Magpie with Steve Brewer Network Coordinator at University of Southampton

Steve spends his time bringing together academia, policy-makers and commercial research groups to look at the big tech-related challenges that cut across disciplines and sectors.


5 phrases that describe your week so far

Data-hungry, coffee-fuelled, challenging, interconnected and exciting

What’s been the big theme/subject of the last 12 months?

Internet of Things was big wasn’t it but it’s really just a component, the big theme has been seeing technology emerge as a genuine utility – something we can do something with. We all know about the proliferation of consumer apps, but now it’s more a business thing. Think about the problems VW have had with the apparent misuse of data. All of a sudden, big corporations are realising that data is a mission-critical component of their business.

Where do you think all the ideas are coming from right now?

There’s not one leader here. It’s all networked and everything is linked. Of course, the ‘start-up generation’ grab headlines, but it’s the ‘platformization’ of everything which means that people and thinking are all interconnected with greater sharing of tech and APIs. It’s clear that we all need different, as in new, skills and diverse backgrounds to tackle these issues.

What tech finally broke through in the last few months?

Structured messaging services – Slack is a good example. We all operate using multiple devices and locations. Email functionality and its inability to capture structured decision-making is too clunky. On that theme, It’ll be interesting to see how Block-Chain might be looked at by government to better audit public data. This could include property ownership and security of the food chain, not just financial transactions.

One thing we can’t ignore in the next 3 months?

Cyber Security. Clearly large organisations are not as well prepared as they should be. In terms of prevention, reaction and also how they respond and communicate a breach, many are lacking. It’s clear that the threat can and does come from anywhere and anyone.

One trend you’ve seen that can be applied in a different sector?

With our ‘Libraries of the future’ project, we saw how libraries are a gateway of collective knowledge that communities can and do interact with. As an example, think about an old photograph of someone’s grandpa in WWII perhaps taken in Europe or the Far East – what about if relatives could access the meta data to make it more personal and relevant? Policy makers or even brands could use that data to develop a more meaningful relationship with that audience.This is about creating a richer and deeper understanding of who we are as society.

One thing you learnt last week. And from whom?

I learned that there’s no such thing as a typical data scientist. Yes, it is a profession but in a way, we’re all data scientists but we can also be chemists, physicists, coders etc. I discovered this by attending a workshop then a conference closely followed by a trip to Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, near Oxford. After speaking with a scientist there I playfully coined a phrase ‘science-on-demand’ to describe how data is sent into them and they run it, the send back the results.

Which is the next sector ripe for change?

Well there are two really; the coming together of food and health as a connected challenge is big. Agri-Tech, health apps and food info are all big, but.everything from the environment, policy, behavioural change, supply chain and food security can and should be connected. That huge change feels inevitable. As an example, when you hear that the NHS spends £1.5M an hour tackling Diabetes in the UK, it makes you think that with spending at those levels, for an organisation that is the fifth-largest in the world, things have to change.

3 things/products you can’t work without?

Pretty humble really; 1. Wifi, 2. MacBook or other portable device with keyboard, (I can live without email), 3. The online digital calendar.

The secret hack that you’re really loathed to share but must?

I’m afraid It’s not a piece of technology or an app. It’s about a real network. You need to have a broad network of people to talk to. Not just like-minded people.

What are you currently…?

Reading. Enigma: The Battle For The Code by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore.
Clicking. Weekly Email from Ed Vaizey’s Culture and Creative Industries Team.
Watching. Thanks to my son’s Xbox One, I am now watching: The Ipcress File, Mona Lisa and A Most Wanted Man on Blu-ray. All wonderful grainy stuff!

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