What our customers think | Managing our Impact

Hear from our Head of Impact Management Karen Lee and find out about her role at the Hartree Centre and her highlights from our recent commercial outcomes survey.

Karen Lee, Head of Impact Management

Anyone working in the research and innovation eco-system will be very familiar with the concept of ‘impact’ and generating benefits to the UK economy and its people.

As an applied research centre focused on supporting industry in their adoption of transformational digital technologies such as AI and data analytics, this one word, impact, summarises what the Hartree Centre is all about. My role is to help us show it.

The recent AI Activity in UK Businesses report estimates that companies’ annual expenditure on AI technologies was over £62 billion in 2020. With the right conditions in place (for example by reducing the barriers to adoption… which is what we do), they predict that total AI expenditure could grow 11-17% annually over the next five years. Whilst the Impact of AI on Jobs report estimates that such technologies could boost our economy by as much as 10% of GDP by 2030. So we are talking pretty significant numbers here!

It’s exciting that the Hartree Centre (and therefore my talented colleagues) is one of the delivery mechanisms to achieve this. As their Head of Impact Management, my focus is on demonstrating the benefits from our portfolio of projects and programmes by helping us to measure and understand the value we contribute to the organisations we collaborate with, as well as to the wider economy and society.

One way this is done is by capturing information – via surveys and interviews – on customers’ experiences of working with us and tracking this over time. We’ve just published an independent report which has provided useful insight into our portfolio of commercial projects.


The key findings from the report are based on 31% of past user organisations engaging in commercial projects completed up to the end of January 2021.

The Commercial Beneficiary Outcomes report is interesting to me on a number of levels. First off, I want to put a shout out to all of the people that make the Hartree Centre ‘work’ and I am proud that 94% of respondents stated they already had, or would, recommend us to others. The work my colleagues do is remarkable – it is right on the cutting-edge and more often than not beyond my realm of understanding.

Back to the organisations… even if you just look at the sectors they operate in, it really does show that digital technologies pretty much touch every part of the economy.

And these businesses are not all at the same stage of their digital transformation journey either. Some are just starting out, with an idea in mind but unsure of whether it would work or where it might take their business, whilst others are optimising processes or product development. I think this is demonstrated in the range of outcomes reported, which indicate important improvements in productivity, performance, skills and R&D investment. For example:

  • 76% reported that the strategic importance of adopting and applying digital technologies had increased
  • 65% have seen an increased investment in R&D within their organisation
  • 84% have improved the extent to which their organisation uses or exploits data.
  • 89% have increased their in-house technical expertise and capabilities

Other benefits reported included:

  • Enhanced confi­dence in products and services
  • Improved effectiveness of product development
  • Optimised processes
  • Reduced product development costs
  • Reduced time to market
  • Increased sales or profi­tability
  • Enhanced reputation

Although after a project you’ll get a picture of the early outcomes and future potential, the nature of innovation is such that full benefits often take time to be realised. Our survey reflects this in that 79% of participants said that they expect to see further commercial benefits over the next 1-3 years.

Following this research, as part of the Hartree Centre’s continuous improvement work, we’ve enhanced our evidence collection so that we capture information before, after and 2-3 years after our projects to track how benefits accrue to achieve impact over time.

If you’d like to find out more, take a look at the public summary of the report or our infographic. We also have some fantastic case studies which tell a powerful story of some of our individual client projects.


Collaborating to deliver projects

On 8 October 2019 Business Transformation Manager, Neil Runciman and Head of Programmes, Claire Trinder went to a joint conference from the Association of Project Managers (APM) and Institute of Collaborative Working (ICW) with the theme of “Collaborating to deliver projects.” They both share experiences and reflections from the day:

Claire Ward and Jeremy Campbell from the Institute of Collaborative Working (ICW) set the scene for the day with their “Delivering more through collaboration” presentation highlighting how embedding collaborative working in to organisations assists in building long term, sustainable relationships which help to deliver projects. They mentioned the House of Commons and UK Home Office had particularly been enthusiastic in their adoption of collaborative working while also discussing reasons that collaboration can fail. Often this is due to perception of collaborative working, some see it as a selling technique or don’t understand the requirements leading to individuals acting in silos and not demonstrating the appropriate skills or behaviours.

Image credit: APM Events

The next session was led by Ben Cross who shared lessons learned from delivering the £1.5billion A4 road programme – collaboration was key to this, not only between three main contractors but also between a myriad of subcontractors to ensure project success. Actions taken throughout the project to encourage a culture of collaboration included:

  • Common procurement, reducing stoppages and securing better pricing for materials and machinery
  • Open book reporting for all contractors
  • Board members for collaboration, procurement and stakeholder management
  • A commitment to recruit or develop excellent project leaders throughout

A common vision connecting teams to a purpose and ensuring sufficient resources and training were embedded throughout the actions above, ultimately helping the team to deliver the project to cost, with minimum traffic disruption and a low accident rate.

Next up was something a little more practical, led by John Doyle to demonstrate working towards shared objectives with shared benefits. The exercise saw us work in teams of six to design and build part-sections of paper bridges to transport a table tennis ball over three metres but using only A4 paper, sellotape and scissors! Our team enjoyed this and were successful in putting our project management expertise to the test by quickly identifying and filling the necessary roles, working well as a team and overcoming last minute obstacles while still achieving a win-win situation with both client and supplier benefitting.

Neil Runciman taking part in the practical bridge building session. Image credit: APM Events

Jonathan Canioni from Warwick Business School offered an academic perspective to the conference discussions, quoting several successful examples of collaboration including ‘Food for the Soul’ – a programme between an established chef, the Catholic church, local markets and supermarkets in Naples to provide food to those living in poverty. Discussions continued to examples where collaboration had failed – a private banking app that misunderstood the relationship between bank and customer – when even best intentions and aligned incentives can be administered ineffectively. Key learning points from Jonathan’s talk were that collaboration and coordination are bound together in a number of ways, therefore, although coordination is not quite as valuable as collaboration, it is a necessary step on the way and worth striving for if collaboration is unattainable.

“Hartree Centre places tremendous value on and recognises the benefit of collaborative work and we embed this in many ways. From multi-partner grant funded consortia, to individual collaborative research projects with SMEs or larger national organisations, to our most recent 5 year collaborative Innovation Return on Research programme which partners with IBM Research and UK plc. The workshop was a great opportunity to step away from the day to day and reflect on how we achieve our collaborations and opportunities for us to improve on these in the future. The presentations throughout the day gave great insight, especially on how to define collaboration behaviours up front and as Neil highlights, the criticality of great leadership in supporting this. I really enjoyed the practical exercise as well, although I think our session was slightly more chaotic than Neil’s! However the same is often true in real life, and it is how chaos and uncertainty is managed that is also key to success.”

Claire Trinder, Head of Programmes

“For me, this was an interesting day full of sharing experiences and offering new perspectives. I found Ben Cross’ presentation particularly worthwhile as it offered learning points that are directly applicable to complex projects with multiple suppliers while also highlighting the wide benefits of great leadership. I would have appreciated hearing a contractor’s view of collaboration to ensure a balanced view of the reality of collaborating to deliver projects.”

Neil Runciman, Business Transformation Manager