Is There Life After a Sabbatical?

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As this blog was set up to focus on the experience of having a sabbatical break from the daily grind, I thought it might be interesting to write a little about the experience of going back to the day job.

It’s hard to believe but I’ve been back to work for almost nine months now. The time has flown by. For the first few months a lot of people said to me things like, “I can’t believe you’ve gone back”, “If I had a break like that I couldn’t go back to work.” and “How are you really finding it?”

I think they (and I) were a little surprised when I replied it was much easier than I thought it would be. This is not to say that the Sunday night before I went back was the most fun I’ve ever had… but I appear to have settled back in surprisingly easily.

A few things have helped. I was busy during the whole of my sabbatical – writing two novels, a book on innovation, helping to create and deliver a new university Masters module and so on. I came back to a different job as the IBM UK technical leader for Retail and Consumer Products industries. This has meant lots of new things to learn – clients, technologies, “contemporary skills” and industry insights. There’s nothing like being busy to keep you on your toes.

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Lastly, I continued the interests I developed in my sabbatical, although (apart from my daily walk) if I’m honest I’d like to spend more time on these than I sometimes can. Editing work on my second novel has taken the biggest hit. It’s been a slow process but watch this space for some exciting announcements. The first novel, “Remember, Remember the 6th of November” should be out in paperback in September, in parallel with the e-book launch of the sequel “1617“.  And of course my “Collaborative Innovation” book was published by Business Expert Press earlier this year.

One thing I have ensured I make time for is my RA Eng Visiting Professorship with the University of Leeds. My most major task here has been the development of a new final year undergraduate module and I’m really proud of this. Innovation Thinking and Practice will begin in September and combines Computing, Business School and other students in teams to develop an innovation prototype and business case. Along the way the students will learn about innovation, design thinking, collaboration, communication skills and commercial awareness.

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My favourite thing at work at the moment focuses on students too. This is an innovation project I’ve created focused on the supply chain challenges of a retailer which we’ve dubbed “Making the Invisible Visible”. The project is staffed by an amazing team of interns (don’t worry they do get paid). Myself, other mentors and a brilliant client team may help give them structure but they don’t need much else. Working with student interns is always a great experience and this team is one of the best.

Of course work-life balance is important. I’m fortunate to have a great and very supportive family and really good friends, some of whom I accompanied on a walking holiday in the Italian Dolomites recently. I had a great time and even if I decided that some (ok most) of the via ferrata was not for me it really is a magical area of the world.

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Although I enjoy my job (most of the time), if I’m honest I work to live rather than live to work. In terms of surviving the return to work from my sabbatical the key for me has been twofold. Firstly I’ve been lucky enough to have an interesting job. Secondly I’ve made a determined effort to focus the rest of my time on the other things I enjoy, including those I had more time for during my break.

If you’re lucky enough to get the opportunity of a sabbatical I’d recommend you take it. At the end, you may even go back to work…!

Story of a Sabbatical

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I’ve been extremely fortunate over the last 12 months to take advantage of the IBM Sabbatical Leave programme, where employees can apply to take time away from work to explore other activities and learn new skills.

On 7th November I go back to work, thankfully with few regrets. It has been a full on year, during which I’ve blogged regularly on what I’ve been up to. The objectives weren’t (only) to annoy those still at work but to share experiences and help anyone else considering doing something similar.

In any case, this is the last of my sabbatical blogs…

As I write, I’ve just re-read the blog written back in November 2015, where I laid out plans for the coming 12 months. I didn’t plan to travel extensively. You can describe what I’ve done as a stay-at-home gap year. But I did have a long wish list – quality time with the family, targeted holidays, music gigs, sports events, lots of walking, tennis, projects in the garden, visiting roles in universities, volunteering, creative writing and so on…

It was probably too long a list but I managed to get most of it done to some extent, apart from the tennis and some of the gardening projects and I’ve added in a few unexpected things too, such as writing a book on collaborative innovation and gaining an acute interest in early 17thCentury history…

The highlights have been many and varied –

  • Writing, self-publishing and finally (attempting to!) market my debut novel – which is raising funds for Save the Children and a local charity for flood victims – more details on the book here
  • Collaborating with universities – particularly the University of Leeds
  • Volunteering, along with my wife, on an archaeological dig
  • Experiencing the response of my local town of Tadcaster to the Boxing Day floods
  • Walking well over 1,000 miles

During the year out I’ve blogged on much of the above, so won’t repeat details here. Instead, I wanted to give a few quick hints and tips for anyone considering taking some time out. As you can see it’s not rocket science but what is (well, apart from rocket science)?

  1. Plan out what you want to do beforehand
  2. Prioritise some things over others – don’t try to do too much
  3. Don’t just lounge around – be active
  4. Enjoy yourself
  5. Give something back
  6. Plan for your return to work from day one – keep in touch with key people and with what’s going on – for example I’ve been keeping up to date with IBM Design Thinking
  7. Maintain some of the things you’ve got involved in after you go back to work – for me this will hopefully be university collaboration, daily walks and novel writing

If you are thinking of taking a sabbatical, my advice is go for it, enjoy it and make it an experience you won’t just remember but will stay with you, to some extent, when you go back to work.

A huge thank you to lots of people. Most of all to my wife, Su, but also to my two daughters, Bethan and Rhian, and wider family and friends – some of whom have probably seen too much of me over the last year, some maybe not enough because I packed in too much, friends and colleagues at IBM and our clients (see many of you soon!), my immediate management chain for enabling me to take this break, the great teams at the universities I’ve worked with and all those who’ve bought and/or supported my book.

A final word on the highlight of my sabbatical – the book. It’s called Remember, Remember the 6th of November and is a combination of historical novel, alternate history and contemporary thriller. The good news is that it has received a series of 5 star reviews on Amazon and is supporting two very good causes. You might like to follow this link and find out more… I’ve learned during the sabbatical that although writing and self publishing a novel take time, for me they were relatively easy. It is the marketing which is the real challenge… Please do buy a copy!

A Novel Idea

I’ve blogged a number of times during my sabbatical about writing a novel. As my sabbatical ends, I’m pleased to say the book is written, published, available on Amazon and thankfully gaining some very good reviews.

It really has been the backbone of my sabbatical. The inspiration for the story came during the first week of my sabbatical in November 2015 and the title includes the date of 6th November when I return to work in 2016 (although this year it’s a Sunday, so it will be Monday 7th when I’m back in the office) and in between there was a lot of work to write it, edit it and edit again. The last few weeks has been the hardest part, for me anyway, marketing it – getting onto local radio stations, articles in local newspapers, fliers, use of social media etc. But what is the inspiration for the story?

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On November 5th 1605 a major terrorist atrocity was prevented in England. If this had not happened, King James I would have been killed, his government devastated and Parliament destroyed. The modern world we live in would be a very different place.

 Each year in the UK we celebrate the events of the Gunpowder Plot on November 5th with fireworks. We call it Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night but what was it really about?

In November 2015, I asked myself this very question and began to look into it. The more I read, the more fascinated I became. The parallels between England in 1605 and today were as alarming as they were interesting. It was a time of religious persecution, concerns over Europe and terrorism, not forgetting the issue of government surveillance. This was not carried out through computer hacking and cyber-security but by an army of government sanctioned watchers, informers and spies, all reporting into sinister Robert Cecil, a man who was Secretary of State, Spymaster General and Big Brother rolled into one.

In fact, it was the people which intrigued me the most. Cecil was one. It is rumoured he was having an affair with Katherine of Suffolk, wife of the King’s Lord Chamberlain. Cecil was also the right hand man of Scots Protestant King, James Stuart, a man who in turn was married to the beautiful Anne of Denmark, a woman who’d been pregnant almost for a decade and was in a constant struggle with her husband to gain custody of her children.

In 1605, the King led a renewed clampdown on England’s Catholics, despite earlier promises to the contrary, heightening tensions in the country and at home, for Anne was a Catholic. Her resentment was further fuelled by being refused the service of her best friend, Beatrix Ruthven, the brothers of whom had been brutally slain in Edinburgh on King James’s orders.

Then, of course we come to the plotters, incensed by this further persecution of their religion. We’ve all heard of brave and strong Guy Fawkes, with his Yorkshire background but, important as he was, he wasn’t the leader of the plotters. This was Robert Catesby, a complex but charismatic character, who over a series of months put together a cell made up of a dozen or more conspirators, some of them related, many from leading Catholic families and all committed to the cause of regime change in England.

Wow, I thought, what a story but then my mind began to play tricks on me. How would the world be altered if the Gunpowder Plot had had a different outcome? Would we put the King on top of the bonfire and not the Guy? Would the country have swung from Protestant extremism to the Protestant-burning ways of Catholic Queen Mary? Or would there have been a massive and bloody civil war, which nobody would have won, with the possible exception of an invading army from France or Spain?

Or could there have been a third way, one which may have led to a more tolerant society? It would seem unlikely but what if, what if, what if?

I posed these questions to Robert Cecil and Katherine of Suffolk and gave them free rein to do what they wanted. I hope you enjoy the results…

Remember, Remember, the 6th of November,

Gunpowder, celebration, the lot.

I see no reason, there are no reasons,

This day should be forgot.

Buy Now on Amazon for Only £1.99

If you are interested there is more information about the book and the good causes it is raising money for on the book’s website 6thnovember.com

Visiting Professorship in Innovation at University of Leeds

must-do-tick-listIn the last blog, I mentioned there were two key things to complete in my sabbatical “must do” list. One was to publish my debut novel (now done – Buy the book here!). The second was to build upon the relationship I’ve developed with academia to put in place something sustainable which I can continue to support alongside the day job, when I return to IBM in November.

I’ve previously blogged about my involvement with universities including Leeds, Reading and Loughborough, so won’t repeat it here. They are all great institutions but the one closest to my home and heart is the University of Leeds.

raeng-logoI was thinking about this earlier in the year, when I delivered a guest seminar at UCL for a Visiting Professor there. This was Hugh Varilly, a great man I’ve known for many years, from his days in IBM as a Distinguished Engineer. Hugh recommended I look into the highly regarded Visiting Professorship scheme run by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The RAEng scheme supports experienced engineers and technical leaders from industry to deliver face-to-face teaching and mentoring at a host institution for three years. The major focus is on enhancing the employability of Engineering students. The Visiting Professors are encouraged to also contribute to postgraduate teaching, curriculum development and sustain their impact beyond the three year time frame. This sounded like a great programme and aligned very much with what I wished to do.

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Much of my engagement with the University of Leeds to date had been with the team in the Business School, working with Professor Krsto Pandza and his colleagues in areas related to innovation and the exploitation of emerging technologies to drive business value. A number of these activities directly supported students in both the Business School and the Faculty of Engineering.

In order to discuss the RAEng scheme in more detail, Prof Pandza and I spent time with Professor Peter Jimack, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering. We had a great discussion on how a Visiting Professor could support the employability of students across the five schools in the Engineering faculty by supplementing and supporting the excellent programmes already in place. We discussed ideas for modules and workshops and the need for engineering students to develop above-domain skills, particularly to assist with successful applications for placements and full time jobs and to enable engineers to make an impact once employed. These included innovation and design thinking, commercial awareness, collaboration and client facing skills.


To cut a long story short, we agreed to develop an application for the RAEng VP scheme. I’m delighted to say we’ve been successful and in September 2016 I was appointed RAEng sponsored Visiting Professor for Innovation at the University of Leeds.

Of course, the real work starts now. I’ll be involved in a new workshop, as part of the existing Employability programme led by Emily Timson. Work is starting with Professors Levesley and Pandza to verify potential for a new innovation module, integrating with existing and planned programmes. I’ll work with Assistant Prof Matthew Mount to teach the great new Innovation Management in Practice module (which brings together Engineering and Business School in a very innovative way) and many other things I’m sure.

One of the most positive things for me is that IBM recognises the value of collaborations like this – for the individual, the students, the University and for IBM and its clients too.

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Lastly, I’d like to thank many people for their support over the last year and during the RAEng application process. There are too many to list here but they include Prof Pandza, Prof Jimack, Steve Legg in the IBM Universities programme, Hugh Varilly, Ian Nussey, the RAEng, IBM and University of Leeds teams in general. (Let’s hope I never get invited to the Oscars). Your advice, guidance and wisdom has been invaluable. I’m fortune to have such great support and I’m really looking forward to working with the brilliant team of academics, supporting staff and students at the University of Leeds over the next three years and hopefully beyond.

Meet the Author – Buy the Book – Adventures into Self Publishing

As my year long sabbatical reaches the final stages, I’m keen to complete two things on my “must do” list. One is related to university interests and I’ll cover in a future blog. The second is to complete my first novel and get it published so that people (if they want to) can read it.

slide1The novel, REMEMBER, REMEMBER THE 6TH OF NOVEMBER, is set at the time of the Gunpowder Plot. It explores the alarming parallels between the Britain of 1605 and today – concerns over Europe, terrorism and government surveillance. The story combines real life events with an alternative history view of a time when King James was persecuting England’s Catholics and Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plotters planned to blow up Parliament and kill the king. There are spies, plots, treachery and torture. I think of it as a contemporary thriller set in an earlier time.

I completed early edits of the novel and put it out for review by a local book club. Their feedback was fair, constructive and overall very positive. It helped me complete an additional cycle of editing in the summer.  I learned, from an author’s point of view, a book is never quite finished but you have to stop editing some time – so I did.

Hooray, the book was written but how could I get people to read it? I sent it to a small number of literary agents but as with JK Rowling and others, I received a polite “no thank you”. One approach (which led to the success of Harry Potter) is keep trying and send it to more agents.

bonfire-picHowever, I was working to a schedule. Firstly, I return to work on 6th November (note link to the book title). Secondly, it would be great if the book was available this year for the run up to Guy Fawkes Night on 5th November.

tadcaster-floodsThere was another consideration. I wanted to give something back as part of my sabbatical and selling a book can generate money without having to run a marathon or climb a mountain… All profits made from the book in 2016 will be shared equally between two very good causes – one local (Tadcaster Flood Support and Fundraising Group) and one national / international (Save the Children).

For these reasons, I opted to explore self-publishing and researched how to do this online. I read several posts saying the Amazon Kindle platform is hard to format your book for and everything takes a long time, etc etc which concerned me.

On the positive side, I found this helpful link, How to Quickly Publish to Kindle, which describes how to take content out of MS Word into a great package for writing called Scrivener and publish an e-book. As I’d already decided to use Scrivener, this simple article saved me lots of time. Very quickly, my book was compiled into multiple e-book formats and if I say so myself (with my daughter’s artwork for the cover) it looked quite good on the previewer software.
quill-1cThe book was ready… Last weekend I went onto the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing website and reviewed the details, set up an account and published the book over a few hours. It was surprisingly straight forward. Once this was done, I sent an email to a dozen people I trust and asked them to have a look at the book and let me know what they think. They’ve been great as almost all of them bought a copy and I know many are already reading it (thank you!).

What now? The hard work proper starts. With the book available – links below – I need to work out how best to promote it so people know about it, buy it and read it. This is a key activity. I have lots of ideas which I plan to soon follow up on but I’m keen to learn from others – your hints, tips and ideas are very welcome.

Finally, I can’t end this blog without asking you to buy the book to raise funds for the two very good causes. If you do, please let me know what you think and if appropriate post a positive review on Amazon for those who come after you.

Many other country Amazon Stores available

Follow the story unfold in the coming weeks Twitter.com/MorgantheBook

Find out more and read interview with the author www.6thnovember.com

Many thanks, Tony.

Empathy, Empathy… through Design Thinking

I believe Design Thinking is very important. This must be true because despite the great weather I took a break from my sabbatical in July 2016 to attend an education event on applying IBM Design Thinking to collaborative services engagements between clients and suppliers.

To mis-quote Shakespeare and the Carry On films I personally think the slogan of Design Thinking should be Empathy, empathy, they’ve all got it empathy…

We’ve all seen great technical solutions which aren’t effective because insufficient consideration was given to how they would be used. The key to Design Thinking is simple – absolute importance on focusing on the people. You have to talk to them, work with them, understand them. Design Thinking and IBM’s own IBM Design Thinking provide a great set of tools, techniques and approaches to do this. Visit the IBM Design Thinking web pages to find out more.

Over the last two years we’ve incorporated increasing focus on IBM Design Thinking in our internal IBM Client Innovation Master Classes. They provide a set of new and indispensable tools to add to the client facing technical professional’s innovation kit bag. Outside IBM, one of the modules I support as part of my Visiting role at the University of Leeds in the Global Innovation Management program also includes focus on Design Thinking.

Back to the class on using IBM Design Thinking for services engagements… Now, you may ask “Design Thinking is great but isn’t it really about driving end user centric design of new products and apps?”. My view is that Design Thinking and IBM Design Thinking in particular can be applied in many many contexts and it is the context which is key.

Sharpie and Post Its

Whether designing a new service, working on a services sales engagement or co-developing with a client how the service will be implemented, run and managed, it should still always be about the people – and using a variety of IBM Design Thinking tools and approaches will ensure what is designed, sold and/or delivered will be what the people (client team, supplier team and most importantly the internal or external users or customers of the service) need, want and value.

Thanks to Danny, Ian, Sarah and Doug for a great class which really highlighted how IBM Design Thinking can be applied in a services context.

Lastly I was still on sabbatical and the weather was great so I did get outside at lunchtime and found a lovely walk very near to IBM Warwick (pictures below).

Do All Roads Lead to Rome?

This time the blog focuses on 4 days spent in and around a trench in North Yorkshire – searching for evidence of a Roman road.

During my sabbatical I’m packing in different things. In June 2016, Mrs M and I volunteered to support an archaeological dig near Towton. In 1461 the area was the scene of Britain’s bloodiest battle. Chilling to think 20,000 people were killed in the picturesque fields around us. Many digs have focused on the battle but we looked further back. Could we uncover evidence of a Roman road beneath or near to the Old London Road, prior to resurfacing work on the modern track?

The excavation was organised by Towton Parish Council, supported by the UK Heritage Lottery Fund. It was led by professional archaeologists from the University of York. Tim Sutherland (a leading expert on Towton) was Project Director and Rachel Wood our Project Supervisor. The rest of the team were local volunteers organised by Parish Councillor, Graham Webb, plus a few PhD students and two enthusiastic historical event re-enactors.

Arriving on Day 1 Rachel gave us a heath and safety brief and intro to the dig. Some of the volunteers had experience, whilst others, like us, were first timers, inspired by an interest in local history. Rachel was great – ensuring everyone had useful things to do and enjoyed themselves at the same time. The work started quickly. An area had been fenced off and a trench marked up. Sadly there was no digger in sight, just a row of spades and pick-like mattocks. We were soon all hard at work, taking up turf, top soil and stones from the surface. It wasn’t long before we discovered another surface beneath the current track. This was clearly a road (pic below).

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Was it Roman? Unfortunately it was not far beneath the surface and there was no sign of Roman activity. Still it was great to find something so quickly and we likely discovered the main road from several hundred years ago. Much of the afternoon of Day 1 and a lot of Day 2 saw troweling activity, clearing the soil from around the uncovered road surface and searching for finds. A small number of items were selected and bagged for future inspection. The trench was then professionally measured and photographed.

On Day 3 it was time to go deeper and wider. The deeper part was to dig a strip in the trench to see if there was an older road surface, ditch and/or other features beneath our feet. The wider aspect was to begin a geophysical survey adjacent to the site for evidence of what was around us. Members of the team also sieved through the spoil taken from the trench, finding for example a fascinating small spherical object, too light for a standard musket round but worthy of follow up expert analysis.

We went home tired but happy on Day 3, ready for the final push. The weather had been tremendous and the area we were in, surrounded by swaying barley fields and woodland, was beautiful. However, that evening the heavens opened and thunder, lightening and heavy rain was all around. When we returned on Day 4, areas of the trench were a quagmire with standing water in some parts. Thankfully a quick bailing operation, sunshine and a breeze dried things out very well.

Work on a much deeper strip began in earnest, with plaudits to Richard, Tim, Rachel and Fergus for their hard-working spells in the hole. More and more clay soil was removed and barrowed away but if the Romans were down there they were still in hiding. There were, though, a number of very interesting features which in combination with the geophys results may yet highlight something quite unexpected.

The second half of Day 4 saw the final part of the geophysical survey, clean up, troweling, edging and brushing clean of the whole trench and deeper strip. We posed for a group photograph and Tim gave a great talk explaining what we had found – not a Roman road but we had uncovered a later road and the geophysics may yet find out more. We tidied up the site and left for home, leaving Tim to complete the detailed final site survey and measurements, with the trench to be filled in the following day.

Overall this was a great experience. Hard work at times and I give tribute to some of the others here – heroes of the spade and mattock. Personally I particularly enjoyed troweling and the geophysics, talking to the many visitors to the site, lunch at the Rockingham Arms and the general camaraderie. I also stopped a number of times, looked around and thought of the people who had passed by over the centuries and millennia. We didn’t find a Roman road but we all learned and experienced a great deal. I think the Roman road is there, somewhere near to where we were and one day it will be uncovered and it probably leads to Tadcaster.

Mid Sabbatical Blues?

The last few weeks have brought home to me the fact that I am now more than half way through my sabbatical. The end is in sight so am I starting to feel the blues?

The honest answer is no. It has been great to pack so many things in – and there is a lot more I want to do too in the remaining time.

My debut novel has been written, reviewed, edited and is on its way to a set of literary agents. I await their response and have already started work on the sequel.

A few weeks ago I completed one of my “about time you did this” items – attending my first cricket Test Match – England v Sri Lanka at Headingley in Leeds. The weather held out and it was really good fun with good cricket and a great atmosphere in the ground. On a musical note I went home to Wales last week to see the Manic Street Preachers play in Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium and they were great. Two events I’ll remember for a long time.

Lots of fun but it is important not to totally forget about work during your time away… You need to keep up to date and maintain contact with people – remind them you’re still around and importantly when you’re coming back.

Recently I was asked to support a major IBM education event for client facing technical leaders across Europe. This was held in Lisbon in Portugal at the end of May. I took time out of my sabbatical to co-create and lead one of the main sessions. It was hard work guiding 400 people from many different countries through a set of highly interactive and challenging exercises using Innovation, IBM Design Thinking and other techniques but fun and interesting too – and I did get to see a bit of this great city.

I met a many colleagues and friends and made some new ones – and had a number of initial conversations around specific job roles to return into. This will be something I will be focusing on more during the second half of my sabbatical.

In the meantime I will also be walking, spending time in the garden, attending a few more music, comedy and sporting events, celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary with the long-suffering Mrs M, hopefully making strong progress on the second novel and definitely continuing to work with academia, particularly the great team at the University of Leeds.

So it’s a busy few months ahead… and the only blues should be of the musical variety…

LUBS Visit to IBM Emerging Technologies

Part of my sabbatical has been spending time with academia and I’ve learned there are some great things going on at our universities.

In the spirit of the annual Leeds/Reading music festival (best bands I’ve seen there were The Arctic Monkeys and The Hives) I’ve created two parallel blogs – one with an example from Leeds and one from Reading.

This is the Leeds one – about the Leeds University Business School MSc in Global Innovation Management Visit to IBM Hursley. (Link to Reading blog).

This is a great MSc course and I’ve blogged previously about the Innovation Management in Practice module which is now an important part of it.

The first time I was engaged with the MSc course was early in 2015 when I hosted a visit for the students to see innovation in action at IBM Hursley. We repeated the visit for this year’s class in March 2016.

Leeds Hursley 2016 pic3aLeeds Hursley 2016 pic1

In their course the students have learned a lot about the technology push and market pull aspects of innovation. The focus of the visits has been on learning and experiencing real examples of the application of emerging technologies at the sharp end of this intersection between the push and pull forces.

We included short talks on making innovation happen, visits to the IBM Innovation Centre and lots of time with members of the IBM Emerging Technology Services team – including discussion sessions, lab visits and technology demos from IBM Senior and Master Inventors.

Leeds team ETS labLeeds Hursley 2016 pic5

Technology focus areas covered included The Internet of Things, Mobile, Augmented Reality and of course IBM Watson cognitive technologies.

The students fed back it was a fantastic experience. They were inspired by seeing new and emerging technologies being applied to drive business value across many spheres and industries.

Leeds team HursleyLeeds Hursley 2016 pic4

Industry engagement like this is a very practical way for universities to help their students learn from “the real world” and I think it is great that universities like Leeds really focus on this.

Personally I love going to Hursley and catching up with what is happening and meeting colleagues and friends, old and new. My biggest thanks are to the two IBM leaders who helped to make these visits happen and work – Kevin Turner in 2015 and Helen McAllister in 2016 – many thanks to you both and the teams who supported.

We’re now looking forward to the next visit in 2017.

Reading Uni Technology Advisory Practices Client Projects

Part of my sabbatical has been spending time with academia and I’ve learned there are some great things going on at our universities.

In the spirit of the annual Reading/Leeds music festival (best bands I’ve seen there were The Arctic Monkeys and The Hives) I’ve created two parallel blogs – one with an example from Leeds and one from Reading.

This is the Reading one – about the Henley Business School Technology Advisory Practices development and delivery of live client projects. (Link to Leeds blog)

Henley 2016 pic3

A little while ago one of my favourite people in the IBM Cloud business, Doug Clark introduced me to Dr Danny Gozman at Henley Business School. Danny and I got talking about technology, innovation and areas of mutual interest.

I enthused about my love of the IBM Extreme Blue programme, where top talent student interns work on real client challenges and deliver totally new prototype solutions – and then Danny told me about the Technology Advisory Practices module which he runs for undergraduates. This sounded great – the undergraduates work in teams with external organisations, often charities, to deliver a consultation style project to address one or more of their key opportunities or challenges.

Given my experience of Extreme Blue, Danny asked if I’d like to get involved with the module in 2016 and I quickly said yes.

As well as giving the students a project, a client and support, Danny and team (including Jonathan Mangan) bring in a series of guests from industry to spend half a day each week with the students. This time includes a guest lecture on relevant and useful topics and most importantly an amount of quality time with each team to discuss and review their project and progress – and provide advice and guidance from the years of client facing industry experience.

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I must say I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the students. The quality of their questions and insights made me quickly forget they were undergraduates rather than experienced professionals.

The module culminates with a presentation day when the teams present to their clients, an industry panel and the Mayor of Reading. I was delighted to be part of the panel for the presentation day on March 2016.

Henley 2016 pic4Henley 2016 pic5

I was hugely impressed with the quality of the project deliverables and presentations. Talking to the other panel members (Richard Sykes and Alex Furneaux) we were all amazed by the way the students had taken on board the advice we had given to them and then merged this with their own thinking and insights. The clients were all very appreciative and every single one said they were going to implement some or all of the students work and recommendations.

Henley 2016 pic6

To be an undergraduate with this level of real world experience (positives, frustrations, team working, job satisfaction) must be an amazing thing.

Setting up, supporting and delivering projects like this is no mean feat. The module is a credit to the university. A huge well done to the students and to Danny and the Henley team.