Spotlight Interviews – Paul Sant

Paul SantDr Paul Sant leads our Enterprise work stream. He is an Associate Dean of University Campus Milton Keynes (UCMK).

What expertise do you bring to the project?
My background is in Computer Science, it’s very much around developing efficient solutions to the big data problems of tomorrow, as well as the data problems of today.

What is your role within MK:Smart?
I lead on the business engagement area of the project. This involves encouraging small to medium enterprises and commercial enterprises in engaging with the work of the MK:Smart project. It can be through the development of applications, student projects, or through business opportunities.

We’re just starting off, so we’ve got a small number of SMEs set up, so far. Now our new manager Rajinder Sharma has joined us. The plan is to work with Milton Keynes’ Chamber of Commerce, as well as with the inward investment team, to increase that number over the coming months.

The biggest highlight so far has been the ‘Space for You!’ event, which we co-hosted with the Satellite Applications Catapult, where we demonstrated some of the business opportunities offered by satellite technology. The next step is to take that initial interest from SMEs and encourage more and more small and medium businesses to see the opportunities related to satellite technology.

Who do you work with?
Satellite Applications Catapult isn’t the only catapult we work with. We also work with the Transport Systems Catapult, as well as various the MK:Smart project partners. As part of our own wider business engagement we engage with local SMEs. Most recently, we’ve been working with Clearview Traffic and Ivy to exploit wireless technologies.

Where are you based?
I’m based in Milton Keynes and I work for University Campus Milton Keynes, which is part of the University of Bedfordshire. I work closely with The Open University and other key stakeholders in Milton Keynes.

What is your role within the Data work stream and who do you work alongside?
In terms of the MK Data Hub, I work very closely with Mathieu d’Aquin, who leads this area of the project. We also work closely with the other partners such as BT and Milton Keynes Council.

Since University Campus Milton Keynes (UCMK) are going to be the hosts of the MK Data Hub, a lot of what we’re doing is making sure that the environment is fit for purpose, state of the art and provides an excellent opportunity, not just to see lots of flashing lights and lots of boxes of tin, but actually make a real difference to the businesses.

As we move forward, in terms of working with the students, we’ll have a new Undergraduate Degree in data science, and that will provide great opportunities. Our students, who will perhaps get involved with the MK:Smart project, may be able to work with businesses to give them the brain power and the intellectual capacity to hopefully solve the problems around the smart cities of the future.

You are also involved in the Education area of MK:Smart. What does this involve?
It’s not just about your average student who comes in from school having completed their A levels. It’s also what we can offer the business community. We’re looking to provide continuing professional development, and looking hopefully to roll out our Post Graduate Certificate in New Enterprise Creation. This will help people who have a business idea to turn it into a reality.

We work alongside colleagues from the University of Bedfordshire, UCMK and also with Gerd Kortuem from The Open University, who will be helping us to engage with local schools as part of the Education work stream.

The initial concept is something we’ve worked on together. We’re planning to go out to local schools and encourage school children and teachers to ensure that the MK:Smart outputs have a real benefit for them. For example, students could be collecting data from weather stations or running competitions to see which school is the most efficient, in terms of their energy usage.

What should we expect over the next few months in the area of Enterprise?
Over the next few months we’ll be putting our proposition down on paper and operationalising it, so that once the data hub is up and running we can put our virtual services in place.

Activities in the pipeline include hackathons, when we get people to present a business problem to participants who will then work on that over 24 to 48 hours in order to provide solutions. That could mean app development, or perhaps it could be business process development. Ultimately, we’re looking forward to launching our full enterprise offering later in the year.

Any predictions about smart city developments in the future?
I think smart cities are going to become integrated ecosystems, where everything that we do is going to have some form of Smart element. So be that the transport systems, be that the energy in our homes, or be that other utilities such as water that we’re going to use. It’s about empowering citizens in order to help them through these smart technologies. We can also see SMEs being smart city enablers of the future.