Our first annual report: the Birmingham Smart City Alliance 2013-2015

(Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall opening the Harborne Food School, with founders Robert Smith and Shaleen Meelu. The Food School is one of the initiatives the Birmingham Smart City Alliance has supported over the last two years)

In February 2013, IBM, SCC, Millennium Point and Innovation Birmingham – then known as Birmingham Science Park Aston – agreed to form a “Birmingham Smart City Alliance” as a collaboration to stimulate and support “smart” projects and initiatives in Birmingham.

Our inspiration was the work of Kelvin Campbell, the architect of Birmingham’s “Big City Plan”. Kelvin designs cities according to the “Massive / Small” principle: successful cities create “massive” amounts of the “small”-scale innovations that make a difference to people, businesses and communities.

We realised that we could help Birmingham become more successful at “Massive / Small” innovation by collaborating in a focused way on the “Smart City” agenda and making use of our collective ecosystems. We now help good ideas from anywhere in Birmingham connect across the city with the people, support and resources they need to succeed.

The Alliance has been supported since it’s earliest days by Birmingham City Council, Digital Birmingham and the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, and now counts in its steering group membership 20 city institutions, businesses and individual innovators. Countless more local organisations and individuals have attended our open workshops and discussions.

We are conscious that the Alliance, a body formed simply by a set of organisations and people who were willing to act, lacks any formal mandate in Birmingham or the wider region. With that in mind from the outset we have been clear that we will not set any strategy or objectives for Birmingham: we simply attempt to support those set out by the Council and LEP, in particular through the Smart City Commission.

Over the past two years we have:

  • Provided a valuable forum for senior public and private sector individuals and influential innovators to share insight and updates on a wide range of regional development issues and opportunities to collaborate that affect them and their ecosystems.
  • Introduced local businesses and community initiatives to regional resources such as Warwick Manufacturing Group’s personal data management research project, the ‘Hub-of-All-Things’, and technology transfer capabilities.
  • Helped the Harborne Food School social enterprise to develop their business plan, and to connect with local businesses and public institutions that can help them develop into a sustainable enterprise. The School was opened on Harborne High Street by Hugh Fearnley-Whttingstall in March 2015.
  • Helped to establish a collaboration between the Harborne Food School and Heart of England Foundation Trust who are developing together a number of activities including a collaboration with Birmingham Science City’s Innovation Engine project and a nutrition and diabetes event in early 2015.
  • Helped to introduce Centro’s “New Journey” smart transport initiative to Birmingham’s innovation ecosystem of technology entrepreneurs, transport innovators and Universities. Centro have also joined the West Midlands Open Data Forum and Birmingham City Council’s Open Data Factory, and developed new relationships with Birmingham Science City, the Longbridge redevelopment and the Climate KIC. These links have helped Centro to develop their “New Journey” vision, and they are now testing a variety of potential new transport service concepts. One of these, “MyJrny”, has now launched as a public trial in collaboration with enable iD, a new company that was stimulated to form through Alliance activity in partnership with the Hub of all Things (HAT) initiative at the University of Warwick.

(Coders at work at the Birmingham “Smart Hack” in 2012, photographed by Sebastian Lenton. The Birmingham Smart City Alliance is working with the Harborne Food School to pursue some of the ideas for local food systems that the coders created)

  • Linked SMEs in the networks of the Alliance members to Creative Digital Health Solutions and the Innovation Engine project, leading to a number of business assist activities that could lead to product innovations that will benefit healthcare providers and patients.
  • Introduced the Open Street Maps movement to city institutions, in particular the Longbridge development. In the Midlands, Open Street Maps now includes full coverage of all buildings in Birmingham and Solihull, with full postal address – the largest regional open address data set in the UK. Open Street Maps has 100% coverage of correct road names for all local authorities in the West Midlands except Coventry, including correction of all errors in Ordnance Survey mapping. The closure of Charles Street Queensway tunnels during the summer schedule was recorded and helped to achieve correct routing for participating navigation systems.
  • Helped the Healthy Villages initiative, which is collecting evidence across Birmingham’s communities of need for services and support, to engage with the Heart of England Foundation Trust and Birmingham’s network of innovative service providers.
  • Introduced businesses and people in Birmingham who are expert in the use of technology to share data to Project Opera which is seeking to improve data sharing and collaboration between the agencies who assist vulnerable children in Birmingham and the West Midlands.
  • Developed the “Library of Aspiration” concept to use video diaries to inspire learners across Birmingham about the great careers available to them in the city; we hope this project will be taken forward in 2015 between Birmingham City Council and Birmingham Metropolitan College through a demonstration project in Shard End.
(Innovation Birmingham Chairman David Locke and Chief Executive David Hardman are joined by Craig Tatton of  Thomas Vale Construction and Birmingham City Council Leader Sir Albert Bore to break ground on the exciting new "iCentrum" development that will support Birmingham's entrepreneurial, business and innovation economy)

(Innovation Birmingham Chairman David Locke and Chief Executive David Hardman are joined by Craig Tatton of Thomas Vale Construction and Birmingham City Council Leader Sir Albert Bore to break ground on the exciting new “iCentrum” development that will support Birmingham’s entrepreneurial, business and innovation economy)

Birmingham is a city of great challenges and great opportunities. For example, whilst we have created private sector jobs more quickly than almost any city in the UK since the 2008 crash, we also have one of the lowest-skilled adult populations in the UK, limiting the ability of local people to take up the employment opportunities that exist.

Writing in “Resilience”, Andrew Zolli showed that many cities and communities that overcome such challenges and take the opportunities open to them do so through “translational leadership”: joining up the resources of large, formal institutions with the needs and innovative capacity of local, informal businesses and communities. I hope that the Smart City Alliance, through our policy of “listening to and supporting good ideas” and through inviting “unusual suspects” to participate in our activities, is helping to create that leadership in Birmingham’s institutions, businesses and communities.

I would like personally to thank each and every stakeholder and member organisation that has helped the Alliance over the past 2 years – they are listed below; as well as everyone else who has helped in some way.

Finally, I look forward to building on our success in 2015.

We have exciting new resources to support good ideas, from Innovation Birmingham’s iCentrum development through to the new Impact Hub in Digbeth. iCentrum (scheduled for completion in March 2016) will incorporate the Serendip smart city incubator, which will see large corporates working directly with tech start-ups across four key sectors: built environment, intelligent mobility, Internet of things and digital health.

HS2 and the Paradise Circus redevelopment are just two of the major infrastructure and development initiatives underway and creating change in Birmingham and the West Midlands, at the same time that existing longterm initiatives such as the Longbridge redevelopment continue apace. InnovateUK and the European Union continue to make funds available for innovative schemes to use technologies to improve cities and communities, and our own innovation ecosystem is thriving. Birmingham Science City and many of the regions Universities have expertise in helping us access this funding. At the same time, the ongoing success of Birmingham’s traditional economy is demonstrated by HSBC’s decision to re-locate the headquarters of their Retail Banking business, and the LEPs and Councils of the West Midlands are increasingly collaborating in the interests of the wider region and the devolution agenda.

We already have a series of new initiatives, organisations and ideas reaching out to engage with us from the Canal and River Trust to the Open Data Institute; and we look forward to hearing again from ongoing initiatives such as Healthy Villages, who are starting to identify new opportunities to innovate and create a happier, healthier city.

It’s been an honour to Chair the Smart City Alliance for the past two years, and I look forward to continuing to do so; and to seeing more of the amazing new ideas that our great city and region have the capability to create – especially, when we work together to help them succeed.

Best Regards,


Dr Rick Robinson FBCS CITP FRSA AoU

Steering Group Chair, Birmingham Smart City Alliance

IT Director, Smart Data and Technology, Amey

Birmingham Smart City Alliance Steering Group membership:


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