HS2 is not merely a mega engineering project but under James Findlay's IT leadership one that is innovating in data exploitation. The provision of online visualisation tools has helped drive the enabling legislation and provided a model for supply chain efficiencies for future projects.
When did you start your current role at HS2?
What is your reporting line?
Programme and strategy director.
Do you meet with and discuss business strategy with the CEO every week?
We meet regularly, but are going through significant organisational change as we move towards construction. The IT and information strategies are key delivery enablers.
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other executive boards do you sit on?
Chair of the Department for Transport's (DfT) digital and technology leadership board, and DfT technology leader on the government technology leadership network board, the government technology commercial board and the government digital and technology fast-stream steering group.
Does your organisation have a CDO?
What non-technology responsibilities do you have in the organisation?
I sit on the HS2 exceptional hardship scheme board assessing applications for property purchase by the government. I am a mentor for both government and HS2 employees.
How many employees does your organisation have?
Approximately 1,000. The organisation is growing rapidly and will hit 1,900 by the end of 2015.
How many users does your department supply services to?
Over 5,000 within HS2, and over 15,000 within the DfT and its agencies.
How do you ensure that you have a good understanding of your business and how your customers use your business's products?
I reguarly meet both formally and informally with business areas and staff at all levels to understand what their drivers and challenges are. I'm the same with vendors, as you get a much better picture of what's actually going on and can then influence the direction of travel, be it policy, business strategy or technology development.
There is no doubt in my mind that to be an effective CIO communication is key in delivering the major changes both within HS2 and across DfT. I increasingly see a recognition at board level and indeed at every level of how technology can be a key enabler or disabler for delivering organisational objectives.
Some of the open forums I've had with staff in HS2, across the DfT and at government events can be incredibly sobering, but they keep you on track for delivering both a mega project like HS2 and the transformation of government services.
HS2 technology strategy and agenda
Is your organisation being disrupted by the internet, mobility or technology-oriented start-ups?
Are you empowered by your organisation to disrupt from the inside?
Describe a disruptive measure you’ve led or played a major part in
Last year HS2 delivered the first digital submission of legislation to the UK parliament. This will ultimately transform how government and parliament work together and interact with the electorate on legislation by making it more accessible and transparent.
What major transformation project has been recently completed or is under way at your organisation?
We have provided online visualisation tools to parliamentary committees to support their work on the HS2 Bill and delivered an interactive map for the public and suppliers. We have also published our geospatial data to improve transparency.
We are also now in the Alpha phase of migrating all of our business systems to cloud services and away from expensive on-premise systems.
Of course, these transformation projects do not operate in isolation and maintaining continuity of digital and technology services remains paramount.
What impact will the above transformation have on your organisation?
Already we've seen the HS2 Bill progress through parliament at an unprecedented pace for legislation of this size and complexity. The feedback we've had from parliament has been very positive, particularly around the visualisation of the line of route.
It has also changed how the organisation views technology and data. Late last year we joined the Open Data Institute and have committed to publishing our data, and we are also driving change through the supply chain in the use of open standards and open APIs. This will have a major influence on how infrastructure and construction projects are conducted in the future.
On top of this, the move to cloud services is changing how we are working as an organisation and interacting with stakeholders. Even at Alpha the feedback has been significant and at the request of the HS2 board we are accelerating our migration. A colleague stopped me recently and told me "you have transformed my life and the way I work." It emphasises the impact that technology can have on people's lives and how as digital and technology leaders we must ensure we get it right, particularly on a project like HS2, which can have substantial impacts on communities, the environment and the taxpayer.
How has your leadership style contributed to the outcomes of the transformation project?
I have an open and inclusive style. At the end of the day it's all about people - the technology is the easy bit. I spend a significant amount of my time talking to staff at all levels within HS2 and DfT, as well as the vendor community, who must be on board with your business and user needs.
This is key to making sure that the user needs are constantly at the top of your mind when you are looking to deliver business transformation and shaping both business and vendor thinking on how technology fits to meet those needs.
What key technologies do you consider enable transformation?
In HS2 collaboration tools and the visualisation and exploitation of data are key, be it for the parliamentary process, interactions with the general public or the supply chain. This has seen us move to cloud-based collaboration and visualisation tools.
But these are increasingly commonplace. The real key enabler for transformation is open technology standards and APIs, coupled with a deep understanding of user need. Without these in place you can't break down the barriers to open collaboration and communication with all the risks that you then get with silo working and lack of transparency, which ultimately drive up costs and dissatisfaction around technology.
Are you increasing the number of cloud applications or infrastructure in use at your organisation?
What is your information and data analytics vision for the organisation?
HS2 commissions, holds, shares and uses huge quantities of complex information. To deliver the railway and its benefits, we need to manage our information effectively and efficiently. As a public sector body with a global profile, we look to find the right balance between transparency and protection of our information, so we are fair and open but do not compromise safety and security. And we will need to manage our information through the entire lifetime of the railway, into the 22nd century.
The outcomes of the HS2 programme will be delivered by a large organisation, consisting of not just the core company but also a large, and often rapidly changing, set of contractors, partners and others. All will require high levels of access to and confidence in our information. HS2 information users and providers are already distributed geographically, and will become more so as the programme progresses into construction. We need to enable a great deal of flexibility in places and ways of working for our staff, who are increasingly mobile and often working remotely.
The challenge for HS2 is to understand this complexity of information and how we use it. We need to exploit the opportunities of digital technologies to deliver services that provide the right information, at the right time, in the right place, in the most effective and efficient way to meet the needs of those services' users, whoever and wherever they are. And we need to improve them continually, adapting and keeping pace with changes in the programme and developments in technology.
HS2’s knowledge and information strategy and business plan is also designed to support central government strategies and initiatives with the following key concepts to the fore:
• Information should be easily accessible.
• Information is a corporate resource and its integrity should be protected effectively.
• Information and data are managed holistically across the organisation.
• Industry and government interoperability requirements must be met.
• Government sustainable development standards must be met.
• Government security standards must be met.
• The ability to enable cross-industry information sharing must be created.
To realise these concepts, our newly constituted data analytics function is looking to build capability within HS2 to gain insights from data and add value. It will support a community of practice in HS2 delivering reporting and other data analysis by ensuring we have a consistent and joined-up approach and that we're taking advantage of the latest thinking in data science.
How is mobile and social networking impacting operations and customer experience?
We have delivered significant changes over the last six months for users of our systems, with a move to a mobile by default approach to both hardware and software. We have close to 100% virtualisation of our existing applications, along with SaaS offerings, and are now delivering this to mobile devices across most operating systems.
Internal social networking and collaboration tools have been fully rolled out and we are seeing increasing take-up, both internally and with our supply chain. Early indications and feeback have been resoundingly positive, but it is too early to confirm the extent of the benefits, although there is no doubt it has already made a difference across the organisation.
Describe your strategic vision towards shadow IT and BYOD. How do you influence and engage executives and employees around choice?
We are very much focused on user need, which mitigates the emergence of a shadow IT. For example, we are implementing choose your own device (CYOD) for mobile hardware, ensuring that our digital services are operating system-agnostic; as a result our customer satisfaction levels have risen.
Both executives and employees are savvy about technology and what it can do for them, so as long as the information is readily available to them on the move, while maintaining the confidentiality and integrity of the data, then the device becomes a non-issue as long as it represents value for money. For example, we deploy devices with iOS, Android and Windows, maintaining security through a SaaS MDM solution.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom?
We have recently signed a deal with a VMWare partner to deliver DRaaS, and we are working closely with a Microsoft and AWS partner as part of our migration to cloud services.
Who are your main suppliers?
Imprima, Optevia, Systems Up, Inovem, Virgin Media, VMWare, Amazon Web Services, BT, SAP, Microsoft, Fujitsu, Bentley, Oracle.
HS2 IT security and budget
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Has cyber-security risen up your management agenda?
Does your organisation understand the potential cyber-security threats it faces?
Has this led to an increase in your security budget?
How much is the IT operational spend compared with the revenue as a percentage?
What is the strategic aim of the CIO and IT operations for the next financial year?
Continue to expand the number of SMEs supplying HS2, transform to a fully cloud and mobile-enabled infrastructure, develop 3D visualisation, exploit our data internally and externally through open APIs and publication of the data on data.gov.uk. Also, support the growth of the organisation, its move to Birmingham and the start of ground investigation works ahead of construction, while maintaining the availability and integrity of our business systems.
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
HS2 technology department
How would you describe your leadership style?
Open and inclusive. I am keen to understand how people and teams operate, listen to their feedback - good, bad and ugly - and look to see how I personally can make their business lives and objectives easier. It sounds a bit trite, but it's people who make the difference, and that's why I'm keen to have open forums to discuss digital and technology services and the challenges teams are having. I'm a great supporter of the apprenticeship and mentoring schemes in HS2 and heavily involved in the government's digital and technology fast stream graduate scheme.
Explain how you’ve supported and developed your senior leadership team to support your overall objectives and vision
HS2 is a fantastic and challenging project and I am fortunate to have an incredible senior leadership team. They are without exception creative and entrepreneurial people, and we have developed our technology and information strategies as a team; same holds true for our development.
We have a collaborative and inquisitive approach, not just with each other and our teams, but by getting out and visiting vendors and other delivery organisations to exchange ideas and approaches.
How many employees are in your IT team?
We are moving from an almost fully outsourced team to a far more balanced in-house capability. We currently have just over 50, but this is set to increase this year as we move development and support in-house.
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
Currently 50/50; 12 months ago it was about 10/90. We're looking to move to around a 70/30 split, with the outsourced staff being primarily from SMEs. HS2's goal is to be an engine for growth and key to this is developing the skills within the UK we can exploit, not just here in the UK but abroad too. Digital and technology skills are needed globally, and we must play our part in giving the UK and its workforce a competitive edge in the global marketplace. A mega project like HS2 is a great opportunity for apprentices, graduates and experienced practitioners.
Does your team include key skilled workers from the EU?