All CIOs face pressures from chief execs to increase efficiency and save money, but when you're involved in one of the most high-profile construction projects the UK has ever seen, overspending and slipping deadlines soon come to the attention of people more fearsome than even the most ruthless shareholders - the national press.
Not that Iain Patterson, CIO of CLM, the consortium building London's 2012 Olympic venues, has a lot to fear from the fourth estate. He was brought into the project in September 2007 to reduce the cost and improve the performance of the IT systems supporting the planning, design, construction and maintenance of the 202-hectare Olympic park in East London. With integrated systems contributing to the construction of the stadium starting three months ahead of schedule and at a forecast saving of £30m, Patterson has made a big difference to the Games effort.
The challenge was unique in many ways, and not just because of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that drew Patterson to the role. CLM is a consortium of three construction companies - CH2M Hill, Laing O'Rourke and Mace - which was appointed by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) as its Delivery Partner in October 2006, with the task of project managing the venues and infrastructure programme for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The ODA itself is a public body created by an Act of Parliament, but liases closely with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog) - a private company charged with organising and running the Games themselves.
Although CLM's parent firms had experience with major construction projects - including Heathrow's Terminal 5 - London- 2012 presented a whole new challenge.
"You've got a startup, in line with a consortium, working with a government body. From an IT perspective, that makes it unique," says Patterson.
"You'd think that with the Olympics happening every four years, you've got a template that just gets rolled out. That's true of the event itself - the events system is fine-tuned and will get dropped in here, but the actual construction processes are always different."
When he arrived at CLM's Canary Wharf HQ, Patterson found a firm settled into the mobilisation phase but yet to embark on a delivery programme which would involve designing the stadium, velodrome and aquatics centre, preparing the site for the construction, building the venues and finally handing them over to Locog.
The ODA had already established strict timeframes for each stage of the build, and Patterson's main concern was to unite the different stakeholders and disparate IT systems with a single IT strategy and a single IT team.
"My record is one of delivery focus. I had to shape the team, to galvanise the ODA and CLM teams into one group, to start to build a relationship with the business areas and put together an IT strategy to make sure we could meet the timeframes of the programme," says Patterson.
"It had the mentality of an entrepreneurial startup. There were bits of systems, and the idea was to bring those together and make something more robust and scalable to suit the delivery phase.
"We were establishing systems and services which most organisations of our size take for granted, and we were also building engineering systems and monitoring systems which require innovation and a great deal of effort."
With one of the parent construction firms - CH2M Hill - based in Colorado, a lot of its toolsets and best practice had been imported from the US for the mobilisation phase, and Patterson decided to build a single platform based on these toolsets along with best practices from the construction industry as a whole and learning from his own experiences at British Gas, Centrica and at Aero Inventory, where aerospace logistics left no room for error. The first step, however, was to look not at the objectives, but at the present business processes.
"Instead of just looking at the toolsets and their capabilities, we examined how the actual information had to move and the way in which the businesses were working," he says.
"What we started to do was to re-engineer the business processes first. Then we alter the toolsets with the revised processes. As a result we've been able to consolidate and control the costs dramatically.
"We've broken down our project functions into discrete services, so those components do their work and we pull it together at the last stage of the delivery cycle. That means we're saving up to 30 per cent on some of the IT deliveries."
In order to form an IT team loaded with business knowledge, Patterson recruited former colleagues who share his commercial awareness. CTO Blake Griffin, for instance, worked alongside Patterson at Centrica, British Gas and Aero Inventory, and is experienced in delivering strategy and technology direction while streamlining overall IT operations.
"There are core people that I tend to take from role to role purely because they are fleet of foot, they understand how I want to work, they understand the value of working with the business, and they're more commercially aware than a lot of IT professionals. You have to understand the business side or you won't succeed."
Even after the key applications were delivered and CLM approached its business-as-usual stage, Patterson's team continued to reassess the business processes to make the IT function even more efficient.
"It's very much about keeping the programme on course and making sure the IT team is distributed into business functions rather than just sitting as an isolated entity. We've pushed IT people into the business area, so when they're not working on IT they're working on process re-engineering. And all the time we're redefining the processes, so if we find anything significant we take it back, put a new release out to change the process and save money."
The physical delivery project involves such diverse tasks as removing 52 electricity pylons from the site of the park and installing 200km of underground cabling in their place, to removing and cleaning some 800,000 tonnes of soil from the site.
One way in which Patterson's team made the preparation and build process more efficient was to develop a vehicle management system to schedule vehicles and their loads coming onto the site. At its peak, 1200 vehicles will be entering the site every day, and the logistics and security measures involved could create gridlock right back to the nearby M11 if these weren't properly managed.
Delivering on schedule
Using knowledge gleaned from the Terminal 5 project, the CLM team developed a delivery management system based on a web application that allows suppliers to request a delivery time slot on a particular day. Once a time is confirmed by a delivery coordinator, the booking app interfaces with a vehicle tracking module that follows vehicles as they enter and leave the park as well as when they pass through security checkpoints, using RFID tags. The web-based nature of the system makes it convenient for all of the project's 2000 suppliers to access, and also contributes to security as well as logistics, permitting precise stock management and preventing the theft of materials from the site.
Further web-based collaboration was incorporated during the design process, when Patterson moved the architecture and design partners onto a single online platform. With a common interface in place, any of the partners - which include engineering and design giants Atkins and Arup - could access the latest drawings quickly and with confidence, and along with a separate project that aligned the CAD and geospatial software with the business processes, using the new system saved time in the design process.
The London Olympics are promised to be the greenest ever, and the IT strategy follows this agenda of sustainability. As well as helping to reduce excessive road journeys through the traffic management system, CLM's server infrastructure is fully virtualised, reducing hosting costs but also using considerably less energy by utilising fewer servers.
Virtualisation also allows for easy scalability of the IT system. By using utility hosting, CLM can scale the systems (and their costs) to cater for the amount of employees on-site during different phases of the construction project.
At its peak, there will be 25,000 workers on site, all of whom have to be validated and logged in and out at the start and end of every shift. But as well as contributing to site security, having efficient and secure employee management systems also helps the ODA monitor its diversity and equality targets. The ODA is partly funded by the five adjacent London boroughs, with each borough wanting to make sure that they are extracting value from their investments in the shape of employment for local residents and businesses. CLM's integrated systems mean that accurate reports can be complied quickly, and the depth of data available has even helped the Metropolitan Police in identifying when and how thefts from building sites are likely to be committed.
While the Olympic Park build has yet to hit its peak, the work of the IT department is already winding down, and with the main applications rolled out, a team that once boasted 120 members now employs just around half that. Even given the current economic downturn, ramping down on such a scale is unusual for most CIOs.
"We're moving towards the outplacement of our services, so we're moving towards a business-as-usual, operational position," says Patterson. "It'll be a very thin IT layer, using the design and construction tools on a much smaller scale."
The Olympic legacy
London's bid made a big deal of the legacy that the Games would leave behind, and the toolsets, applications, methodologies and data that Patterson's team have compiled will also find a use once the final medals have been handed out.
The intellectual property rights of the project belong to the ODA, and so will transfer to the government when the project ends. Any government body will be able to use the various modules, and CLM is working closely with Transport for London to identify ways in which the construction and vehicle tracking tools can be incorporated into the Crossrail project.
An e-procurement system, CompeteFor, will also be adopted by other government agencies. CompeteFor invites firms to register for Olympic contracts and matches those businesses with Games-related opportunities. Some 18,000 companies have joined the scheme, and £3.5bn of contracts have been awarded to 800 businesses.
"We've designed the applications in a way that they can be used by other programmes, so any investment will go back into the public domain," says Patterson.
Another legacy is that the IT helpdesk created to ease the running of the ODA/CLM systems will also be carried through to the Games themselves. Through working with Logoc and Olympic technology partners Atos Origin, Patterson put a system in place that will allow members of the current helpdesk team to stay with the project right through until the end of the Paralympic Games in September 2012.
"They started in the mobilisation phase and will be there fixing journalists' laptops at the London 2012 games, and potentially at the next Olympics after that," he says.
Once the Olympic park is handed over to Logoc in 2011, the ODA's attention will turn to the deconstruction phase, as the stadium itself is reduced from its Games capacity of 80,000 down to a 25,000-seater arena. CLM may retain its status as delivery partner, but having built the infrastructure behind the development of the site, Patterson's need to make a difference at the highest levels means he is unlikely to be involved in this phase of the project.
"I'll move on to somewhere more active," he insists. "I'm not a day-to-day operations guy."
Iain Patterson: CV
1992-96: Engineering director, 4Tec Security
1996-99: European development manager, Gunnebo AB
1999-2000: European corporate development director, Efdex.com
2000-02: Business information systems manager, Centrica
2002-04: Business information systems manager, British Gas Retail/Centrica
2004-06: Head of business systems, British Gas Retail/Centrica
2006-07: IT director, Aero Inventory plc
2007-present: CIO, CLM/ODA London 2012 Olympics
The CIO Questionnaire
Q. Which business (or other) books have been influential in your career?
A. The Starfish and the Spider, which was of great use in understanding organisation models, and helped establishing a global IT organisation. More current books are Wikinomics on the business value of Web 2.0; The Black Swan which helps to look at the current economic crisis and how to approach strategy and planning in these times; The Green Collar Economy, which looks at green issues and also how both efficiency and value can be driven through a green agenda; and The Big Switch which looks at how computing and IT will become a utility service.
Q. How do you keep up to date with the march of technology?
A. Keeping a strong technology team who are in touch with IT technology trends and how they map to business value. Utilising Gartner to be kept up to date with industry trends and the main issues and themes for CIOs. Establishing strategic relationships with the main vendors like Microsoft, SAP and Oracle, so that we are a part of their roadmap.
Q. How do you deal with stress?
A. To avoid this I ensure that I maintain excellent comms with my team and business stakeholders, and I also remain focused on the priorities of these people. I also relax with my family at weekends.
Q. What profession would you most/least like to attempt?
A. Most - President of the US.
Least - the most recent president of the US.
Q. Which technology companies and people do you most admire?
A. Amazon.com has been able to move beyond books to offering e-commerce, computing, and distribution services; Google continues to dominate the market and it's also been able to capitalise on its position in the online advertising business by moving into other forms of advertising, from online display ads to radio, TV, and newspaper ads. It's even challenging Microsoft on office software. Research in Motion for taking BlackBerry from being a mobile email device to a complete mobile enterprise application.
Q. And which do you find most frustrating?
A. Again, BlackBerry/CrackBerry, I hear that bleep and I am compelled to look!
Q. Do you have a sport you practise or sportsperson you follow?
A. I used to fence internationally and race motorcycles. My favourite sport is Moto GP, followed by rugby (supporting Wasps of course ). My all-time sporting hero is Valentino Rossi.