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Scotsman interview with CENSIS CEO Paul Winstanley

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6 June 2023

Journalist Emma Newlands of the Scotsman, interviewed with CEO Paul Winstanley to talk about the last 10 years of CENSIS. Read the full interview, published on 25 May 2023, on the Scotsman website.

Paul Winstanley is the chief executive of CENSIS, Scotland’s innovation centre for sensing, imaging, and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies – the latter the connection of devices beyond, say, computers and smartphones to the internet via embedded technology.

The “entrepreneurial technologist” joined the organisation in 2019 after roles with the likes of the Ministry of Defence, defence company QinetiQ, and the UK Defence Solutions Centre, while he also a co-founder of Scotland’s Smart Things Accelerator Centre, which, like CENSIS, is based in Glasgow.

CENSIS celebrated its tenth anniversary earlier this month – how much of a milestone is this?

Anyone involved in the innovation ecosystem will know how important it is to have a long-term view, which is why it’s great to not only celebrate the last ten years, but also look towards what the next ten might hold. For CENSIS, it’s about evolving to stay ahead of the latest technologies to allow us to respond to the requirements from Scottish businesses and public organisations using digital tools and systems.

This year serves as the perfect opportunity to bring our networks together and thank some of the supporters that we’ve had from the start. It’s also a reminder for many of the SMEs

This year serves as the perfect opportunity to bring our networks together and thank some of the supporters that we’ve had from the start. It’s also a reminder for many of the SMEs we work with of just how far they’ve come.

Projects that began life with us as a prototype have become fully commercial products that led to major contracts for businesses such as iOpt – a developer of an IoT system that allows for real-time asset monitoring for the social housing market. There’s also the academic impact, and we’ve built up some great long-term relationships with universities and colleges such as Glasgow, Heriot-Watt, and Scotland’s Rural College.

A recent economic impact assessment of the innovation centre showed the cumulative impact of our collaboration projects in terms of industry investment since launching a decade ago. For every £1 invested by Censis, nearly £6 has been match-funded by partners.

In terms of IoT, while not everyone might understand what it is and how it works, it has tangible, real-life applications and benefits – can you highlight some key examples? Also, how has Covid advanced this need for/use of it?

IoT has such a broad range of applications across so many sectors but, ultimately, it’s about gathering rich sets of data to enable organisations to make informed decisions. One of the use cases we are seeing more of is businesses looking to use IoT to help reduce industrial energy consumption.

Another project we recently supported explored the use of IoT to tackle one of the biggest biological challenges in the forestry sector, pine weevils. A remote imaging and monitoring system was developed to help site managers identify and quantify the presence of the insects in commercial forests.

In many ways, the Covid years accelerated a digital transformation and forced us all to get more familiar with virtual environments. The shift to working from home brought about a need for tools and systems to support remote monitoring and decision-making. In some cases, these were even automated, and we’re likely to see that increase.

During the pandemic, technology was also deployed to help public health and safety. For instance, we saw building managers using sensors to monitor social distancing and safe working conditions, while we worked with one of the UK’s largest dental groups to implement a new system for air quality monitoring in surgeries.

You recently said Scotland has the ability to “punch well above its weight” in IoT – how far along is Scotland in the adoption of this growing area, and how can such technology help businesses? What are the barriers to firms adopting it, and how do you overcome these?

WW have some great success stories coming out of Scotland from scaling-up companies like iOpt, Utopi and Beringar in property tech and the built environment, to M2M Cloud in water monitoring, and Krucial in satellite connectivity. They have embraced the growth opportunity to become leaders in the UK market.

While there are many businesses seeing the benefits of IoT, we also have some local authorities and public sector organisations already quite far along the adoption curve including utilising smart gritting networks to deploy vehicles to the roads that need it most, for example. Another growing area is remote health and social care – particularly with the upcoming switch-off of analogue networks – as well as environmental monitoring.

Our economy is largely made up of SMEs, which in itself can impede digital transformation. For businesses with only a handful of employees, prioritising IoT can be a challenge, so we need technology companies to help them make a start, encourage curiosity, and ensure they can see the tangible benefits of introducing IoT with quick results.

What are key goals for CENSIS in the short and longer term? Are you planning more tie-ups along the lines of those you have agreed with, say, Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc, Converge, and Heriot-Watt University Robotics Society?

In the future, I’d like Scotland to be seen as the gold standard of a tech ecosystem to which other countries want to be compared. The ingredients already exist, but it’s about working together, pooling resources and knowledge to make progress as a nation, rather than as individuals or single companies.

We’ll be bringing more people together to stimulate ideas and discussion through the likes of our virtual coffee mornings, networking events and annual Tech Summit, as well as through working groups seeking to solve big challenges such as sustainability in electronics. Another goal is to get more involved in the start-up support system, including accelerators and funding competitions, as well as doing even more with initiatives like CivTech.

Our tie-ups with Scottish colleges and universities are also hugely important for nurturing the next generation of talent. Technology is evolving at such speeds that we cannot expect formal education programmes to keep up, so there’s a valuable role for organisations like CENSIS to offer support.