Blockchain for energy might be the easy part: How do you communicate it?

Blockchain for energy might be the easy part: How do you communicate it?

Written by Michael Zdanowski, Head of Energy

Every month interest and excitement in blockchain grows. Nowadays it seems that there is a potential blockchain technology for every substrata of the economy.

At the London Blockchain Summit in June participants will be able to learn about blockchain’s applications across finance, insurance, logistics, utilities, media and entertainment. The FT has even reported about blockchain potentially reinventing dating. A particular favourite is blockchain for waste.

What we at Madano believe has been missing in the narrative so far is blockchain developers and the energy industry directly addressing a number of key communications challenges around the technology.

As every communicator will tell you, no matter how good your technology is, success will ultimately depend on the ability to communicate your offer and its benefits as succinctly as possible to key stakeholders – Government and regulators, business and industry, investors, media and the general public – and convince them that the technology will benefit society rather than exploit it.

For communicators in the energy space, blockchain throws up a number of challenges.

The first communications challenge is convincing key audiences that blockchain can really work in a relatively low value commodity sector like energy.

The many benefits of blockchain crypto-currencies are clear but is blockchain really the most efficient way to trade energy? Taking bitcoin as an example, won’t the blockchain transactions in fact stimulate huge energy demand and create knock-on problems for the sector?

While some investors have bought into blockchain for energy, it’s not clear that many of these fundamental questions in the technology have been answered in an open forum.

Secondly, there are already a multitude of blockchain for energy start-ups as well as large utilities developing blockchain, but how do these companies allay the fears that many will have about data in the blockchain? And how do you assign accountability if there’s a problem when no one is ‘in charge’ of validating transactions?

A blockchain by its nature is cyber-secure according to engineers, but public trust in tech companies is already declining given recent scandals about the misappropriation of data involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica and more recently Amazon’s Alexa.

How often have we seen unhackable technology become hacked? Blockchain developers will at some point be forced to allay the legitimate fears of regulators that data might be hacked or gathered with potentially negative impacts on consumers. To date, this issue remains unanswered.

Thirdly, and most importantly, how do you communicate blockchain in energy to a non-tech savvy consumer audience that for the most part struggles to understand their existing energy bills?

We’ve seen only a few projects to date where blockchain developers have road-tested or even floated their ideas with consumers. For communicators, it is absolutely mission critical to get them onboard at the outset.

For this reason next week Madano is bringing together next week energy industry leaders – start-ups, utilities, energy firms, Government, media and academia – to discuss these issues.

As a teaser for our event, we’ve highlighted three basic communications tips for blockchain developers:

  • Get your story right and simplify – the most common feedback we hear from energy insiders (particularly journalists) is that blockchain narratives are too complex and convoluted. Strip back the detail. What’s the big issue that your technology addresses and secondly, what’s the most interesting thing you can say about your technology? Earn the right to talk about the detail and don’t assume that others immediately see the big picture that you do.
  • Differentiate – each and every blockchain company may differ but this is not how many of your key audiences perceive it. Make sure your audience knows exactly what you do, where your technology fits in and how it benefits them at every touchpoint (website, presentation, speaking platform). Be very clear in explaining how you are different from any other blockchain company.
  • Develop compelling content – there is a lack of compelling content showing how blockchain energy solutions can work and positively impact the wider energy system and people’s lives. Infographics, videos, animations and podcasts all help to tell your story in an interactive way. A 45 second explainer video is many times likely to be more impactful for many than a 20 page white paper. The consumer is ultimately everyone’s audience.

Next week Madano will delve further into the challenges facing blockchain at its own blockchain for energy event where, with speakers such as Madeleine Cuff (Business Green), Matthew Williams (Faraday Grid), Damian Moore MP (Blockchain APPG) and Dr Jeff Hardy (Imperial College, London), we ask the energy sector is blockchain is a real gamechanger or a passing chimera?

May AI Help You? – The Week in AI

May AI Help You? – The Week in AI

Written by, Dominic Weeks, Head of Technology 

Government plans a future economy powered by AI

The Prime Minister decided to take a Brexit breather at Jodrell Bank on Monday, to deliver a speech highlighting the opportunities and unique advantages that the UK has to power health improvements through AI innovation. Highlighting opportunities to increase early detections of cancer and thus cut the death rate, Theresa May also argued that health improvements powered by AI were crucial to the country’s future prosperity.

The theme was echoed enthusiastically at a BEIS event hosted by the Resolution Foundation on Tuesday. The event discussed the industrial strategy and the associated AI and data grand challenge. Ministers Sam Gyimah and Margot James celebrated the Prime Minister’s vision for AI in health and beyond in powering the economy. The Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation highlighted Britain’s universities as a source of differentiation and strength, and both suggested that “ethical” AI innovation could be a niche to counter the big bucks invested in China and the U.S. The panel assembled also stressed the importance of spreading the benefits of AI innovation throughout the UK and for people of all backgrounds.  

Panellist Marc Warner, CEO of ASI Data Science, asked pointedly if the Government could support innovation by opening up the procurement process to smaller tech firms. Lord Willetts, chairing the discussion, responded by lamenting that America has a less risk averse attitude to government spending with innovative start-ups. Another disadvantage that we have.

This week’s focus on AI follows a raft of recent government initiatives and announcements on the topic within the last two months. Including:

Analysis

The Prime Minister’s speech was widely picked up for the headline promise to reduce cancer deaths, but she also touched more broadly on advances possible in areas like heart disease, dementia and diabetes. The finer details of May’s speech hinted at the strong foundations she believes we have upon which to build AI innovation: London being Europe’s tech capital and the strength of our universities – “We have great universities because we have strengthened historic institutions and nurtured new intellectual powerhouses with public investment.”

Missing here, and also from the discussion at the Resolution Foundation’s AI event was the talent challenges facing UK businesses and universities.  The Government is investing in 1,000 AI-focussed PhDs, which is a positive step, but with UK academia fresh off strike action over pensions cuts and considering the level of money being offered to qualified AI researchers by both U.S. universities and Silicon Valley firms, holding on to talent will be more difficult than is perhaps being outlined.

Furthermore, questions about the benefits for and roles of smaller firms, communities outside of London and the disadvantaged will linger, especially as the “robots eating our jobs” fears persist. 

However, private and public sector organisations engaged in AI research will be delighted to see the Government focus continuing after the announcement of the AI sector deal. It is a start at least to have senior politicians painting a positive vision of what AI can contribute to life in the UK.

Plus, the government is setting an ambitious target for research and development by shooting for 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027.  The vision and commitment is there, how it is rolled out and coordinated is the key.

Samsung’s New AI Centre

In a masterstroke of coordination, the Government was also able to lean on Samsung’s announcement that it will open a new AI centre in Cambridge as a supporting proofpoint.

The lab will be run by Professor Andrew Blake who previously headed Microsoft’s research lab in the city. The centre promises up to 150 highly skilled jobs.

Writing on this last point, the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones showed a little cynicism, relating a survey by Odgers Berndtson that found just 225 students in the country were doing post-graduate technology research in specialist areas including AI and machine learning.

The BBC’s tech correspondent adroitly summarised that we’re not the only show in town, with French President Emmanuel Macron hosting an event this week with global tech leaders. The President also recently announced a new national strategy to catalyse AI research in France – the Entente Cordiale may soon be further strained. 

Heard On the Circuit

The Times+ event on the “Rise of the Robots” on Monday explored the positive and negative presumptions of what AI could mean for the future and the regulation that is needed to draw out more of those positives than negatives. A strong strand of debate was the importance of educating the public about AI tech and what it can (and can’t) do and also the remit of the new Centre for Data Ethics Innovation to guide a national debate.

News In Brief

Stat of the Week

UK bosses believe that artificial intelligence will create more jobs than it destroys, according to a study by KPMG. 70 percent of CEOs surveyed by the Big Four firm said that AI would lead to more jobs, not fewer, at least over the short term. 

Founding Partner Matthew Moth named President of the Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce

Founding Partner Matthew Moth named President of the Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce

The Canada-United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce has elected Madano Founding Partner Matthew Moth as President in the UK.

The Chamber is one of the most active international chambers of commerce operating in London. Its approximately 300 corporate members elect a board of directors, which currently includes representation from the Alberta UK Office, Bank of Montreal, BlackBerry, Canary Wharf Group, Cavendish Group, CGI, CIBC, Dadco Group, European Trade & Investment Office for British Columbia, Fasken Martineau LLP, Gowling WLG (UK) LLP, Hatch Associates, HSBC Bank plc, Madano Partnership, McCarthy Tétrault, Nexen, Norton Rose Fulbright, Ontario International Marketing Centre, Quebec Government Office, Royal Bank of Canada, Scotiabank, SNC Lavalin, Stikeman Elliott, TCL Corporation (BlackBerry Mobile), Thomson Reuters, Toronto-Dominion Bank, and White & Case.

The Chamber regularly hosts senior Canadian business leaders and politicians, such as the Hon Andrew Scheer PC MP, Leader of the Official Opposition (2018), the Hon. François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of International Trade (2017), and the chief economists of Canada’s six largest banks, who will take part once again on 8 June 2018 in an annual panel discussion hosted by the Chamber for the 9th year. The Chamber also maintains strong ties with governmental and other bodies, such as the High Commission of Canada, Canadian provincial governments represented in London, the British High Commission and British and Canadian chambers of commerce and boards of trade. In recent years, the Chamber has welcomed many official dignitaries to its events, including sitting Canadian and British Prime Ministers, and former Heads of State.

In addition to his new role, Matthew is a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and a Board Director and Trustee of FitzRoy, a national charity helping to transform the lives of people with learning disabilities.

Matthew commented, “I am honoured to be appointed President of the Chamber which has such a long and proud tradition of assisting businesses on both sides of the Atlantic, and am looking forward to my new role in an era of continual change, challenge and opportunity.

For over 90 years the Chamber has been promoting and facilitating trade and investment in Canada, the UK and Europe. The special relationship between Canada and the UK, its largest investment partner in Europe, is stronger than ever. I look forward to working with our members and all our stakeholders to take full advantage of the new opportunities that the Comprehensive Economic & Trade Agreement (CETA) has created and the further relationships that develop in the months and years ahead.”

Are energy companies risking too much by not taking a public stand on Brexit concerns?

Are energy companies risking too much by not taking a public stand on Brexit concerns?

Written by Kira Scharwey, Account Director in Madano’s Energy Practice

Sector influencers, trade bodies, parliamentary committees and even CEOs have all been very vocal about the significant risks Brexit poses to UK industry. But Madano’s recent research with Brussels-based consultancy BOLDT – the first ever social media study of industry attitudes to Brexit – found that companies themselves are being relatively quiet.

Our research aimed to understand the differences between the main industry sectors in their attitudes towards Brexit, which are most communicative about it and why.

How the energy sector stacks up

Out of 78 top UK and European companies in the energy sector in the study sample, only ten posted a total of 32 posts about Brexit on Twitter in 2017. This was low compared to the proportion of companies posting about Brexit in other sectors.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, as there is a large degree of regulatory divergence between member states, the study found that a significant focus of concern for energy trade bodies has been on the future regulatory regime, though this is somewhat alleviated by possible market opportunities.

There is less degree of conformity between what UK and European energy companies have been saying than other sectors analysed in the study. Energy companies in the UK are speaking publicly about business opportunities, while European companies are focused on regulation, Brexit preparation and industry robustness.

There’s a crack in everything

Assuming that the majority of these companies have still been communicating privately with government and stakeholders about their concerns, why haven’t they also been speaking publicly to reinforce their messages? Industries should be speaking with a single, consistent voice to a broader range of audiences to help their concerns be heard and addressed by decision-makers.

The public is an important audience in the Brexit negotiations debate. I’m not suggesting that companies should use social media to complain – they should use constructive, positive messaging around the industry’s needs to make their point. Negative messaging failed the Remain campaign – industries have to deliver more distinct and emotive messages to cut through a congested media space that’s focused on other high profile issues.

Why the silence?

Potentially companies are scared of the risks around communicating about Brexit – but there are plenty of risks around not communicating about it to customers and stakeholders.

Brexit will ultimately affect the public in the form of energy costs for consumers and businesses, environmental policy and climate targets, air quality, efficiency standards, energy security and the economy (our study found that UK companies are more concerned about a potential downturn in their sector than European companies, 19.2% compared with 16.5%).

Given the fraught political landscape, coordinated communication from industry needs to happen quickly to protect their interests.

Madano is a strategic communications consultancy with sector specialisms in energy, technology, transport, healthcare, and investment, development and regeneration.

Madano and BOLDT have recently launched a Brexit partnership group to support companies as they try to navigate the related communications issues.

To view the full study: http://madano.com/assets/news/…

No more 9-5: The benefits of flexible working

No more 9-5: The benefits of flexible working

Written by Danielle Campbell, Research Director, Insights practice

As everyone loves a quiz, let’s start with a question:

What do you think flexible working is?

  • Sleeping in
  • Catching up on Homes under the Hammer
  • Concentrating on work away from office distractions, at a time that suits you
  • Allowing you to continue with a career you couldn’t do if flexible working wasn’t on offer

Answer: It can be all of the above, although A) is mainly extreme wishful thinking on my part. Most importantly, what it offers is C): continuing to work and progress in your career, at the same time as contributing to other areas of your life and wider society, whether that be parenting, other caring responsibilities, volunteering or studying.

Many of us already work flexibly. According to a 2017 survey by Timewise, 87% of all full-time employees work flexibly or would like to, and more than 6 in 10 employees (63%) already access flexible working. The idea of a traditional full-time job with no flexibility is disappearing. However, the recruitment market is yet to catch up. Just under 10 per cent of job adverts for ‘quality’ jobs (permanent roles which pay more than £20,000 FTE) are advertised with flexible working options at the point of hire. This imbalance suggests that people may be trapped in potentially lower skilled work because they cannot risk leaving the job which offers the flexibility they need.

So why should employers’ offer flexible working at point of hire? What can flexible working offer? From my experience working part-time/flexibly is not the easy option (sometimes to concentrate on work only would be a dream) but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. There are (at least) four ways in which both you and your company gain from working flexibly:

  • Efficient workplace: working reduced hours or flexible hours because you have to be somewhere else, means you become better at managing your time and probably more productive
  • Loyalty: if your company is able to accommodate your requirements, you appreciate this and work hard for your company in return
  • Perspective: work isn’t everything, sometimes a bit of perspective and time away from your desk can help you become better at problem solving, finding quicker solutions, coming up with new ideas and maintaining calm when in a crisis
  • Improved health: a study by Durham University found that mental health, blood pressure, and sleep patterns were better among people who could determine their own working hours. The Timewise study found 14% of people also request flexible working because of a health condition or disability. During mental health awareness week it’s worth thinking about how to look after your mental, as well as physical health.

The days of 9-5 are long behind us already; the ‘flexible’ part of ‘flexible working’ is becoming redundant. Madano were voted in top 10 of small ‘Best Places to Work’ this year, and a flexible work culture is no doubt central to that. Let’s keep climbing to the top and keep using a modern and flexible approach to working as we go.