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Atkins - supporting digital evolution

6 September 2021

Our latest blog is another Commissioning Board perspective, this time from Atkins’ Jason Pavey.

I’m thrilled that Atkins has been a Corporate Sponsor of ADEPT for several years, and I’ve been lucky to have been involved in the SMART Places Live Labs programme since its inception. In my mind, bringing the public and private sectors together has created an opportunity to collaborate and drive more innovation than each party would have achieved on its own. Live Labs is the perfect example of that synergy and is something that has been close to my heart. 

Atkins involvement started back in 2017 with the ‘ADEPT SMART Places Research Programme’. As with many research and innovation programmes, you often don’t always know your final destination and need to pivot and adapt along the way. The SMART Places programme combined with other research programmes to shape what we now recognise as Live Labs.

How often do you see a range of public and private partners coming together with a shared goal of testing real life solutions on our highway networks? 

Each partner organisation brought a combination of expertise, funding, drive and most importantly, a passion for wanting to do things differently. My personal thanks go to Neil Gibson, former ADEPT President, whose influence, leadership and sheer strength of will were pivotal in securing £22.9m of funding from the Department for Transport (DfT). I was also suitably impressed at how the DfT not only adopted the Live Labs spirit but translated and navigated Ministers through the concept to secure funding. It really does show the art of the possible when guiding minds come together.

I’ve been privileged to represent Atkins on the Live Labs Commissioning Board alongside other public and private sector organisations in helping to guide and oversee the programme coming to fruition. Besides financial sponsorship and senior time, a number of the private sector partners have provided early careers resources to work on the programme. I’ve seen first-hand the positive benefit and experience this has had both on the programme, but importantly, the development of future talent. For example, one of Atkins early careers staff members, Richard Evans is currently supporting the management of the communications strategy for this important and innovative programme.

Following an initial assessment and sifting process, the programme adopted an innovative ‘Dragon’s Den’ type approach where shortlisted consortia/bidders pitched their ideas against a series of categories:

  • Adoption of smart energy solutions
  • Deployment of smart materials
  • Use of smart communications and data technology 
  • Enabling smart mobility and inclusion

Underpinning this, and what I believe to be a critical success criteria, was our vision to create an open culture across all successful bidders, enabling the sharing of data, best practice ideas and intellectual property. Scalability will be key to our wider sector success and we have strived to break down barriers and open intellectual property (IP) wherever possible. The Highways Sector has persisted in low productivity and resistance to really scaling new technology and digital solutions – I hope the Live Labs programme leaves a legacy and culture change for the future.

We are now facing new challenges, such as responding to the climate emergency, recovering from pandemics through to fiscal/funding challenges. To address these dynamic issues, we will need to scale up the levels of collaboration and innovation that the Live Labs programme has shown is possible.