THE POWER OF NETWORKING
There is little doubting the power of networking. We caught up with one tech entrepreneur whose connections have taken his smart city business around the world.
From learning to program in his teens, through setting up a business with a tenner to jetting around the globe on trade missions, Paul Moorby has had some business journey.
As managing director of Chipside, he provides parking and traffic management systems to 150 local authorities.
As well as providing software for traffic wardens’ mobile devices, the Wiltshire-based firm’s public-facing portals are used by about 3.5 million people a year for services such as parking permit renewal.
“We set a target last year to save councils £30m in printing and postage,” says the 52-year-old, explaining that permits can be processed and monitored online.
Moorby says one-in-four UK local and regional traffic authorities use Chipside, with almost 50% growth in use of its digital systems in the space of a year. During that period, he has touched down in Malaysia, South Korea, Australia and Japan as he looks to export Chipside’s expertise through trade missions.
He credits his attendance at the International Business Festivals in 2014 and 2016 for much of that progress.
“After 2014, we really started looking outward. We were guests at a gala dinner and got talking to the UKTI (now Department for International Trade) team. That was how we got involved in the trade missions,” he says. Chipside’s technology featured on the UK Pavilion at the Milan World Expo the following year.
The Festival experience taught Moorby that being good in the UK meant nothing overseas. He changed his marketing model, developing the Oppidatim smart city strategy, aimed at influencing policy and empowering communities by encouraging authorities to share data across boundaries and with both the public and contractors.
For example, by overlaying parking information and traffic camera footage with postcode data, Chipside identified that visitors from affluent London postcodes drove through Gloucester to park and then walked back.
“Could you use that information to help local people? Is there a way you can provide residents with cheaper services and charge visitors more?”
The approach paid off at the 2016 Festival, when Chipside secured an additional 10 local government contracts – worth £250,000 in total - enabling it to increase the workforce by seven to 40, with further recruitment expected.
Recent law changes pave the way for councils to vary parking charges without lengthy consultation procedures, Moorby says. They could use data to predict when air quality will be poor, and advise drivers to use park-and-ride facilities or face higher charges.
“In that model, the polluter pays,” says Moorby. On a simpler level, they could nudge behaviour through incentives such as discounted parking where there is an oversupply.
These ideas have caught the attention of overseas authorities, with trade missions to Australia leading to three authorities agreeing to trial Chipside's systems.
Being at the technological vanguard of his industry is a far cry from his programming roots, when he keypunched cards to be fed into a university mainframe.
“My maths teacher took me under his wing and taught me programming at a very early age,” explains Moorby. “Then I worked on a BBC Micro and Spectrum. I tell young lads I programmed a ZX80 with 4k of memory and they laugh.”
After a varied early career, he entered the parking world as a technician 25 years ago. And when his employer left the market, he invested £10 to set up his company from home.
Contracts arrived slowly at first; his first customer at Basildon in Essex paid on a monthly basis in milestones. Fifteen years later, it’s ‘surreal’ to be jetting around on trade missions with government ministers.
“My recommendation to other SMEs is to start doing the job now and use the money you make to develop the product,” he says. “Then get out and meet people at events like the International Business Festival. It’s a huge showcase.”