One of the things I like most about working for Serco is our diversity. Not just the diversity of our people, but the diversity of what we do and the many different services we provide for governments around the world – in health, transport, defence, citizen services, justice, immigration, and in space. In pre-Covid times, hot-desking at one of our head offices afforded the opportunity to listen in to a smorgasbord of conversations and pick up ideas and innovations from other sectors.
Working in the space sector, those ‘mixing it up’ conversations were important because space services and space data is applicable to every single service we offer to governments – and could be a game changer in improving outcomes and reducing costs. But, that is only the case if the relevant designers and decision makers know what space has to offer. We all need to be increasingly aware of the art of the possible from space.
The need to communicate and join-up sectors was brought home forcibly to me a couple of weeks ago, as a result of one small example. To celebrate National Space day and the launch of an internal Women in Space network, some colleagues and I hosted an hour long “lunch & learn” about Space. Nothing complicated – just 15 minutes of fun factoids about what Serco does in space, followed a 30 minute ‘Space 101’ teach in by the irrepressible Paul James from our Serco Skynet 5 team. We advertised it in various internal networking channels and weren’t sure who would turn up or what to expect.
We were blown away with the results. Within minutes of starting the session, connections between colleagues working on all manner of issues were being made and searching questions were being asked:
“Could we use Earth Observation (EO) data to monitor land health and traffic movements on Ministry of Defence training estates?” – Yes.
“Could we use space data to help monitor border security and for fishing protection?” – Yes
“Could we use EO data to monitor for subsidence on railway cuttings for our train services?” – Yes
“Could we use EO to monitor air quality from space and compare it to the real time air sniffers on our vehicle fleets?” – Yes
“Could we use Satcom to support telemedicine on our arctic survey ships?” – Yes
“Can we use GPS tracking data to track the bikes on our cycle hire schemes and plan best traffic routes for our recycling and waste contracts?” Yes, yes, yes!
If one small internal ‘lunch & learn’ spawned so many ideas and possibilities, what might be possible from wider government and industry collaboration? From joining up space experts for an hour with non-space businesses? Or from joining up policymakers with the space scientists that are designing the solutions of the future?
Tom Freston (founder of MTV) said that innovation isn’t always about inventing new things – but instead defined innovation as “ Taking two things that exist and putting them together in a new way”. Working closely with our Athena partners CGI, Inmarsat and Lockheed Martin, as well as with our SME community has been brilliant for doing just that as together we have wide ranging experience in multiple sectors and an extensive collective memory bank to draw upon.
To help deliver on the possibilities from Space, we all need to do what we can to join up the dots and join up the people who know how. It’s all about creating connections to deliver new solutions from space, to help deal with the old problems we face on earth. Here in Serco, we made at least half a dozen connections in the space of an hour – the best value for money lunch I’ve had in ages – and without the need for the curling sandwiches, slightly stale crisps and dubious looking chicken goujons that were the standard networking lunch fare in times gone by. Although I will confess that I do miss the Jammy Dodgers….