It is thought that it was the Roman Emperor Claudius who first commissioned engineers to drive oak foundations into mud that surrounded a spring in Somerset.
In doing, so those workmen began a long association between the city of Bath and the engineering industry.
Today, tourists flock to Bath to enjoy the architecture of this UNESCO World Heritage site and bathe, not in the spa waters which are out of bounds to the public, but in the city’s Roman temples, Georgian splendour and its Jane Austen connections.
Most snap-happy visitors will probably never consider the engineering that has gone into the building of the Royal Crescent, Bath Abbey, the Assembly Rooms or Pulteney Bridge.
Nor will they notice one of the former mill buildings and realise it is the world headquarters of engineering firm Buro Happold, whose skills have been instrumental in the creation of some of the world’s most striking buildings, including:
- The Louvre Abu Dhabi
- The O2 arena and Emirates Stadium in London
- The Cooperative Group’s new Manchester headquarters
- The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture and Knowledge in Saudi Arabia
- The Hawaii Preparatory Center
“It’s nice to work where you are proud of what they do and of their flagship projects,” says Buro Happold’s Group IT Director, Shaun Mundy.
We are sat in a meeting room named after a famous engineer, and on the walls around us are images of buildings that Buro Happold has brought its considerable engineering expertise too.
Mundy joined Buro Happold in September 2008 and has re-shaped IT to reflect the fast-reacting engineering company it is a part of, so that IT, like Buro Happold itself, is agile, leading edge and operates as a partnership.
Formed in 1976 by Sir Edmund Happold, Buro Happold is an engineering consultancy which provides design, planning, project management and consulting for building and environmental projects.
Set up in Bath because the founder moved to the city to take up a professorship at the city’s university, today the company has offices in seven countries.
Buro Happold serves sectors such as aviation, civic authorities, commercial developers, the culture sector, education, energy providers, healthcare, retail, sport, transport and waste.
“The organisation is made of engineers and consultants and they work not only on the buildings, but also in the environment around it on issues such as sustainability and population growth,” he says.
“There are very few architects here: our people are all engineers of different descriptions and it is a very global team.
“That means its smart group of people, they develop their own software at times and create a lot of shadow IT,” Mundy says of the user base he and his IT team have to support.
“As engineers and as an organisation they don’t work on commodity projects, so our customers don’t do commodity IT,” he adds, connecting the complexity of designing a rail hub in Germany to the IT needs of the engineers working on it.
“They are creative and very challenging and they want the best and they want to be leading edge or even bleeding edge. When we want to make a change they challenge us and that is good,” he says.
This creates an interesting dynamic for Mundy, one that is being debated widely amongst CIOs in terms of consumerisation.
For Mundy, his user base isn’t just buying and adopting mobile devices. As technologists themselves they are also procuring software for their projects.
“The immediacy of their challenges and roles means they will find a way to do things and if a niche provider has the application for it, they will adopt it,” he explains.
Although many IT chiefs would baulk at the thought of giving staff free rein, Mundy is relaxed with it and works with the users to help outline their choices and meet their demands.
“Their knowledge and boundaries challenge us and the challenge is to be a little bit more challenging back," he says of the open-minded approach to hardware and software procurement that he readily adopts.
"There is nothing worse than being told that something is ‘IT policy’. I don’t want to set an arbitrary group of applications. We can’t and shouldn’t do that as an organisation otherwise we end up in the commodity space.
“We will use what they like, but as IT we must work out how we rationalise applications to what is most effective. IT must be enabling. I would like to think that we are on the other side of the fence, over with them.”
Mundy not only enables a high degree of application choice to satisfy immediate needs, he asks the organisation to let him know what applications they would like to try and then asks them to share those tools and the best practices for using them with the rest of the organisation.
“The key is timing. My challenge is to understand when I can challenge them, where I can influence and when to put things outside of my unit," Mundy explains.
"But, not challenging the organisation will let everyone down, and challenging the organisation is the core challenge of the CIO role.”
One way in which Mundy ensures that the IT department is on the engineers’ side of the fence is to put a lot of effort into making sure his department knows enough about the business, especially the new entrants to the organisation.
“We are re-educating the whole team about the needs and role of the business. The airline BMI did a lot of this and they knew they had done the right thing when there was a poster in the department that said ‘It’s about flying aeroplanes’,” he explains.
Mundy has a team of 40 and four direct reports spread globally.
Buro Happold doesn’t have a follow-the-sun-style IT operation and support, and its Hong Kong office works without any IT support for a few hours every day until the Dubai office, which is where the general IT helpdesk is based, logs on.
His UK team focuses on providing the specialist engineering IT applications and support.
One of Mundy’s first roles when he joined Buro Happold was to create a single global IT environment.
This has been achieved by standardising the desktop environment onto Windows 7, but also by removing a management layer and instead creating a series of monthly service reviews with the rest of the organisation where every part of the IT service catalogue is re-assessed.
“The service review gives us a firm steer across their pain points and a clear picture of how we need to respond. And we really take notice, it is not just a paper exercise and we try to be transparent about the service levels,” Mundy says.
Mundy reports directly to the CEO, a chain of command that has also changed since he joined. The Buro Happold board wanted a central IT under a single umbrella rather than the regional direct reporting line it had previously operated.
New business model
Having such a centralised technology resource will enable Buro Happold to respond to the UK government’s introduction of BIM (building information modelling), which is creating a defined protocol for the creation, management and sharing of digital building information.
The standard should ensure that digital information becomes a shared knowledge resource for all those involved in the creation of the concept, build stages, operation and use of a building, and even ultimately its demolition.
In June 2011 the UK government published a BIM strategy that will require all projects from 2016 onwards to be BIM-compliant and indeed the Royal Institute of Architects found that 31 per cent of architects in 2011 were already using BIM. Similar information initiatives already exist in the car manufacturing sector, Mundy explained.
“We are working on that government initiative and what it will mean to us as a business to make sure that the way we model is then used and shared across the organisation. It will drive efficiency through the business,” he says.
Mundy explains that linking computer-generated descriptions of a building to all the different stages of its construction and its working life will make the information more effective. That's great news for any CIO.
Organisations like Buro Happold will see their initial design stages become more rapid, which will again suit this CIO. Mundy is an advocate of Agile methodology and believes that as with his service reviews, agile creates transparency in the organisation.
Buro Happold uses stand-up meetings for service desk and infrastructure teams and there are retrospectives every two weeks to look at ways of improving, which in turn acts as a form of training.
“It helps the teams all around the world as they all get to meet and request what they want done. It’s better to know that something will not happen and why, rather than expect that it will happen,” says Mundy.
He and his team have transformed a great deal, but as ever in an engineering environment, the zeal to experiment, create, test and improve remains strong.
Continuing from the benefits of BIM, Mundy is analysing efficiency at the firm.
“We can be more efficient at measuring and planning the impact of moving a project from one area of the business to another. And we are taking a good look at our back-end processes,” he says.
This study includes assessing how Buro Happold extracts value from applications like Aggresso for its financials and working with the business development and marketing departments on their use of CRM.
In tandem with the HR team, he is also carrying out a study into consumerisation.
“We want to partner with our users, so the study with HR is to ask how we can enable consumerisation. We already have iPads about and we are neither sponsoring them nor stopping them. The study will find how we can go forward and benefit the business.
“You can be too tight with the restrictions or too blasé, so we need to understand the risk profile now.
“Take cloud computing. I’m not sure most organisations have looked at their existing risk profile. I ask, do you really know how secure you are now as an organisation? With cloud providers there could be an assumption that they are more secure than you are, but they are also a bigger target.”
As well as the recent migration to Windows 7 across the organisation, Mundy has rolled out Microsoft Lync and Office Communications Server to provide Polycom video conferencing to all Buro Happold operations.
With major projects under way in the Middle East, Mundy says these technology upgrades have been very well received.
“People are on the move all the time, but we have cut the travel bill as it stops people having to travel at short notice.”
Before Buro Happold, Mundy headed IT at marketing services company CPM, an organisation that first allowed him to learn and use Agile. Being in marketing taught him vital skills in business intelligence and financial management.
Mundy has the air of an engineer about him; he meets you with detailed notes, methodically records items that need to be checked and is clearly passionate about pushing the boundaries of the technology he engineers into a business and its processes.
As a successful brass band musician in his free time, he is also creative himself. He followed in family footsteps in this regard and his son continues the tradition.
Again the passion shines through as Mundy explains that the typical vision of brass bands is the mining band picture painted by films such as Brassed Off staring Ewan McGregor. Mundy, though, tells a very different story.