In the final throes of migrating all services to the cloud, James Findlay has fully delivered the end-user compute offering. It's all gone down extremely well, with over 95% of staff saying they have the right tools to do the job. And it's cheaper too, with significant cost reductions particularly from moving big data sets to cloud-based storage. The cloud-based project control systems will ultimately become a part of a government as a platform concept, which could be a step-change in how infrastructure projects will be supported, not just in the UK, but globally.
Name and job title
James Findlay, Chief Information Officer, HS2.
How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
I am the lead within four delivery pillars of the HS2 business transformation programme for systems and processes. This programme is critical in ensuring that ahead of construction in 2018 (subject to royal assent) there is a high-performing organisation in place that is fit for purpose, affordable and has an agile operating model. Key to this is successfully completing the design and implementation of integrated systems and processes that will enable efficient delivery and operation of a quality railway. As such the CIO has a significant influence in the eventual outcome of the services, which will ultimately be provided by HS2.
How as CIO have you driven cultural and behaviour change in your organisation, and to what extent?
Interesting question. The challenge organisations face, whether they realise it or not and regardless of sector, is that the digital world we live in today is fundamentally different from the world enterprises are organisationally set up to deal with. Of course, there are exceptions, and indeed there is talk of 'digital IQ' now in an organisational sense, but fundamentally most organisations and their employees do not have the capability to understand, for example, contextual computing, sensor nets, beacons, how the devices and clothes they wear interact with the digital world around them. That's not to say that IT skills haven't improved in the workplace – most people have a good grasp of office technology and are comfortable with the concept of cloud and what it means and what it can do for them both at work and personally. But it's not enough and we all have to question and evaluate the digital environment we are living in.
We have started a programme running Leading Edge Forum's Xperience Labs with the objective of immersing staff at all levels in HS2 in all things digital and consumer and linking it with the Wardley mapping we have done around our digital and technology strategy. This is already shaping the conversation around what we will be delivering in terms of the operation of the high-speed railway and the passenger experience of 10 years from now.
It has already stimulated discussions around data visualisation and the need to have data savvy staff within all areas to ensure the integrity of the data and therefore the benefit you can derive from it. Also, already we are developing our thinking through proof of concepts from BI-type tools that are pretty normal now into haptic interfaces, virtual and augmented reality opportunities. I don't want to overplay where we are in all this as it is nascent, but what's exciting is that the organisation is very receptive and is already shaping its thinking as a consequence of their exposure to these digital and technology concepts and hands-on experiences, as well as some brilliant data visualisation by the data team, that sits in IT, on key information around the work breakdown structure and costs for example for a complex mega-project.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the past 12 months and their impact on your organisation's company performance
You can only have these discussions if the day-to-day stuff works and through the IT transformation project which we have been delivering over the past two years we are in that place. We are now in the final throes of migrating all of our services to the cloud, with only a couple of small systems specific to the rail industry not mature enough, but even then we're looking at how we can accommodate these. The end-user compute offering has been fully delivered and so we are able to take a far more user-need approach to the traditional one size fits all normal for an enterprise.
This has gone down extremely well and we have seen our quarterly IT staff satisfaction survey showing over 95% of staff saying they have the right tools to do the job (which is a step-change from the common perceptions of government IT) delivered by an incredible IT team, the best I've ever had the privilege to work with.
Oh yes, it's cheaper too! We've seen significant cost reductions, particularly with moving our big data sets to cloud-based storage, which isn't a surprise considering how competitive that market is at the moment. From a company perspective this has meant we have been able to support the teams delivering the route from London to Birmingham through the parliamentary process, all of which have been digital submissions, which means we have been responsible for the first six legislative digital provisions to parliament in UK history.
As we approach the end of the legislative process we have also been supporting the teams preparing for the construction through new cloud-based project control systems, which will ultimately become a platform that others could consume or leverage as part of the government as a platform concept. It will potentially be a step-change in how infrastructure projects will be supported, not just here in the UK, but globally.
Describe how you have used organisational and third-party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
We are using visualisation of the data as a key enabler for HS2. This is currently using well-known BI and visualisation tools, but also VR and AR. VR and AR, I believe, will have a big part to play as they mature and become consumerised, but the big thing for me on the platform piece I mentioned earlier are APIs.
API's are the key to so much, and what has been incredible for me is that we have gone way past trying to explain what these are to some key HS2 decision-makers. We are now engaged in discussions about data and its delivery to the right place at the right time through information delivered through micro-services and abstracted from the technology.
When you consider how many technology refreshes we're likely to have not just during construction, but through the lifetime of the railway, to my mind this is the only way to ensure that HS2 can deliver on its promise. And that promise is not just balancing the economy, but also acting as a catalyst for change and an opportunity for British business to compete globally through having world-class capability, with us leading the way in how a 21st-century railway operates as an end-to-end service. We can export the intellectual capital for that across the world. We are on the verge of something groundbreaking here. We have a fantastic heritage of innovation in this country, both in the railway and computer industries, so there's no reason why we can't do some more.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
We have been organised along ITIL lines, which while traditional has served us well as the processes are well understood both by the IT folk and external bodies that audit us for compliance purposes. ITIL has also coped with and delivered big change in how IT has been delivered to the organisation.
However, we have just completed a capability review, the outcome of which will probably move us to an IT organisation that will be far more embedded within the organisation than it is currently. HS2 (the company) is moving to a matrix organisation ahead of construction, which will help us become a far more agile organisation, although we have already come a long way in that respect, with whole teams outside of IT using agile as a delivery approach, which makes me very happy considering we're in a very traditional industry and it demonstrates what a forward-thinking organisation we are.
Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
Well, it's a team game and although I'm the guardian of the strategy and a key influencer, the strategy has been a collaborative effort across the organisation. While there may be a way to go in terms of our digital IQ as a company, for a public sector big infrastructure organisation the business engagement on this is something I'm impressed with.
Describe how you use and promote technology to redesign the processes, services and organisational structures of your organisation to enable it to become more efficient and customer-focused
I'm leading on the systems and process integration across the company, and it's on our critical path. I would love to say that I've been promoting technology to redesign processes and the like, but the reality is that the most important thing to promote is people, behaviours and culture. In my opinion these are the key things to enable an organisation to become more efficient and customer-focused; the technology is the easy bit.
How do you engage regularly with your organisation about your team and the role of technology in the organisation, and what impact is this having?
Not enough across the whole organisation if I'm honest, but I am increasingly using Yammer to talk about what we're up to. That only reaches a certain demographic within the company, although we are starting to push it more as a key comms tool to highlight what we're up to.
I tweet regularly and we have set up a private Flipboard magazine within HS2 focused on all things digital, data and technology, where I flip lots of articles that I've read of an evening, but the team are increasingly doing the same so it's got some great and diverse content relevant to what is potentially of interest to the organisation. Recently I've flipped a lot of articles about data visualisation and the march of VR/AR technologies from Oculus, Google and Microsoft to name a few.
We've had the excellent Lewis Richards from the LEF running his Xperience Lab where people get hands-on with new technology, which we're going to extend across the company and hopefully start running in-house with monthly AskIT sessions. The AskIT sessions have gone quite well and Sean Huxtable our head of IT service ops and his team, who lead and run these, have had really positive feedback on these show and tell/clinic sessions. It's definitely been a key contributor to our high engagement scores with colleagues.
Our intranet site is being used as a shop window for all of our services and news, with Sean setting up a 'Tube line' status on the front page, which is the 'hook' that takes them off to where all our latest news and views are, as well as access to the ServiceNow self-service portal where we peddle our wares.
In terms of impact, we are now very much more engaged in conversations about the service design of the whole railway and seen more of as a trusted partner rather than just a traditional IT service. Not completely there yet, but our delivery to new services coupled with our comms strategy has definitely had a positive impact overall and an increasing keenness to get involved in a conversation about the digital future of the railway.
How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
Well, I'm part of the Twitterati I suppose. I do love it as a medium and I've met and engaged with some brilliant people through it, whom I would not have had the opportunity to meet or interact with prior to Twitter coming onto the scene. I've been one of the managers of the BCS CITP group on LinkedIn for many years now and again interacted with people I'd never normally have due to distance and the like. Flipboard is a great one for starting off conversations by flipping them onto Twitter or internally, although I'm always conscious of my role, so sometimes the conversation can be tricky.
How do you bring the organisation together to explore and discuss technology and its challenges and to develop stronger alignment of the technology function with the full business?
AskIT and Xperience Lab sessions have been the main vehicle, along with the social media approach, but more recently I've been to industry events with key people in the organisation to stimulate the conversation about what their vision is and helping them link it to key technology developments, particularly the rate at which technology becomes consumerised.
I can be a bit mischievous and challenge people's thinking about the digital world if I see an opportunity. So, for example, Lewis Richards showed us an app during his lab session called Architecture of Radio, which is a brilliant data visualisation of open datasets of cell tower, Wi-Fi and satellite locations, but what I've started doing is using it as a great opener for a conversation about technology at business meetings by running the app while waiting for the meeting to start or during a break. It works every time – thanks, Lewis.
Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management
I read and play a lot. I read a lot of articles online from The Economist, Harvard Business Review and MIT research papers to Wired and Stuff Magazine and everything in between, but mainly online. And, of course, CIO online articles!
I try to make my own connections between macro-economics and technology as I'm a bit skeptical, probably unfairly, of the usual sources such as Gartner and Forrester, preferring the more freelance/independent sources. I do go to some events, but I'm usually disappointed as they are normally regurgitating the same old hype with a view to flogging you something. There are exceptions, such as the excellent Cloud Camp London run as an unconference by Simon Wardley and Joe Baguley. The title of their next one in March is Blockchain – Blockbuster or Bullshit?, which gives you the flavour of the events they run. Plus, there's pizza, and red cards if anyone goes into sales mode – what's not to like!
Events like the GoTo Conference organised by Adrian Cockcroft are great as well. They are focused around practitioners, so are far more relevant than the usual sales-driven events. I do get involved now and again and speak at some events, mainly about what we're doing at HS2 in terms of our approach to strategy (Wardley mapping) and why it's so important that we in the public sector get it right as citizens and businesses are usually interacting with the public sector at quite critical and often emotional moments in their lives. We have a duty to ensure that our processes and systems for interacting with those people are the best they can be, are cost-effective and sympathetic to their needs.
The other part is that I love to play, so building an earthquake detector with my kids using a Raspberry Pi (how amazing is that device!), to playing with Unity code (not very well!) so that I can start to understand some of the inner workings of VR and AR technologies, which will become ubiquitous across devices over the next few years and play a big part in the user experience of the future high-speed railway.
Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
As I look in the mirror every morning I see a reminder of everything that is wrong with the make-up of many IT departments today and that is when the overweight, middle-aged, white bloke stares back at me. I know that sounds trite, but it's true, and I think about how to fix those things, not just in my own team, but the wider IT community.
I'm proud to say I have the most diverse IT team I have ever worked with and because of its diversity it's also the most effective, creative and inspirational teams and one of the reasons I enjoy going to work. I try to foster a free-thinking and open culture through the use of an agile approach to delivery. Anyone in the team can challenge the way we do things to improve our delivery to the end users.
Is there more we can do? Of course, but I would like to think that despite it being a very tough gig at HS2 there is a great team spirit, and that is down to its diversity and the great can-do approach of the team. At the end of the day it's all about people, not machines – well, not yet anyway – and the team do keep me on the straight and narrow when I go off-piste!
Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
I'm a great believer in influencing through delivery and 'showing the thing'. We now take the approach of building proof of concepts to show the organisation rather than a 'war and peace' business case. This means you can actually have a dialogue with people about what they like, don't like, would like more of – basically a discussion about features.
Jon Ayre, who was our chief architect until quite recently – he's now at Aviva – is brilliant, and built in a few weeks a proof of concept around our infrastructure controls platform. It completely changed the conversation as we went from quite a nebulous concept into something that was real. We could start looking at different use cases, which, of course, suddenly we had lots of from the organisation once they had seen something.
The AskIT and Xperience Labs are based on the same principle – if you can get people hands-on with stuff, it takes the conversation to the next level, and the collaboration and influence then follows at all levels of the organisation. It's not just the top leadership of an organisation that you have to influence, it's also the people who actually have to use your services in anger on a daily basis – they are just as important, if not more so. The delivery part is key to giving you credibility and the right to have the conversation in the first instance. Without that it will always be a them and us situation and not a partnership.
Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills, perhaps through mentoring, training or external activities
I believe that it is everyone's responsibility to learn for themselves, so that we can question and evaluate what is going on around us to shape that environment. As a result I've seen what works and what doesn't from a leadership perspective and tried to learn from that. I guess there were a few things that had a big influence on my own style.
The first was the leadership I saw in my early career in the MoD, where the lives of people depended on key decisions made by senior leaders. One thing that resonates with me even today was when a very senior officer told me that "even if you have to be ruthless in the decision-making to achieve the mission, always be compassionate in its execution".
The second was through a formal academic course for my master's, where I was attracted to subjects around delivery and people, settling on project management and leadership, which gave me the opportunity to look in some detail at the relationship between getting things done using formal delivery approaches and what motivates people to get things done.
And finally real-world experience. We all make mistakes, and for me they are the most important learning opportunities. I learnt a long time ago that feedback loops are beautiful things, so I'm always open to getting some feedback – it's good for the soul!
I am also passionate about giving something back, so I have been a mentor for a number of years, now mainly mentoring women to support them in getting into leadership positions. I'm heavily involved in the Government digital and technology fast stream, where I think I learn more from the fast streamers than they do from me. I am also very fortunate to be one of the digital and technology leaders in government, and I learn lots from my colleagues there. For example, Norman Driskell the chief digital and data officer at the Home Office, is a font of knowledge on many things, but on Amazon Web Services he's awesome. I feel very privileged to be part of that senior team and among thought leaders who are revolutionising the way we deliver digital and technology government services to this country. Every day's a school day!
What new technologies are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with?
We have a brilliant head of innovation, Iain Roche, and we've been jointly looking at a number of emerging technologies, particularly around data and IoT. So, for example, Germany has been working on Industrie 4.0 for a while now, predominantly focused around IoT for the manufacturing industry, but we are looking at how this can be applied not just to the construction of the railway, but also how sensors will play a big part in the operation of the railway in 10+ years' time.
On the data front we have been experimenting with an SME on IoT and how we can use data not just generated by HS2, but from across the internet to gain insight and better decision-making for a weather event, for example, that could impact the operation of the railway.
We've used 3D printing for a while now for the data we compiled for parliament. These are around the office and are great for stimulating discussions with visitors on a whole host of subjects.
Machine learning and AI is something we've just started to track as it will have an impact at some point on the operation of the railway, but it's early days from a railways systems perspective and there is always a bit of reticence around bleeding-edge technology where safety is critical.
Our data team led by Jeremy Foot and Adam Freeman are doing some fantastic work around the visualisation of data, particularly around the work breakdown structure, and are really bringing to life for the organisation of how important good-quality data is. It's moving us away from discussions around particular technologies that a vendor is trying to sell, and into discussions instead about the interpretation of data into information that has context and allows the organisation then to make informed decisions. We are also hoping to partner with some other organisations to explore the opportunities around VR, AR and holographic technologies, but discussions are at the early stage.
How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach?
Quite simply our whole approach is based around Wardley mapping, developed by Simon Wardley, a researcher at the LEF. We began using the approach in early 2013 and we're just going through a big refresh. The approach was instrumental in our successful migration to cloud-based services and the capabilities we needed, understanding what we needed in-house and what could be outsourced. Both the cloud migration and capabilities work will be completed in the autumn of this year. The refresh of the mapping now is to look ahead towards construction and operations, with the development of the API/microservices platform as the key focus for our delivery to support the organisation over the next few years.
Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
Unfortunately not on a regular enough basis. I do encourage the team to take responsibility to learn for themselves and supplement this with things like the Xperience Lab and their attendance at technology conferences and seminars. I would like to set aside some regular slots to do this, though the challenge has been and always will be that the HS2 project is moving at such a pace it's very difficult to make that time as there's a key delivery milestone nearly every week. I do need to do more on this, so thank you for that challenge.
Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
Again, our sourcing strategy is derived from the Wardley mapping, but is also shaped significantly by government procurement policy. It's also influenced by our preferred agile delivery approach and the need for collaborative working. One of the challenges with the traditional waterfall approach to sourcing is that the feedback loops are long, so for the HS2 digital, data and technology teams our goal is to deliver services quickly, and traditional sourcing limits this approach.
Another factor is that we are keen to have an innovative slant to delivery, so you need to have an approach that has a close alignment between ourselves and our suppliers, that builds cultural integration between both parties, and that operates flexible outcome-based delivery models focused on value and outputs. Wardley gives us the strategic view, so we don't have a one-size-fits-all approach where we identify whether the type of relationship we need is short-term to deliver a well-defined product through to a long-term partnership where we need to think much more about the relationship aspects.
Then the main sourcing vehicle for us is the government's Digital Marketplace, which is simply brilliant and came out of the amazing work from absolute heros of mine – namely Martin Bellamy, Chris Chant and Denise McDonagh, who delivered the G-Cloud Programme from inception through to the big success that it is today.
Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the last year and what they have enabled
Well, I'm not sure I could say we have introduced anything revolutionary into the organisation, but certainly we are building on things developed by others. I guess the biggest things are the visualisation of the data and more recently the awakening of the organisation to the power of the API. That is allowing us to develop the microservices that we need to withstand the march of technology over the coming years as Moore's Law continues not just to hold true, but to be accelerating. I understand we're nearly at an 18-month cycle, which is astonishing.
This has allowed us to have far more meaningful conversations about the value of data and what information needs to presented to people through the microservices. The work we've done on VR with the Oculus Rift SDKs has been good as it's helped thinking around collaboration with the supply chain, particularly around our BIM strategy, where we're looking at how best to visualise the assets (bridges, tunnels, etc) to get a 5D view of them to save money not just during construction, but through the full lifecycle of the railway. It's also highlighted the work that needs to be done to upskill the construction supply chain at all levels if we're going to realise the efficiencies we need to. To be fair, though, it's a mixed picture, with some of the construction firms being very advanced whilst others are not so.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
None recently, but Amazon, Box and Microsoft loom large within our cloud landscape, with some great SMEs providing brilliant support on some of our development work and technology support. With the migration to cloud services nearly completed and an increasing focus on the unique and novel technology requirements such as VR and AR, this coming year is going to see us going out to tender for a range of products and services. These will range from pure commodity outsourced contracts to hopefully some longer-term strategic partnerships, very much focused on delivering good-quality, high-value solutions to HS2 and beyond – exciting times ahead on that front.
Rate how important your sources of innovative technology suppliers are
- Often use: analyst houses, CIO peers, media.
- Of little importance: consultants.
- Occasionally use: industry body.
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
How is cyber security led and discussed by senior management?
Again, I've got a brilliant team led by Jasvinder Pham, and she has worked hard to get this on our board's agenda. She arranged for the National Archives cyber-security workshop for our board and executive teams, which really raised some of the key risks and issues that organisations face today, and there are regular training and education type activities that have been rolled out across the whole organisation. We're very lucky in as much as we have a lot of material being part of a government department around cyber security, with access to support from GCHQ and CPNI, and of course our departmental colleagues. We have a very active and interested SIRO, who has championed this within the organisation for us, and Jas and the team support him in any way we can.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What is the annual IT budget?
Less than 1% of the company budget.
How much of your IT budget is capital and how much revenue?
The split now is 80/20 between programme and capital, which has shifted over the last 12 months as we move to cloud-based services.
What is your budget's operational/development split?
How many users does your department supply services to?
1,550 employees, plus between 1,000 and 5,000 professional services staff who have been supporting the delivery of the Hybrid Bill legislation through Parliament.
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?
How many employees are there in your IT team?
Are you increasing your headcount to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
It's about 40/60 currently.