Connected Nation - Interview: Jonathan Legh Smith, BT

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Jonathan Legh-Smith directs BT's Strategic Research programme and manages BT's collaborative research partnerships with industry and academia. The Strategic Research programme addresses the longer-term opportunities and technical challenges facing the BT Group.

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Jonathan Legh Smith, BT

My name's Jonathan Legh-Smith from BT. At BT, I head up BT’s Strategic Research Programme. I also manage all of our research partnerships; so that’s with universities, that is with industry and am also the direct line to the EPSRC UK and Innovate UK. So I've been involved in the Digital Economy Programme, I think, since its inception. BT certainly has been very heavily engaged in the first round of the research hubs and has continued our engagements over the years. I guess what I've been really pleased about is the diversity of the projects and really how far they've developed over the years.

What we've seen the exhibition was, I think, eleven very different, but very well progressed different activities which have come through the programme. They demonstrate the range of things that are relevant to the Digital Economy, but also the multidisciplinary required to bring these things to fruition. Well I do, being from BT, believe we’re actually in a very good position in terms of physically being a connected nation. We are on a good path, having most people connected, but as my own Managing Director said; “We're not done until we're done”. But I think really it's higher level; that we’re connected from a societal point of view.

Personally I do believe the UK will thrive in a Digital Economy, it has everything going for it. It is already doing extremely well, so it is more about ensuring that everybody benefits from a connected nation. I think the most powerful take-away for me is not so much whether the UK as a nation can thrive as a Connected Nation; it’s more how we ensure everybody and every business can benefit from it. I think that in engaging with the academic community (and of course that means researchers directly), it's important to understand the thing that businesses and industry can bring is an understanding of current challenges and potential future challenges as a business sees it. It’s important to understand though that really you’re there to bridge the gap between the research that’s been done and the potential impact. That's something that can only be addressed together, there is no definitive answer that you’re bringing to the table.

It is about bringing the opportunity and the challenge, and then working out how you can achieve that together. What the event has demonstrated is the potential for impact that the UK academic community can have on the digital economy. I think one piece of advice I’d offer to researchers; impact has been something of a scary term, something that makes people nervous. The way I’d always suggest people look at it is - are you looking, are you out there to try and make a difference? Because if you personally are trying to make a difference, that is where your impact comes from. So it's not something to be afraid of, you know why you want to do this work. It's really just pushing that forward to see how you can make it happen.