Here is a Fireside Chat with Andy Speake, National Technical Manager at Aico. This interview touches on the exciting nature of the Internet of Things, how if you are not making mistakes you are not trying hard enough and the incredibly varied and rewarding nature of his role at Aico.

31 August 2021 by Adam Richardson, General Manager

Fireside Chat with Andy Speake

Intro: My name is Andy Speake and I’m the National Technical Manager at Aico.  My role involves managing the technical support team.  But my job also involves being out and about, talking to customers, going onsite and being involved in Industry Associations such as the FIA writing standards within BSI and alike, so that’s a very brief overview of my role really. 

Before I was in the fire industry, compared to many others, I’m relatively new to it, I’ve always been technical in an engineering capacity, but I’ve come from IT, telecoms.  So, it’s interesting how much more my IT and telecoms experience has actually been utilised now in the fire industry than when I first joined.  Which isn’t a million years ago but I remember when I first sat on the Fire Detection and Alarm council, everybody went around the room introducing themselves and they’d all been in the industry for 20-30 years and I’d been in it for just over 5 years.  It was a very different background but equally, there are a lot of skills from different industries that are transferable.  Certainly, from IT and telecoms, a shocking number of transferable skills. 

How have you been affected by COVID-19?

I think that’s been a life-changer for everybody really.  Personally, I was very lucky, I got married literally just before lockdown happened.  In March last year just before Covid first occurred.  But since then, it’s been subject to change.  The business has carried on operating throughout, where we’re life safety, we’re distributing, we’re manufacturing, so we’ve been operating but how we’ve operated is totally different.  We’re all virtual, we’re all online, so our technical support team have introduced video calls, WhatsApp calls, you can now video call our technical support team and just little ways of working that change. 

I’ve gone from being on the road most of the week to being office-based or partially working in the office. So, it’s been a big change to ways of working really. Hopefully, we’re coming out of it now. Regarding things that will remain from the changes that have been made, I absolutely think that most of the thing’s that we’ve changed will carry on. So, Aico TV is still as popular now, just instead of people tuning in to watch it live, people are watching it on Demand when it’s convenient for them.  That I can’t see going away any time soon.  But hopefully, what we do hope to change is where we’re delivering so many meetings and training sessions online, we would like to be out and about.

We have four mobile units that travel around the country. They’ve literally been in storage for the last twelve months while the country’s been in lockdown. We’re itching to get them back out again where ever people need them, they are mobile training units, portable classrooms and it’s great to get them back out there. I think they can do more than online can do in some areas, whereas online, I fully accept, it does have its advantages but they both have their place, I believe.

Personal Questions

  • Do you have any pets?

Normally the answer’s no, but I do have two baby chickens staying with me at the moment, indefinitely.  My friend offered them to us and as we have a three-year-old son, our friend thought it would be quite good fun to have chickens in the house, for my child.  So, that’s an odd pet to have at the moment, although I don’t deny it, they are quite cute though they are quite noisy at the same time. I’m sure they do have names but I can’t remember them.

  • What’s your favourite movie of all time?

It’s a really good question, a really tricky one.  In the end, I have to say, ‘Into the Wild’.  I don’t know if it is my utmost favourite, but it’s certainly up there.  It’s based on a true story, it’s an interesting story and there’s a lot to be learnt from that film.  It’s about a highly educated chap that finishes college, graduates and then decides he’s had enough of society and he wants to go off and live in the wild.  It’s about his journey really, which is an interesting one and a journey of self-discovery and some very deep impactful realisations along the way, so a really good film. 

  • Describe yourself as a teenager in 3 words?

Hardworking, independent and curious. 

  • What is your biggest pet peeve/hate? 

People who don’t put indicators on. It’s never sat well with me. It’s a simple thing to do, but people don’t do it. 

  • If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be and why?

As much as the ’60s sounded like a really cool time, I’d probably pick the Industrial Revolution.  I’m an engineer, I love steam, I love big iron bridges, big engineering of any sort, so steam, canals, I’m a big fan of canals.  So that’s definitely the time I’d be most excited about. 

  • What is your favourite quote and why? 

One that has stood out recently, as there are lots of quotes, is ‘If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not trying hard enough’.  I can relate to that.  I think it was Elon Musk who came out with that.  But, it’s good to constantly keep pushing yourself and it's proof that you are pushing yourself if you are making mistakes and that you’re not staying within your comfort zone.  I like that one.

  • If you weren’t in the fire industry – what would you be doing and why?

I would say, potentially, engineering, architecture has been an area that I’ve always been interested in, but equally, I’ve come from the IT industry.  So, I think my careers very much taken me to where I am today and that’s led me very well really.  At Uni, I didn’t study IT or engineering, I studied child social care in Wrexham.  I did work as a child support worker a good many times, I’ve worked for a lot of housing associations which are now our customers, I was working with single-parent families, with homeless people, with young people that are at risk of substance misuse and I’ve done support work within that sector for many different housing associations and charities.  But primarily, I’ve always worked in IT and engineering technology and that is where my expertise is.

  • What’s on your Spotify or iTunes?

Rather embarrassingly and I’ll be totally honest here, it’s been taken over by my three-year-old son.  Tractor Ted, a lot of Blippy and I apologise if anybody knows who Blippy is, I feel your pain.  If it were my music, it would be The National, or it could be absolutely anybody, I’ve got very diverse music taste, but sadly it’s mainly children’s nursery rhymes.

  • If you could have any three people (dead or alive) over for dinner – who would they be?

Mohammed Ali, Jimmy Hendrix and David Attenborough.  Which would be the most bizarre dinner party ever.  But equally very interesting people.  Mohammed Ali, I think is absolutely fascinating, loved his work ethic, he always said, what ever he’d do, he’d be the best at whatever it did.  If he was a binman he said he’d be the best binman.  He was a boxer and the best boxer.  A lot of respect.  I loved his work ethic and a lot of his morals.  Jimmy Hendrix purely because he’s just amazing, regarding both his music and about him as a person, when you read about him, what a man.  He’s a massively influential man. He’s a very interesting chap, there’s a lot we don’t know about him, sadly due to when we lost him.  David Attenborough, well, he’s just the man, isn’t he?  You could natter on and on to David Attenborough, couldn’t you? 

  • What two things would you take to a Desert Island?

A good boat would be a start, I love boating, so I have to take a good quality boat.  Whether it’ll actually get me off the island or not is another matter but it’s something to pass the time. I also like yo-yoing, as weird as that sounds, it’s a bizarre pastime but it keeps me amused for hours.  So, probably a good yo-yo and a good boat.  It keeps me organised and it’s a good discipline.

  • Name a book, movie or tv show that has positively shaped you and why?

I’m going to go back to David Attenborough.  He recently launched on Netflix a witness statement.  It was massively impactful, and I played that to my oldest son, who is 11. I think it’s really important that the younger generation see that understanding and see how we need to change the way we farm, how we fish, how we deal with deforestation, the harm from burning fossil fuels and all of that, I think that it all ties in ahead.  I like the facts that he provides, he’s not just given up, he’s proving that there is a clear way out of this, we’re not in too deep to be able to fix it.  It’s close to my heart and it’s close to the company as well and it’s something we feel passionately about.  Reducing our carbon footprint as well, as a group.

  •  If you were an animal, what would it be and why?

I’d have to be a goat because they look like they’re having so much fun. They free run, it’s parkour really isn’t it, it’s just I like climbing mountains as well and everybody loves a mountain goat.  So, I would go with a goat.

  • What is the best gift you’ve ever received?

Probably due to lockdown, my perfect draft machine, which completed my home bar very nicely.  With the pubs being closed for such a long period of time, I’ve been able to enjoy a nice draft Belgian beer, in my shed at home has been a lovely thing.  A real treat. 

  • What's your favourite thing in your closet right now?

I’m not really into clothes massively, certainly not labels, so for any value of any item, would have to go to my dad’s hat.  My late Father, my best friend, biggest inspiration in my life and yes, I sadly lost him seven/eight years ago. I’ve still got his hat and I wear it with pride, so that’s probably my favourite item.  It’s like a Panama hat, waterproof, practical and comfy.

  • If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I’d avoid all the obvious ones, such as flight and invisibility, I’d have to go with Teleportation, maximum freedom. If I want to be on a beach in Tahiti, I could be, equally if I wanted to go to the Galapagos Islands, why not?  So, I’d go with Teleportation.  It would help with commuting too and as they say ‘It’s not necessarily about the destination, it’s about the journey as well’. 

Professional Questions

  • What's the best piece of advice you've received?

I’d need to give credit to our Managing Director Neal Hooper on this one.  He’s often given the advice of ‘whenever you come to reply to an email which is particularly important, sleep on it, maybe draft the email out first or draft the reply, as it may be, but then sleep on it before you actually hit send’.  I wish I had been given that advice years ago. I use this all the time, I do that in my personal life as well and I guarantee you can draft a certain email or a certain piece, you’ll then re-read it in the morning, and you’ll make changes. You’ll read it a different way and spot mistakes that you didn’t pick up on the first time so, yes, a cracking bit of advice. 

  • What time did you get to work this morning?

I only live about a field away from the office, so I was here about 7.45 am.  It’s quite a moderate start. 

  • What does your usual day look like?

My job is varied at the best of times. I have a team here in the office that I manage, but equally, I support all of our external regional specification managers. I spend a lot of time on-site with customers dealing with Landlords, trading contractors and then there’s all the British standards.  There’s the FIA, from the gas side there’s CoGDEM, a different industry association that we’re a member of.  So, I’d be out a lot and my day at the office could typically start anytime between 5.30 am to 6.30 am. A mixture of different meetings and training, it couldn’t be more varied. 

However, since Covid, it’s totally turned everybody’s jobs and life on its head.  I’m spending more and more time in the office, although it is changing now, I’m out a lot more now, we’ve got into this online world.  The prescription on my glasses has increased which is a common thing due to all the zoom meetings that we’re all living through now. So, yes, massive difference.  It’s great to be close to my team based here in the office, I’m loving that.  But at the same time, my role, I think thrives best when I am directly dealing with customers out on-site, getting feedback on products.  Seeing face to face training and people’s reaction.  It’s better and I think it’s important to have face to face training than online because you just don’t know how engaged a person is with online training. 

  • What makes you excited about the future of this industry?

I’d say massively the Internet of Things (IoT).  I’m from an IT background, as I mentioned earlier, IT is very much coming the way in the fire industry, which is great.  With IoT we have artificial intelligence, we have machine learning whereas IoT can sometimes be used as a bit of a buzz word, the internet of things, a connected home, all these different buzz words, AI, ML, these are real proven technologies that are making a real difference and can have a massive impact on the way the industry moves forward.  So, absolutely, that’s what I’m most excited about.  It should be good. 

Data is massive, data is a huge thing, data can help us make better-informed decisions, save more lives, increase legislation, produce better standards.  Data is massively powerful, equally, data can be very private and needs to be securely stored and needs to be ethical how it’s used and people need to have control over their data and that is something I equally feel as passionately about.  So, yes, massively excited if it’s done the right way and there are right ways of doing all this stuff. We have a team member here whose focus has been solely on ethical IoT, they’re a researcher, that’s been their main focus, including resident engagement on this topic, they’re soon to release the paper, I believe it produced from the University of Bristol, really interesting stuff.  IT doesn’t have to be scary, but it does have to be done correctly, with privacy and security, which aren’t necessarily exclusive with each other, It needs to be handled right.

  • What do you think the fire industry needs?

The topics we’ve spoken about above, it’s great we now have the IoT Special Interest Group in the FIA. I think sometimes we don’t move fast enough.  It’s life safety which is why it’s so grounded and slow-moving.  Why doesn’t it move so quick?  I get that, I’m fully understanding of that point, but at the same time there are other industries, I think it was even discussed at the FIA SIG on IoT when a comparison was made to the automobile industry, which is very life safety-focused, but they’re innovating at a rapid pace.  I think we as an industry, need to do the same.  Yes, just because it’s a life safety product and we need to tread carefully, but there’s no reason why we can’t pick up the pace, which we need to do when it comes to software and IoT

  • How does your work and family life come together?

It’s a good question because, from the work side, Aico has a lot of social events, prior to the pandemic we had loads of social events where family, children and friends would be invited to socialise, there’s many friends within the company from the local area, or at least people that are based here.  There’s a lot of that.  Since the pandemic as a company, we’ve had to move to Zoom quizzes, which again, the whole families are part of.  That social aspect from employees and family coming together, isn’t the same, it will resume once normal life resumes.

From a work/home point of view as far as external to work and how well they compliment each other, pretty well, I’ve never worked set hours, some nights I’m away, sometimes I’m on the road for days, my wife’s absolutely fine with that, my son misses me for a few days, but we’ve got very good at video calls over the last 12 months, so it’s less of an issue really.  I think there is a nice healthy balance, my family does come first, but the company allows that to be the case, there’s never ever been a conflict since working here.  It’s a nice healthy balance.

  • What matters most to you?

Professionally, I’d say quality, it’s a life safety product, our intention is it never needs to function.  In an ideal world, alarms are going into properties and I hope they never need to fulfil their purpose in life, but if it does for whatever reason, then it’s got to work.  That’s massively important.  So that’s me putting quality in a professional capacity.  Equally, I think, going back to Mohammed Ali, whatever you do, should be done right.  If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.  So, quality is top of my list on that one really.  Family is of course important, I feel I should mention that, but quality family time, they should equally be as important. 

  • What would you tell yourself at the age of 21?

It’s fairly generic.  If you work hard, anything can be accomplished really and probably drink more water.  Those are the main things I’d tell myself at the age of 21. 

  • What motivates you?

I like being challenged. This job does that amazingly and I feel challenged every single day. I’m never comfortable in front of the camera, but I find myself having to do that more and more often.  I’m finding it, where I don’t like it, I’m now more comfortable with it.  As we’re involved in more and more standards and things like that, again, you’re dealing with experts from various different areas, different industries, different companies, from different organisations and again you find yourself talking about topics with which you’re not familiar with and yes, every day is challenging.  I love being pushed out of my comfort zone. I was always told that it is healthy to push yourself out of your comfort zone at least once each day.  My job fulfils that for me quite easily. 

  • Where do you want to be in 5 years?

I suppose continuing on the same path that I’m on at the moment. I love standardization, I love all the standards committees, the working groups, the technical committees that I’m part of.  That’s really interesting. So, continuing to be involved with that. You feel as if you are very much involved with something. You feel like you are contributing to something very important.  Equally, there’s work with the FIA and I enjoy all my work that’s going on through that. 

As for here within Aico continuing, we’ve got some very exciting things happening and Aico is very much devoted and committed to IoT, the connected home and that’ really exciting for me.

  • Why is the FIA important to you and the industry?

It provides a platform to communicate further with the industry, collaboration and ways of shaping the future.  Creating standards and things like that which we currently don’t have, the IoT and IT standards are moving pretty rapidly. We need to embrace that more in the fire industry with some of our standards and I think these are the areas that can massively help.

But, if you’re trying to solve a problem that is affecting everybody then the FIA provides a way where everybody can collaborate easily, everyone will be affected by the same problem.  We’ve all got the same challenge and the same obstacle in front of us and this is where industry associations and working groups and councils can really make a massive difference, I believe. 

  • What do you want to say to the readers?

If anybody’s still reading, I’ll be shocked that you’ve read this far and thank you and say hi in the future.

If you would like to get involved with Fireside Chats please contact Adam Richardson on [email protected].

*All answers given are not reflective of the FIA views and thoughts and are that of the individual who was interviewed.