29th October 2014

IC Tomorrow Digital Innovation Winner


In May 2014 IC tomorrow ran the £125k ‘Digital Innovation Contest – Data’ to encourage digital innovation in data. Winners received up to £25k each (excluding VAT) in funding and had the opportunity to trial their solution with the relevant contest challenge partner, including Ordnance Survey, Ingram Content Group, EE Limited, Birmingham Community Healthcare Trust and the British Library. The challenge set by Ordnance Survey was to investigate the feasibility of implementing a next-generation 3D building data layer for location-based services within a mobile platform.

Nick Humes winner of the IC Tomorrow Digital Innovation Contest is our guest blogger today. Nick gives us an account of how he ended up winning the contest from his inital idea to where he is now having won.

Everything that has happened since submitting the application for the IC Tomorrow – Digital Innovation contest in May has happened so fast that it now seems like a distant memory.

IC Tomorrow

The Idea

The advertisement for the TSB IC Tomorrow award immediately caught my eye, for me it was different from many of the other calls at the time. This one specifically linked with the line of work that I was pursuing and had a clear industry focus, but most importantly it provided the opportunity to work with a well-respected and powerful industry partner. These included the Ordnance Survey, EE, The British Library, Birmingham Community Healthcare Trust and Ingram Content Group.

The timing of the contest was ideal as I had just created a new company to deal with such specialist tasks and had secured a major contract involving the consolidation of a major set of building standards. The length of the contest was three months – an appealing length of time to manage such a project. A further critical aspect of this award was the retention of the intellectual property. This permitted the applicant to retain full ownership of any outcomes. The whole package was very generous.

The basis of the project, now called “The Planning APP”, builds upon the principles I had learn’t whilst doing a PhD in Queen’s University Belfast which focused on the development of apps for the construction industry. Using geographical data for design and assessment has been floating around for a while; for me the idea came from time spent working as architect in Belfast and subsequent projects which lead to the development of the peopleProject– a CAD app which assesses drawings against the Lifetime Homes standards. So when I saw the IC Tomorrow call for entries I got very excited, the award seemed like the perfect opportunity to make it happen.

The Process

The actual Planning APP submission was based around the simple concept of working with the Ordnance Survey and their topographical data to develop a tool that would aid in the creation and assessment of drawings for the purposes of Planning Permission.

The actual application had specific headings and limits which initially seemed daunting, but when I started drafting the submission I found the ordering and structure served as a useful exercise for focusing the idea, the brief and the execution. The submission also required a two minute video, although this was actually quite fun and something which I had never done before, it was much harder than I had expected- after two hours of bloopers and mis-matched sentences a two minute pitch was eventually recorded.

After several weeks the organising committee selected three finalists from each of the five categories. At this point the TSB kindly offered coaching for the final stage of the contest which included a feedback session on the presentation, the competition, the expectations and the requirements. This proved extremely useful as it allowed the presentation and the idea to be honed into something that was useful to both the applicant and to the Ordnance Survey.

Written feedback from the organisers highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the application as well as issues which needed clarification and those which would potentially need clarification by of the expert judging panel.

Further to this, Trudi Elliot of the RTPI provided much support in terms of preparation and information as to what the regional planning services would be looking for in such an app. Lee Goodger from the Flip Side Group also provided information on specialist technical support in relation to security and user profiles. This information and support was invaluable and a key factor in the success of the project. I wish to extend my thanks to both Trudi and Lee.

The Final

Rather rapidly the 11th of June came around- a date which has remained ingrained in my memory as this was the day of the IC Tomorrow Digital Innovation final presentation. The final stage of the competition was hosted in the BL-NK ‘pop-up’ space adjacent to the IC Tomorrow offices near Old Street Station. The atmosphere at the final was more than I had expected; it was both exciting and electric but also encouraging as competitors shared and explained their ideas, plans and strategies.The value of peer review had clearly been appreciated by those in the room. Even before the presentations began Nigel Wally of Decipher Media and fellow finalist in the Ordnance Survey category had kindly opened the offer of further collaboration, regardless of the outcome of the contest.

The ideas were so diverse that contestants could comfortably share and discuss their projects and aspirations for their businesses without ‘giving away’ too much information. The format of the day allowed me to enjoy presentations from the other categories; each one unique and interesting but all with the shared goal of consuming digital information for a wider purpose. Some projects were aimed at policy makers and governance bodies (see TEKJA) and commercial entities to home owners and individuals (see Chimni).

This was great but the time to stand in front of an audience was looming. This is tough enough but when it is competitive and the outcomes could have a possible effect on your future- well you get the idea, time to put the ‘game face’ on. Presenting a multi layered idea in six minutes for £25k is no easy task, especially with a deep northern Irish accent. Finally it was my time to present to an audience of 80 as well as a judging panel made up of representatives from the TSB, Google and the Ordnance Survey. The note cards which I had carefully drafted were abandoned about three slides in. This was not a typical presentation, each finalist was allowed a strict ten minutes to pitch their idea, receive questions and to provide answers to the judging panel. Strategically I had decided to present for six minutes allowing four for questions and answers.

The presentation and questions, which is now a blur, was over but I do remember waiting for the results. This was actually quite pleasant as the other contestants, yet again, encouraged each other creating a relaxing and inspiring environment. Eventually the winners from each category were announced. I remember the several seconds after Matt Samsam and Mitra Memarzai from IC Tomorrow announced “Inform Architecture”. Initially I didn’t make the connection to what I was hearing, I wasn’t expecting it. It was only when I looked to Trudi Elliot, who was looking at me with a massive grin, that I realised that we’d won.

The day did not stop there as the finalists enjoyed more socialising and networking, albeit a bit more relaxed. It took a while for what had happened to actually sink in, the idea that I would be working with the Ordnance Survey on an exciting project over the coming months was a great opportunity and not one to be taken lightly.

The Aftermath

The TSB provided excellent coverage of the process and the projects through Ella Hales who not only publicised the award in specialist press but also in local and mainstream media. For Inform Architecture, less than a month old at this stage, this was the first time such publicity had been received. It was a great feeling to be part of the larger collaborative network.

Following the contest I was kindly invited to present at Ordnance Survey headquarters in Southampton in a public seminar highlighting the ideas of the project and other supporting work. This was followed by a meeting with the AEC and the web development team. This not only allowed me to meet the staff but to explore the commercial interests of the Ordnance Survey, to discuss what they needed from such a project and to receive useful advice on how to drive the OSBIM project forward.

Over the coming weeks the Rollo Home (Ordnance Survey, 3D Product Manager) and Mitra Memarzai (IC Tomorrow) helped to developed and focus the work that would be conducted over the three month period. Again, this process permitted further development and focus of the project.

Working with Rollo and his colleagues over the past few months has been really beneficial as they have introduced me to many other companies and ways of working as well as a great group of welcoming and friendly people.


The Work

The next few months will be exciting as they shall see the development of the Planning App tool before it will be tested by the industry experts and the general public in the Ordnance Survey offices in Southampton.

The design of the app has already begun with the development of a simple program to ensure the ‘logic’ matches that of a real life planning application. The next stage which will definitely be the hardest will see the integration of the 3D terrain data with the app. Constantly the graphics and prompts will be developing and evolving to ensure the user experience is fluid, intuitive, robust and easy to use throughout.

Already plans are underway to organise a second phase of end user testing and to showcase the software in stakeholders’ offices in order to receive additional feedback which will add a further and crucial level of refinement to the product.

Looking back over the past few months and writing this post has allowed me to reflect on what has been achieved, directing where the focus of my work should lie. The last few months have provided a glimpse of the potential outcomes of such a project.

Nick Humes