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A report from the Federation of Small Business (FSB) has claimed that Scotland has the worst mobile coverage in the UK. Citing the Scottish government’s own research, the organisation wants the planning rules relaxed to allow development which would boost coverage.

Andy Willox Change the rules to improve coverage

Andy Willox
Change the rules to improve coverage

Although the Government has said that it was “committed to improving mobile coverage in Scotland”, the evidence suggests that over a quarter of the country doesn’t enjoy adequate coverage. For the FSB, that isn’t good enough with Andy Willox, its Scottish policy convenor, insisting that good quality mobile phone coverage for businesses was not a luxury but a necessity.

“Too much of Scotland doesn’t have adequate mobile phone coverage,” he said. “Our members tell us that new technology will be vital to grow their business and our visitors tell us that they want to use their mobile devices if they’re in the centre of Edinburgh or on the Isle of Mull.

“We’re writing to the Scottish government backing their proposals to amend the planning system and improve Scotland’s levels of connectivity. But that can’t be the end of the story. Businesses and their customers across Scotland want better coverage and we must see bold action to ensure that no part of the country is left behind. It is unacceptable that a quarter of Scotland doesn’t even have a 2G signal.”

Coverage in some rural areas can be very poor

Coverage in some rural areas can be very poor

The evidence comes from a Scottish government report, published last autumn, which acknowledged that more than a quarter of the country had 2G coverage that was either “fair” or “poor”. What that means is that users would find the signal was “insufficient for good quality connection”. By combining data from a number of sources such the Scottish Ambulance Service and Scotrail, it also reached the conclusion that the majority of Scotland’s land mass lacked good quality 3G coverage.

Mr Willox went on to say that the figures suggested that “Scotland has the worst coverage amongst UK nations. We must get to grips with this problem before our businesses lose out to better connected competitors and visitors don’t come to Scotland for fear of being cut off from the rest of the planet.”

In a statement, the Scottish Government said it was “committed to improving mobile coverage in Scotland. Achieving widespread 4G coverage, whilst ensuring that the gap between those who do not receive 3G or even 2G services does not widen, is a priority. The proposals will encourage operators to make use of existing sites.”

mobile phone research

Fife College

Scottish tourism is booming, with new technology heralding the way forward for business growth. However, the tourist sector needs help to tap into the available expertise. That’s why Interface, the organisation which acts as a bureau to link business and academia, is hosting the latest in a series of events around the country, this one in Fife. It wants companies across Fife to consider the ‘digital tourist’ and take advantage of new revenue streams.

Old Course Hotel 10The free event will be held on the 25th of March and the organisers want as many local businesses as possible to know about it. It’s open to all firms involved in tourism, focusing on how they can be more creative in the ways in which they cater for the modern tourist, how they can take advantage of financial opportunities, and how they can exceed expectations of visitors through the use of technology.

“With a steady increase in both home and overseas visitors to Scotland,” said Alan Feighery, Operations Manager at Interface, “any business operating in the tourism industry must ensure they are aware of the impact of digital advances and the real need to invest in technology, so they can ensure they’re not missing out on opportunities that being exploited by their competitors.

“We’ve hosted similar events such as this in the Highlands & Islands, and it’s clear that there’s a real push from tourism businesses wanting to engage with digital technologies but not knowing quite where to start. We can help match these tourism organisations with experts, and identify funding opportunities to help them start their digital journey.”

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that, in the twelve months to October 2013, the number of tourists visiting Scotland increased by two per cent – but their spending went up by four percent over the same period. To reinforce the point, the professional services firm, Deloitte, recently reported that Scotland had the second largest tourism economy in the UK – which accounted for almost 10% of the 2013 UK tourism spend, with the total tourism spend in Scotland for the year being £10.9bn – and total spending growing year-on-year by nearly 11% in real terms since 2012.

Tourist Stats

Source – Deloitte. Tourism: jobs & growth

Professor Aaron Quigley, Chair of Human Computer Interaction in the School of Computer Science at the University of St. Andrews, will be speaking at the seminar.

Prof Aaron Quigley Tech-savy tourists

Prof Aaron Quigley
Tech-savy tourists

He argues that a “one size fits all approach to influencing consumer behaviour, cannot exist in these times of social media and instant access to information. Businesses need to be aware of how their customers want to interact with them, and just how they consume information.

“Before they’ve even booked their holiday, accommodation, or excursions, more often than not, they’ve gone online, checked out what social media sites have to say, checked TripAdvisor and looked to see what your website says about you. Businesses need to know how to use all these outlets to build their brand and perfect the ‘visitor experience’ before they’ve even arrived.

“The challenge in the future,” he added, “isn’t to develop the next version of your website or an app, instead it’s to consider how the tourist experience before, during and after they visit will be fundamentally changed as technology further weaves itself into the fabric of life.”

Alan Feighery believes that the event, held with the backing of Fife Tourism Partnership, “will not only touch on the social media aspect of communicating with customers – and getting your share of the £10.9bn that tourists spent in Scotland last year, but will also look at the future technology trends, what organisations in the tourism sector should be looking towards and how investing in technology now could help drive customer loyalty and profits.”

The Royal Society of Edinburgh – founded in 1783

It’s only taken 231 years – but the Royal Society of Edinburgh has finally chosen a woman as its President-elect. She is the astrophysicist and prominent science communicator, Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE, FRS, FRSE. This follows a ballot of all RSE Fellows which saw an overwhelming response in favour of her nomination. She will succeed the current President, Sir John Arbuthnott MRIA, PRSE, in October.

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Dame Jocelyn is best known for discovering pulsars, one of the most significant scientific achievements of the twentieth century. These rapidly spinning neutron stars are formed in supernova explosions, the phenomena which make life in the universe possible. At the time Dame Jocelyn was a PhD student in radio astronomy at the University of Cambridge. Her supervisor Antony Hewish subsequently went on to win the 1974 Nobel Prize for Physics in recognition of the discovery, sharing it with the head of the group, Martin Ryle.

She has been an influential campaigner in efforts to raise the number and profile of women in professional and academic science posts. In 2013, she was named in the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour ‘Power List’ of the 100 most influential women in the UK. In 2012, she chaired the group that produced the RSE’s highly-regarded Tapping All Our Talents report on a Scottish strategy for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Dame Jocelyn will begin her three year tenure as RSE President in October 2014. She takes over from Sir John whose period in office has, amongst several achievements, seen the delivery of the landmark Enlightening the Constitutional Debate series of events and the development of research links with China including the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the RSE and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Dame Jocelyn is currently Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford with research interests in neutron stars, micro quasars and gamma ray bursts. She has more than 20 Honorary Degrees, including from Harvard and five Scottish Universities. She received a DBE for services to astronomy in 2007. She said she was looking forward “to serving the Royal Society of Edinburgh as its President from October this year. This will be an important time for Scotland as it finds its way forward following the referendum.”

Grants of £40,000 available for innovative companies

INTERFACE, the organisation which promotes partnerships between business and academics, has called on Food and Drink organisations across Scotland to showcase their ideas and innovations. The best will be in with a chance of winning a five-figure grant. It follows the success of last year’s inaugural competition. Winners will have the chance of getting up to £40,000 funding for their project.

Helen Pratt  Firms 'pushing the boundaries with food & drink innovation'

Helen Pratt
Firms ‘pushing the boundaries with food & drink innovation’

Interface Food & Drink is looking for companies to show off innovative solutions to key areas of concern to the industry — energy and resource efficiency, waste reduction and improved manufacturing techniques. All of these can lead to significant cost reductions, shelf life extension and increased export potential.

“The competition aims to stimulate innovation and the adoption of new technologies across the Scottish food & drink sector’” said Helen Pratt, the competition’s national co-ordinator. “Last year we had a number of superb entries from both internationally known organisations, as well as smaller, local companies. We know that there are businesses which are currently pushing the boundaries with food & drink innovation – and it’s those types of projects that we want to hear about.”

The 2013 winners of the competition, each of whom received a £25,000 grant to support collaborative projects with Scotland’s leading food & drink academics, were Edinburgh-based Mara Seaweed, North Lanarkshire’s collagen food casing manufacturer Devro, and Hamilton’s Lightbody Group.

As Helen Pratt was keen to stress, “Scotland’s Food & Drink industry generates more than £10bn each year for the Scottish economy, so it’s of the utmost importance that organisations are supported in developing new technologies and innovations that will ultimately help further the sector and stimulate both business and economic growth. This competition does just that – linking businesses to world-leading academics in order to develop solutions to issues that affect the entire industry.”

The Interface Food & Drink Innovation Competition is open to Scottish universities or Scottish businesses or food & drink trade organisations, but must involve both industry and academic partners. The closing date for entries is Wednesday 12th March 2014. For further information on the competition or to find out how Interface Food & Drink can help with finding both industry and academic partners for projects, please email Interface Food and Drink or call 0131 561 4019.

Redeem is headquartered in Bathgate

One of Scotland’s fastest growing companies – the electronic device recycler, Redeem Holdings – has taken over one of its rivals, Eazyfone, for an undisclosed sum. The Bathgate-based firm said this would give it greater processing capacity as well as adding the Envirofone brand, the name Eazyfone trades under, to its portfolio. The move cements the company’s position as the UK’s largest mobile recycling company based on volume.

Claes Svensson  CEO of Redeem

Claes Svensson
CEO of Redeem

Chief executive, Claes Svensson said the acquisition would “enhance our processing capacity and provide new sales channels in new markets across the world. The integration of Eazyfone into Redeem’s global operations will give customers more flexibility to realise the optimum value for their used handset.

“This move is a significant step forward for both businesses. Envirofone’s consumer platform has become a powerful and trusted brand over the past ten years and this is something we’ll look to develop throughout the entire group. This addition to Redeem’s portfolio improves our capability to deliver market-leading buy-back, trade-in, refurbishment and wholesale solutions for operators, retailers, corporates and consumers across Europe.”

He pointed out that there are believed to be over 124 million unused handsets languishing in British homes. The consumer market which Envirofone has targeted should open up a direct-to-consumer market for Redeem, estimated to be worth £11 billion.

Advanced technology on Eigg and Fair Isle

Williams Advanced Engineering, the division of Williams that commercialises Formula One derived technologies, is embarking on a project to install flywheel energy storage technology in two remote Scottish island communities to help stabilise their power grids, improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions from non-renewable power sources.

Racing technology put to a practical use

Racing technology
put to a practical use

The Isle of Eigg and Fair Isle will be the first sites in Europe to install this kind of energy storage technology into their power networks. Originally pioneered by Williams for Grand Prix racing following the introduction of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) into the sport in 2009, the technology has since been introduced by the company into a range of applications outside of motor racing such as hybrid buses. The project is being partially funded by an extended grant from the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) Energy Entrepreneurs Fund which aims to encourage innovation in the low carbon sector.

The high tech firm has joined forces with the Fair Isle Electricity Company and Eigg Electric to identify possible operational improvements, energy saving and environmental benefits from installing the technology on each island. The Fair Isle power network relies heavily on wind turbines and diesel generators to supplement the power system and can only guarantee power during the day. Williams Advanced Engineering’s flywheel technology will smooth the power flowing from the wind turbines and inject stored energy when needed. This will improve the quality of power received by residents and reduce the reliance on costly diesel generators that produce high CO2 emissions.

Robert Mitchell, Director of Fair Isle Electric Company, said: “We are delighted that Williams Advanced Engineering is going to be installing this equipment in 2014. This will provide a much needed “buffer” to improve our power quality and reduce how often we use the diesel generators. Our two wind turbines produce more than enough power most of the time but they cannot store energy so this will be an excellent addition.”

Paul Newsome  Chief Technical Officer  Williams Advanced Engineering

Paul Newsome
Chief Technical Officer
Williams Advanced Engineering

The island’s power network uses a mix of renewable sources, including solar, hydro and wind power. It currently uses lead acid batteries to store excess renewable energy and smooth the flow of power. Using batteries in this way means that the system doesn’t need diesel generators but their life span is cut short. Williams’ flywheel energy storage system can take on this role so that the batteries can then be used for their main job of long term bulk energy storage.

Paul Newsome, Chief Technical Officer of Williams Advanced Engineering, added: “Energy efficient technologies are at the heart of Williams’ diversification strategy and this project is a very tangible example of how technology originally developed for Formula One racing can have a direct relevance to people’s lives. Finding ways to make renewable energy more efficient and reliable is increasingly important, particularly in remote locations that rely on this form of power, and this ground breaking partnership will help demonstrate the strong potential of Williams Advanced Engineering’s solution.”

Tidal Turbine

Research by scientists from Edinburgh and Oxfod Universities suggests that the Pentland Firth could provide up to half of Scotland’s power from renewable energy. The firth, between Orkney and Caithness, has some of the fastest tidal currents in the UK – though generating that power is fraught with difficulty. Currents there are among the fastest in the world, with speeds of more than 18mph reported.

Prof Guy Houlsby 'Best tidal resources worldwide'

Prof Guy Houlsby
‘Best tidal resources worldwide’

A number of individual sites have already been earmarked for development by the UK Crown Estate, which owns the seabed. They were chosen in areas which would minimise the impact on sea life and shipping. In this new report, the engineers explained that, to extract the maximum power (estimated at 1.9GW), turbines would have to be placed across the entire width of the channel. They also suggested locations where turbines should be placed to achieve the best results for producing green energy.

Prof Guy Houlsby from the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford, who led the study, said that the UK enjoyed “potentially some of the best tidal resources worldwide, and if we exploit them wisely they could make an important contribution to our energy supply. With careful planning we can harness Scotland’s tidal energy to help cut our climate emissions while safeguarding the nation’s tremendous marine environment”

Prof Alistair Borthwick of the school of engineering at the University of Edinburgh added that the research “builds on earlier studies by analysing the interactions between turbines and the tides more closely. This is a more accurate approach than was used in the early days of tidal stream power assessment, and should be useful in calculating how much power might realistically be recoverable from the Pentland Firth.”

In September, energy company MeyGen was given permission to install what was then described as the “largest tidal turbine array in Europe” in the Pentland Firth, the first such commercial deployment in Scottish waters.

The Scottish Government’s stated aim is to generate 50% of electricity consumption from renewables by next year. It wants to see that that figure rise to 100% by 2020. First Minister, Alex Salmond, once hailed the Pentland Firth as having the potential to turn Scotland into the “Saudi Arabia of renewable energy”.

A lot of very old IT infrastructure underpins the banking system

By Feng Li, City University London

A KPMG report warned last year that the next systemic shock to UK banking could come from an as yet unforeseen event, such as a massive payment outage or a cyber attack. Since the IT systems in most banks are complex and some essential parts of these systems are very old, a system outage is almost inevitable. The IT systems that hold up our every financial move are a disaster waiting to happen.

A few days to disaster

In the summer of 2012, a routine software update in India caused an IT meltdown at the Royal Bank of Scotland. As a result, 17 million customers were locked out of their accounts for days. This was followed by a hardware failure in March 2013 that prevented millions of customers from accessing online services and ATMs for hours. While the bank is still under investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority over these incidents, it suffered a third embarrassing system outage on the busiest online shopping day before Christmas last year, followed by yet another IT failure a few days later.

Catastrophic IT failures such as these can lead to financial chaos, create financial hardship for both businesses and families and, if not quickly addressed, may even lead to social breakdowns. If employers are unable to pay employees and people are unable to pay their rents, buy their groceries and medicine or pay for their transport, utilities and credit card bills, social unrest may ensue.

Due to the enormous number of transactions that take place every day in the financial sector, a major bank only has a matter of days to recover after suffering a catastrophic IT failure. If it fails, the backlog of financial transactions would simply become unmanageable, and the bank would be overwhelmed. This is of course an Armageddon scenario, but it is highly probable given that some of the core IT systems used by all UK banks were developed in the 1960s and 70s. We should be prepared for more problems like this to strike in the coming years.

IT legacy systems in UK banking

The term “legacy” in IT describes software applications, operating systems and occasionally hardware and network infrastructure developed and implemented before the early 1990s. Legacy IT systems form the core of a daily processing cycle in UK banking, much of which is still overnight batch-based processing rather than in real time, despite significant technological advances in recent years.

These systems have been at the very core of payments transmission, bank transaction processing and account maintenance and management for more than 40 years. They were initially designed in the 1960s to automate branch accounting, and by the 1970s and 1980s the range of software applications expanded to help banks improve services, reduce costs and speed up transaction and payment processing. Many of these systems remain in operational use today.

New wine in old wineskin

Despite significant annual IT investment by most banks (from hundreds of millions of pounds to multi-billion-pound investments), almost 80% of that investment goes towards maintaining and improving the existing core applications base – including legacy systems. The remaining 20% has historically been devoted to a range of short-term and medium-term IT developments.

Typically, more than half of that 20% is spent on projects that either meet a immediate product or service demand or are needed to respond to new regulatory reporting requirements.

That leaves just 8-9% for medium-term – and occasionally long-term – strategic programmes. To match the astonishing speed of IT development, this level of investment is pitifully inadequate. The impact is most noticeable where game-changing technologies are applied, and is particularly pronounced in retail banking where consumer expectations are changing rapidly. For example, people increasingly expect to have access to a range of banking services not only via their PCs but also via their mobile devices.

For many UK banks the only practical response is to use the legacy systems as a launch pad for new applications. The front-end applications are newly developed but all the back-end processing remains within the legacy system.

Unwilling to change

For most senior banking executives, IT is viewed as a cost. The pressure to reduce cost has led to an increasing dependence on IT outsourcing and offshoring over the past 20 years. Often this process means that systems fail to meet client expectations and many of these projects are questionable in terms of return on investment.

Still worse, IT is often viewed by senior executives as a “basket case”, plagued with missed project deadlines, budget busting overspends and an astonishing track record of project failure. This has often led to an unforgiving bias towards IT which militates against long term investment.

One result is a pronounced lack of economic will by senior executives to sponsor – or even be seen sponsoring – strategic IT initiatives. This is further exacerbated by the short tenure for key executives and CIOs in major banks and frequent structural and personnel upheaval. The outcome is a lack of credible medium to long-term strategic planning for IT in most banks.

The solution

The likelihood for any UK banks to overcome the legacy IT degenerative problem at an individual level is very slim. Even some of the new entrants to the market have decided to use licensed IT systems which are essentially legacy applications.

Senior leaders from UK banks need to get together urgently to systematically explore the challenges and opportunities associated with upgrading the IT infrastructure for UK banking. This is not an issue for the IT professionals alone. It is a strategic issue that calls for the full involvement of senior business executives. The alternative is to continue to bury our heads in the sand, waiting for the next inevitable disaster to strike.

Ian Marshall, senior advisor to Sopra Group Financial Services, also contributed to this article.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Cass Business School.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Professor Harald Haas – ‘father’ of LiFi
Light offers almost unlimited capacity for wireless communication

Existing WiFi systems have their limitations. They can be very slow; they’re not very secure; and we’re about to run out of capacity! However, help is at hand. Faster, more reliable internet connections are already under development. Now, the opening of a new research centre at the University of Edinburgh will bring them a step closer to reality.

How LiFi would work

How LiFi would work

The new generation of high-speed internet technology the scientists have been working on uses light rather than radio waves. Known as LiFi, it’s more secure, versatile and is likely to be the successor to the latest 4G wireless internet systems which only became available in the UK last year. The reason is that light-based systems have almost no limitations when it comes to capacity. It would also connections in places where you can’t use WiFi, such as aircraft cabins and hospitals.

The new LiFi R&D Centre in Edinburgh will encourage collaboration between world-leading experts from the University and other key research institutes around the world. A key player in the new centre will be Professor Harald Haas, who is widely recognised as the “father of LiFi.” Professor Haas is Chair of Mobile Communications at the University of Edinburgh and co-founder of a spin-out company, pureLiFi. Today, he’s in Seoul, South Korea, to speaks at the Global Leaders Forum 2013. He’ll outline the objectives of the new centre and use the event to highlight the new technology and identify new industrial partners.

“This internationally leading UK centre,” he explained, “will accelerate the adoption of LiFi and emerging wireless technology through engagement with major industrial partners, to fully harness the commercial and innovative potential of LiFi, and establish a major new $6 billion LiFi industry.”

In this, he’s supported by Professor Lesley Yellowlees, Head of the University of Edinburgh’s College of Science and Engineering. “The University of Edinburgh has a strong track record in communications research and providing industry solutions to this sector” he said. “This new R&D centre in Edinburgh is a unique opportunity for the UK to lead the global development of Li-Fi technology.”

SACCADE – Winners both in Scotland and Internationally

Two start-up companies, SACCADE Diagnostics from the University of Aberdeen and UXCam from University College, London, have picked up awards for Best Open Innovation Business and Best Open Innovation Business Idea respectively. They beat off teams of national and international entrepreneurs from five European countries in the final of Converge Challenge Open Innovation held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

SACCADE logoSACCADE’s technology is a pioneering eye movement test which helps identify specific disease states. UXCam allows user-experience designers (UX designers) to capture data in real time to add to scenarios in the real world. Both have been awarded four-figure cash prizes by triumphing in an intense final against six other start-up businesses from the continent.

“Today, there is an incredibly strong entrepreneurial spirit among students and staff, which is apparent in the innovative and commercially minded business ideas that are showcased through Open Innovation across Europe,” said Olga Kozlova, director of Converge Challenge. “What is so important is that Open Innovation allows organisations to think way beyond the parameters of their own – often limited – internal resources. If they are looking to develop new products, services and create other new revenue streams, they don’t need to be impinged in any way. They can have access to a myriad of other practical solutions which helps them gain a fresh outlook on the way forward.”

Royal Society of Edinburgh

Royal Society of Edinburgh

Cllr Frank Ross, Convener of Economy Committee, City of Edinburgh Council, a key supporter of the Open Innovation competition said that the event “provides an exciting opportunity to hear young entrepreneurs from several regions of Europe. To have them competing in Edinburgh for the best Open Innovation idea and business awards is inspiring. We are delighted to be lead partner in the Open Innovation Project. As we have made clear in our Strategy for Jobs, we must nurture entrepreneurial talent and this event is an exemplar project which complements the incubators projects already set up in the City.“

Converge Challenge Open Innovation is a trans-national initiative for university participants and was born from a need to stimulate the collaborative process on a pan-European knowledge – share, innovation and ideas from a broad range of external sources. It is carried out in partnership with local governments, universities, business support services, and other public bodies to deliver programme of activities across the UK, France, Germany, Ireland and Belgium.

The nominating organisations for this year’s event included University College London, Laval Technopole, France; VOKA, Flanders’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Belgium; Somerset City Council, University of Kassel, Germany ; National College of Ireland, Dublin and the Converge Challenge.

The business ideas were equally diverse, including a company addressing a novel and pioneering way of advertising on Facebook, another commercialising a pioneering eye movement test which helps identify specific disease states and a software solution that processes 3D sensor data for stereoscopic Kinect sensors. In both categories, companies were judged on were judged on Innovation Level, Stage of Development, Market Opportunity and Use of Open Innovation.