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Live Labs blog: Procurement, innovation and learning

22 October 2019

Giles Perkins, Programme Director, talks about Live Labs learning.

Innovation is one of those words that means different things to different people. In our case, it’s focused around our four enabling ‘smarts’ of materials, energy, communications and mobility in local roads, but there is so much more to innovation than the things we develop, build, test and implement.

Our eight Live Labs projects are wide ranging, looking at everything from plastic in roads to 3D printed components, from the deployment of sensors to data analytics. This, alongside the breadth of public and private sector partners, means that we’re also at the forefront of innovation in an often forgotten area – procurement. 

Traditional procurement involves specifying requirements and inviting the market to respond against measurable outputs. In contrast, our Live Labs are taking a more holistic, outcome led approach, tackling fundamental questions of how technology can improve customers’ journeys, local neighbourhoods or operational regimes. 

Live Labs is about innovation at scale. Some of our projects are capitalising upon existing programmes and relationships, scaling these to significant deployments and then testing their efficacy. Others are innovating from the ground up, with new applications of sometimes proprietary or even brand-new technologies and approaches. Common to many is the widescale use of data and analytics.

The teams are wrestling with complex, overlapping issues - the consideration of data and software, the application of technologies with limited suppliers, intrinsic partnerships with the private sector and enabling creativity and participation by SMEs. These all present distinct challenges within existing models of procurement and the necessary checks and balances which are there to protect public sector investments. Add to all this the fundamental imperative to test and ultimately prove innovation at scale, and our procurement teams are led into some interesting territories.

Project teams have approached this by focusing on their programme needs, envisaged outcomes and pre-existing relationships. Their innovation and learning are of significant value, not only for our partners, but for wider industry, where inevitably, the inexorable pace of technological change, the need for agility and the breadth of potential future partners will impact right across the public sector.

Live Labs is not an isolated programme in this regard. Innovate UK funding calls are built around similar innovation aims and the Future Mobility Zone fund has at-scale application of innovative technology at its core. 

Communicating our Live Labs learning is at the heart of the programme, whether that’s the outcomes from new technology or how we made it happen. Our teams will be presenting at the upcoming ADEPT Autumn Conference, so come and find out first-hand how they’ve brought innovation to those crucial mobilisation stages.