Now just a year into her role, we sat down with Julie Snell, CEO here at Bristol is Open to find out more about her background and her vision as a Smart City.
What is your role here at Bristol is Open and how long have you been doing it?
As CEO, I am responsible for leading the development and execution of our short and long-term strategies to support the people of Bristol and beyond. We are doing this by enabling Bristol City Council to provide a good, strong connectivity infrastructure that provides everyone inclusive access to build a vibrant, diverse and healthy environment to live and do business in.
By using the research and development skills from the University of Bristol and access to the real live city problems via Bristol City Council, I am able to create a unique set of collaborations that identify these problems, research and design possible solutions, then test them in a manner that will enable them to be scaled and rolled out across the community.
My role is probably far more “hands-on” than one would assume. I am involved at all levels of the business from communicating with my stakeholders, government entities, corporates, SME’s and the public to creating and implementing the Bristol is Open’s vision and mission, and expanding opportunities, markets, industry developments, etc. There is also the matter of gaining funding, ensuring that Bristol is Open maintains high social responsibility wherever we do business, assessing risks to Bristol is Open and ensuring they are monitored and minimized.
I joined Bristol is Open (BiO) in November 2017 and think I still believe I have one of the most exciting jobs around.
What were you doing before?
I have been lucky enough to be at the start of so many new wireless technologies which has given me a wealth of business expertise. In my time at BT, one of my biggest achievements was being part of the start-up of BT’s public WiFi Openzone network which led me to become engaged with the then newly founded global Wireless Broadband Alliance. Here, I represented BT as board member and latterly as Chair of the Global Wireless Broadband Alliance.
From this fortunate position, I became instrumental in driving the global strategic vision to establish public WiFi governance in the legal, technology, billing and customer experience areas.
I have had many years of experience driving innovation, delivering superior operations and overall corporate performance. I have developed a wide range of knowledge and experience that is enabling me to contribute and lead BiO toward success in its next stage of business growth.
Immediately prior to joining BiO, I was working with the Wireless Broadband Alliance Connected City Advisory Board, so working with Smart Cities across the globe. I have been following Smart City programs since its earliest days and I am excited to see this vision becoming a reality. I am a rather passionate Smart City fan and the opportunity to be driving the considerable opportunities to start scaling Smart Propositions that could take Bristol to the next level was the biggest draw to taking on this role.
Since you started here, what has been your main focus? Is there anything you have been surprised by?
The biggest challenge has been to understand how best to take BiO to its next stage of growth. We are seeing so many Smart City test beds closing down having tested so many technologies but not able to scale and make real long-term change. Bristol is unique with so many physical assets that would enable scale. The best surprise is that managing the politics hasn’t turned out to be the biggest challenge. The aspiration to “do” and not obstruct is inspiring and empowering.
What is at the core of Bristol is Open? What are you and the team aiming to achieve?
Our aim is to provide significant and responsibly delivered change to the people of Bristol in a way that can then be taken and scaled national and internationally. This is through ‘invisible’ means on our network that improves lives, quality of living and overall connectedness across the city so it lives and grows with ease.
How unique is Bristol is Open?
BiO has many unique elements, not least the team of people who do this work because they wish to make a change. Being an integral part of the city planning and access to the people who wish to break down the silos and having access to the R&D facilities at the University of Bristol enables us to not just test the technology but the whole end to end problem, covering the business modelling, the ethics and policies which are all key elements to making scalability possible. And, unlike other cities, we have our own independent, secured fibre network that is not bound to the commercial dictation of corporate networks and partners. This means we have freedom to serve Bristol and tackle the real issues we have with clarity and conviction.
Smart City is a term that is now frequently bandied about and is almost jargon! What does it actually mean?
I believe there are in excess of 300 descriptions of the term “Smart City” The answer is, there is probably no universally agreed definition of what constitutes a smart city.
Throughout history cities have always behaved in smart ways. For instance, the install of the first traffic lights or roundabout, made traffic flow smarter. Today being a smart city is about preparing the city to embrace the next wave of technology and digital connectivity that will give us access to more data that will enable more change.
We need to ensure Bristol is ready to embrace these changes to responsibly deliver a better quality of life for all who live, work and visit the city.
How important is it for a city to be smart in a digitised sense? How will we benefit?
As time has progressed, so much of our daily lives are managed by items, devices, software etc. that the infrastructure a city supplies must be capable of supporting digitalised connectivity. Without this in place, the city would fall behind others and not be able to take advantage of the ever-growing new ways to improve so many parts of everyone’s daily lives.
How is Bristol delivering in comparison with other smart cities and whom have you got your eye on?
Bristol is a city of innovators with a council that empowers change, put this together with the power of the University of Bristol and the R&D facilities we have been able to make a change. We must continue to drive this to more deliverables that are scaled if we are to stay up there with the best global smart cities. Having recently won a GLOMO for Smart City Award (The Judges’ Choice) – GLOMO’s are the telecommunications and mobile industry equivalent of the Oscars- and we want to continue to be as successful and recognised.
Who have I got my eye on? Well, I personally see this journey as one of collaboration, I don’t believe anyone city or company can solve all of the issues; we need to work together.
What are your immediate plans?
Right now, I’m finalising the new strategy that will take us toward scaling the experimentations to real life every day service. I’m also focused on engaging with more businesses to enable collaboration of testing against real-life issues and establishing new funding opportunities. I’m also looking to continue our strong support for our SME innovators across the city region as we have done for Blu Wireless and Zeetta Networks.
What can people in Bristol (those of us who live and/or work here) do to support Bristol is Open and help it to continue to succeed?
I would say this is a two way ask. We need to work with the people of Bristol to ensure we are understanding the real problems, and not just the ones we “think” are problems. So, we need them to work with us on specific programs, in workshops etc, be volunteers to take part in the projects to trial new solutions.
The innovators of the city, start-up SME’s, scaling up SME’s etc can have access to our multi-wireless connectivity closed network and data core, we would love them to become involved. They can do this in many ways, through our partnerships with Engine Shed, Watershed, and We The Curious or come to us directly.
And finally, we can all shout out about the opportunities there are for organisations and businesses across the UK and throughout the world, to test their developments and innovations in Bristol.