-specific quarters: Digital Heath, Intelligent Mobility and Internet of Things, which will be delivered by West Midlands Academic Health Science Network, Centro and the Transport Systems Catapult and RWE npower.

The whole 10,000 sq ft first floor of iCentrum® will be known as Serendip®, with the ethos behind the space being to harness the power of serendipity and encourage the development of new products and services. That is, both within the defined sectors but also across all sectors; where juxtaposing technology solutions from one sector to another enhances business creation and growth. To complement Serendip®, there will be state-of-the-art event and meet-up space on the ground floor for up to 500 people. The top floor of iCentrum® will house office suites for growing tech companies.

Dr David Hardman MBE, CEO of Innovation Birmingham, said: “With construction work on iCentrum® quickly nearing completion, we continue to look to delivering this project both on-time and on-budget. It is being developed and funded speculatively as a tech incubator for the generation of entrepreneurs that is growing up with social media, 3D printing and cloud-based business solutions.

“Sitting at the heart of the new building will be Serendip®; a 10,000 sq ft incubation centre purpose-designed to nurture relationships between corporate executives and entrepreneurs. We are delighted to work in partnership with Barclays to deliver this exciting project and their extensive experience will perfectly complement the additional quarters to create greater strength and diversity in supporting early stage businesses.”

“These hubs will be a place for people to create and innovate,” said Ray O’Donoghue, Managing Director of Barclays in the Midlands. “We are very excited to be part of iCentrum®. Our incubator will be a great platform to support fast growing businesses.

“As well as offering facilities such as 3D printers to build and test products, the incubator will target high-growth firms and entrepreneurs who are projecting 20% growth or more, who will benefit from collaborating with other like-minded businesses, as well as receiving mentoring from the bank’s team of industry experts. We want to take our relationship with local entrepreneurs’ one step further, providing them with access to the tools and resources that will help them accelerate growth.”

iCentrum® is being funded through a £7.5m commercial loan, agreed with Birmingham City Council, to cover the main construction and fit-out costs. In addition, Innovation Birmingham secured funding from the GBSLEP’s Enterprise Zone’s Site Development and Access Fund to create additional co-working space in the new building. iCentrum® will provide space for 400 high-value skilled tech jobs at any one time, generating £25 million of GVA to the local economy per annum. The building was one of the first to start on site within the GBSLEP’s Enterprise Zone, which features 30 sites within central Birmingham.

The Innovation Birmingham Campus is currently fully let with an extensive waiting list for space from new and growing tech businesses. Significant investment has ensured its 135 technology tenants can already access 30Gbit/s broadband speeds – equalling the fastest internet connection available anywhere in the UK. iCentrum® is the first building under construction within Innovation Birmingham’s £40m development zone.

For more information on the Serendip incubator or to apply, visit:

Smart cities better defined by new research

Read here:

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have identified a handful of key elements that define ‘smart cities’– cities like Singapore and Copenhagen, which are both at the top of their game in using technology to enable their citizens to enjoy a better quality of life, but in different ways.

Singapore’s vision focusses on developing the ‘smartness’ of its people in using technology, such as wireless communications and energy-efficient appliances or vehicles. This helps people to reduce the need to move or, if necessary, do so more cleanly.

In contrast, Copenhagen’s strategy centres on engaging people, companies and government to create  a ‘green’ economy, as well as ensuring that urban planning allows the city to grow in a way that creates an improving quality of life.

Both cities were used as case studies in the research, which investigates whether smart cities are realising their potential for lower carbon dioxide emissions and is being carried out by a team from the University’s Department of Civil Engineering.

They demonstrate that a smart city can be defined by a vision that includes five key factors: digital technology; environmental sustainability; civic initiatives; mobility; and business. The team discovered that over 70 per cent of activity contributing to a smart city occurred in the first three of these areas.

They have published an online paper into their research – ‘Do smart cities realise their potential for lower carbon dioxide emissions’ – with the Institution of Civil Engineers

Published paper :

PRESS RELEASE: Vanti wins international award

Mike Brooman, CEO of Vanti


Vanti – an audio, visual and IT systems integrator, based at the Innovation Birmingham Campus – has won international recognition as the Most InAVative Corporate Facility at this year’s inAVation Awards.

The event, which was held on the first evening of Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) 2016 in Amsterdam, saw Vanti receive the accolade from a shortlist of six companies, following an intensive application and technical validation process by a panel of industry experts. ISE 2016 is the world’s largest trade show which welcomes over 1,103 of the world’s leading AV manufacturers and press from over 40 different countries across a four day period. This year, the event recorded its highest ever attendance with over 65,686 attendees, a 10.7% increase on 2015.

Established in 2006, Vanti is an award-winning audio-visual and IT systems integration and managed services practice, which works with clients to make the most of their existing or new technology. With an average growth of 32 per cent over the last three years, the company now has 23 team members and is on track to achieve an annual turnover of £3 million by 2017. It also has a number of high profile clients including UBM, Tottenham Hotspur, Canary Wharf Group, Library of Birmingham and BSH Appliances, which includes the Bosch, Siemens and Neff brands.

Mike Brooman, CEO of Vanti, said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to be awarded our second InAVation award and to be recognised for our commitment to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with the latest audio-visual and information technology.

“It’s great that the judges recognised our efforts in creating one of the first truly integrated Smart Buildings in EMEA and picked up on our efforts to not only conserve energy, but also to increase the productivity and wellbeing of the people who use the technology every day.”

At the ISE 2016, Vanti was also awarded an AV News Award for AV Project of the Year. The UK awards recognise the contribution made by individuals and teams to the development of AV business, with special awards to technologists, sales, marketing and support professionals.

Vanti is one of 15 early-stage companies receiving support from Innovation Birmingham’s e4f Inspire programme, which delivers a series of workshops, keynote events, entrepreneur dinners, off-site visits, funded internship/apprenticeship placements, and peer group sessions, in order to accelerate the growth of entrepreneurial tech companies.

For more information on e4f Inspire, please visit:

PRESS RELEASE: Cloud9 continues success with growth of national account


Innovation Birmingham Campus-based telecommunications provider, Cloud9 has marked an end to another successful year with the growth of one of its largest accounts.

Established in 2013, Cloud9 is a strategic communications supplier which provides bespoke project management services for a wide range of connectivity solutions including infrastructure, fixed line, broadband and mobile.

Cloud9 has doubled its annual turnover in the last 12 months, with further plans to accelerate the current pace of growth with ongoing recruitment scheduled for 2016. The company’s success follows a fantastic year which saw one of its largest accounts, international organic tea and food supplement provider, Pukka Herbs, extend their current contract.

During 2016, Pukka Herbs will be relocating its current multi-site office environment to a single office. Cloud9 will be integral in facilitating this move; providing infrastructure, full mobile and fixed line telecommunication services to support the relocation of the business and its 100 staff.

Stuart Allbut, Operations Director at Cloud9, said: “We are thrilled to continue developing our positive working relationship with Pukka Herbs and supporting them in their relocation to Parkview Office campus.

“It has been another fantastic year for Cloud9 and with more and more companies beginning to demand faster broadband and secure mobile connectivity, we look forward to continuing to work with each client on a case-by-case basis to ensure we meet their individual business needs.

“The Innovation Birmingham Campus and the e4f programme has opened up an array of resources and successfully creates a comprehensive support network in and out of the workplace, providing us with the perfect location in which to successfully operate our business.”

Cloud9 has a number of high profile clients including multi-disciplined property consultancy, CP Bigwood; leading UK construction and regeneration group, Morgan Sindall and car dealership franchises comprising Ford, Kia and Peugeot.

120 tech start-ups have been incubated by the Entrepreneurs for the Future programme since November 2009, with over £10 million raised in initial investment rounds. Cloud9 is one of 18 early stage tech companies receiving support from Innovation Birmingham’s ‘e4f Inspire’ programme, which delivers a series of workshops, keynote events, entrepreneur dinners, off-site visits, funded internship/apprenticeship placements, and peer group sessions, in order to accelerate the growth of entrepreneurial tech companies.

For more information on Cloud9, please visit:

For additional information on the e4f programme, visit: