When train operators bid for franchises, part of the win comes from offering up ideas that could transform the railway for the better. That makes Yiannis Seglias central to Abellio's ability to land new business. His tech offering and testing currently includes free Wi-Fi on trains, better customer information screens in stations, on-train infotainment and mobile customer apps, as well as putting a mobile device in the hands of staff with the apps to ensure they are informed and productive and can spend more time with passengers and less time in the back office dealing with paperwork.

When did you start your current role?
April 2014.

What is your reporting line?
Group CFO.

Do you meet with and discuss business strategy with the CEO every week?

Are you a member of the board of directors?

What other executive boards do you sit on?
UK leadership team and parent company management group.

Does your organisation have a CDO?

What different responsibilities does the CDO have?  
Our CDO reports to me. His responsibilities are to:
• Identify opportunities to digitise business processes (also as part of bid process)
• Support bid process with technology requirements
• Oversee digital innovation initiatives
• Influence business colleagues to promote the digital agenda
• Connect with the wider industry and key digital suppliers

What non-technology responsibilities do you have in the organisation?
As part of the UK leadership team and the management group, I work with colleagues on business strategy. I'm also a member of the ScotRail mobilisation steering group.

How many employees does your organisation have?
Around 15,000.

Does your organisation carry out significant trade in the EU?

How many users does your department supply services to?

How do you ensure that you have a good understanding of your business and how your customers use your business's products?
First, we are embedded within the bid teams, the part of our organisation responsible for bidding and winning new rail franchises. As part of the bid process we spend a lot of time learning how the rail franchise we are bidding for operates, and what we can do to improve it in the future, especially through the use of technology.

Second, we (and I especially) spend a considerable part of our time with our senior leadership teams at group level and in our various operating companies. This allows us to gain an understanding of the issues that our colleagues face, and what is necessary to continuously improve our offering.

That is why we in IT are able to propose and come up with new digital solutions that we then take through a proof-of-concept phase before implementing in our operating companies.

Abellio 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
When bidding, we are challenged by the Department for Transport to come up with ideas that will result in a transformed railway. Innovation is at the forefront of their mind and the selection process (apart from cost, of course). In the past nine months I have set up four proofs of concept (POCs) to trial technology that will transform our passenger experience and our staff efficiency.

For example our on-board Wi-Fi and infotainment solution, as well as our new mobile apps, will totally transform how our passengers digitally interact with us. Furthermore, our staff will be able to spend more time with our passengers and less time in the back office dealing with paperwork. As a result, three of the POCs have now moved to production mode, and we will be rolling them out in ScotRail in the coming months.

What major transformation project has been recently completed, or is underway at your organisation?
We have recently won the ScotRail franchise, taking over from the current operator on 1 April 2015. ScotRail will increase our UK size and presence by around 30% overnight. Our vision is to transform ScotRail for the better, vastly improving our passengers’ experience through new and improved trains, better fares, better timetables and stations, but also through the use of technology.

IT is at the heart of the mobilisation and transition projects, with technology affecting all areas of the railway. Over the next two to three years we plan to offer free Wi-Fi on our trains, improve station customer information screens and the data that’s displayed on them, implement an on-train infotainment solution, put a mobile device in the hands of our staff, with the right apps rolled out to ensure they are informed and productive, and offer an improved set of integrated mobile apps to our passengers.

What impact will the above transformation have on your organisation?
Abellio will be 30% bigger when we take over ScotRail. This presents us with a number of organisational challenges, but also opportunities, especially for IT. We will be using ScotRail as a stepping stone to implementing our IT strategy, consolidating our business systems, increasing our use of cloud solutions, and digitising our processes and our passenger experience.

How has your leadership style contributed to the outcomes of the transformation project?
I am a firm believer in having a strong team and empowering them to take ownership of their area of responsibility. I have put in place a very strong team up in Scotland, working closely with the rest of the mobilisation team. My involvement is mostly about business and IT strategy (I am part of the overall mobilisation steering group), guidance and oversight, and I trust them to be accountable and to deliver.

What key technologies do you consider enable transformation?
In our industry I see mobility/social and the cloud as enablers of transformation. The cloud enables us to put in place the kind of IT agility that has up to now not been possible in the industry. With the cloud I can literally bring up and consume IT systems for a new franchise within a few days. Similarly I can tune down my demand and only consume what I need.

Mobility  ie smartphones, tablets and apps  is changing both the way our staff do their job, but also how they serve our passengers, spending less time in the office, and more time on the platform. Similarly, our passengers are now able to consume our services through our mobile solutions, and in the near future the set of mobile services we offer will increase.

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?
It has become very clear in the few months that I have been with Abellio that there’s a huge opportunity around data and information. We collect a vast amount of data, and will collect even more in the future as our passengers increasingly use our digital products. My vision is to make our passengers’ travelling experience more streamlined and enjoyable through the use of their data, whether this is by proactively offering or arranging for alternative transport when there is disruption, or by ensuring they have access to personalised media on the train to consume. Understanding your customer and personalising their experience is not something new, other industries do it well; we just need to apply the lessons in the rail industry.

How is mobile and social networking impacting operations and customer experience?
As I have explained, mobile and social are now at the centre of our customer experience improvement projects.

Describe your strategic vision towards shadow IT and BYOD. How do you influence and engage executives and employees around choice?
BYOD is not on the agenda at Abellio. Our executive board is highly concerned with security and being able to own and secure our data, and that of our passengers, end to end. We therefore have a policy that all IT technology used by our staff is owned by Abellio. This increases our costs but gives us much more control.

What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom?
Our strategy is based on the adoption of standard services through cloud, either PaaS or SaaS. My team and I have already finalised our UK group choices for HR/payroll, finance, hosting and mobility. We put in place a group relationship with Samsung as they provide us with our mobility solutions (smartphones and tablets) for our 15,000 staff. We also have a strategic relationship with Atos/Worldline as they provide a lot of the rail solutions that we use. Right now we are also in the process of negotiating with Microsoft for a group-wide Office 365 deal.

Who are your main suppliers?
SAP, Atos/Worldline, Microsoft, Samsung, Vodafone, Level 3, Rackspace, Advanced Business Systems, Midland HR.

Abellio 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?

What is the IT budget?
I cannot share that.

How much is the IT operational spend compared to the revenue as a percentage?

What is the strategic aim of the CIO and IT operations for the next financial year?
Our number one priority in 2015 is to ensure we are ready to operate ScotRail on 1 April. Every single part of the ScotRail operation has an element of IT, from social to web, and from our stations (eg our customer information screens) to our trains (eg Wi-Fi on trains, telematics and so on).

After we take over we then have two things to do in regards to ScotRail:
1. Ensure we deliver on our commitments on how we will improve the operation, eg through the roll-out of smart technology and apps to all our operational staff
2. Use ScotRail as a launchpad to implement the new IT strategy, especially in terms of consolidating our IT contracts, infrastructure and business systems, and how we digitise our offering. We will start with ScotRail and then move on to our other operating companies as those get renewed over the next year or two.

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?

Are you looking for recruits in the EU to fill the skills shortage you have?

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?

Abellio technology department

How would you describe your leadership style?
I am totally committed to a collegiate approach of working with my colleagues and my team. I expect my senior team to work with me in developing our IT strategy (their input will ensure their buy-in) and this in turn means that I can trust them to own and be responsible for the delivery of elements of its implementation.

Explain how you’ve supported and developed your senior leadership team to support your overall objectives and vision
As I only joined Abellio in April 2014, I have had the opportunity to create a brand-new senior leadership from scratch to support me in implementing my IT strategy and to support Abellio with its immediate needs. With the full support of my executive board, I have been able to recruit a head of IT PMO and change, a group digital officer and a group head of information security. I have also amended the roles of senior IT staff that were already with Abellio when I joined, to better reflect and support the IT vision.

How many employees are in your IT team?
80 in the whole of the group. We rely a lot on managed services and industry IT solutions (eg Atos/Worldline).

What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?

Does your team include key skilled workers from the EU?