Atkins CIO and Chief Digital Officer Richard Cross has created a commercially focused department close to the organisation and its customers, operating as a business rather than a function. Crowdsourced solutions, digital storytelling, offering staff the same tech experience they expect from outside the organisation – the IS mindset is to wow its customers every day. Richard is clear that digital is and will remain totally transformative for the industry and the business, as is clear from his latest initiative to use drones to capture incredibly accurate survey information in a tenth of the time taken by a manual approach.

Job title?
Richard Cross, CDO and CIO, Atkins.

How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
To deliver our One Atkins business strategy, we developed an IS in 2020 strategy that has at its core an information systems organisation that is commercially focused, closer to the business and closer to our customers – in essence, an IS organisation that runs as a business, not as a function.

To drive business and client focus, I stood up a new client technology team in IS whose job it is to build and promote digital products and services to our customers. Early successes include having technology and innovation integrated into our internal account review process, giving account teams access to digital expertise and feeding back real client challenges to our product management teams in IS. Development of products now has the business working with the IS product management teams to make sure that we have the end customer in mind when developing and deploying products.

We've reached out to the business to identify the great products and services we deliver across the worldwide organisation. Using techniques like crowdsourcing to surface what we already have, we've pulled everything together into a global product catalogue and this has enabled us to take products and services to a wider client base. We've also developed new commercial models to make sure we deliver value to clients and to Atkins through our investment in digital products and services.

As well as capturing what we already have, we're generating new ideas, joining together with our clients to identify new product and service improvements through hackathons and rapid starts, and bringing together industry experts at thought leadership events. The events encourage our customers to challenge us to come up with solutions to their problems. We've invested in a new digital incubator that is rapidly identifying, testing and incubating new ventures and propositions, focusing on digital engineering, intelligent mobility and digital asset management.

How as CIO have you affected cultural change and behaviour in your organisation and to what extent?
Last year, I sponsored the development of the One Atkins story. The story was created by our people across the organisation and expressed their desire to be closer to our clients, to be more collaborative and to exploit technology. One Atkins now forms the foundation of our strategy and, alongside our purpose, is the guiding light for how we behave and what we aspire to be. One of the key behaviours we want to grow and embed is being innovative – thinking about new ways of doing things.

As part of my responsibility for innovation across the whole organisation, I've stood up an innovation and digital disrupter network, bringing together people from across the organisation who clearly want to make a difference, giving them a forum to generate ideas, and defining problems and challenges they can take back to colleagues across the group to encourage co-creation of ideas and solutions.

We're pushing forward with creating more self-managed and sustainable horizontal networks – such as our innovation hubs, winning work communities, client communities and business change leaders network – using tools like Skype, Yammer and Office 365 to enable collaborative working and knowledge sharing.

And we are bringing our ideas to life with digital storytelling. We crowdsourced the many innovative solutions from across the organisation and pulled them all together into a single, compelling, digital engineering vision of the future that has enabled us to explain how our design and engineering will change our clients and our own people.

Bringing ideas to life in this way is helping us to shift the culture and behaviours of our organisation. As we developed our IS in 2020 strategy, we used crowdsourcing within IS to develop our new values and behaviours – being bold, trusted, proactive and experimenters.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the past 12 months and their impact on your organisation's performance
We're definitely shifting our clients' perceptions about the role Atkins will play in being at the forefront of digital technologies that will change the way we will all be working in the future. Clients have been very engaged in our thought leadership events, hackathons and product development. We have moved up the value chain in our client organisations, as we engage in more C-suite conversations about the impact technology will have on the world of work.

As our mobility strategy evolves, we are increasingly recognising that work is what people do, not where they're at. My teams are more often engaged by the business to be part of the bidding teams – recognising that innovation and digital thinking is more often forming part of our winning work strategies and has greater weighting in clients awarding contracts than we have seen before.

Because we are now so focused on prioritising what we do against the business strategy, we have become more relevant to the organisation and in driving real business outcomes. My teams are driving forward with the products and services that have clear line of sight to business performance, turning off some of the 'nice to haves' that we might have spent time and effort on in the past. A focus on business capabilities is at the heart of all we deliver, with the ability to demonstrate and link back to business outcomes at the core of our IS prioritisation process. We have developed a digital playbook that is now being used by the rest of the organisation to allow us to work more at pace and impress our clients.

Alongside our futures thinking, we haven't lost sight of the need to run lean and operationally excellent global services. We've introduced a centralised global support model, operating 24x7x365, so support is there whenever the business needs it. Our global approach has allowed us to standardise and automate delivery to provide quicker services to our customers. Regional resources have been freed up to support regional business needs – for example, to support major project mobilisation and to train our people proactively on how to get the best out of IS services and products.

Describe how you have used organisational and third-party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
I am really passionate about bringing more outside-in thinking to our organisation and we've reached out to other public and private sector clients, as well as academia, to share their insights on innovation and creating a digital world.

Many of the new services we've introduced have been shaped by the things we've learned from raising our head above the parapet and looking at what others are doing. The introduction of our Atkins Tech Bar was influenced by the Microsoft TechLink and Apple Genius Bar offerings. Having piloted our new services, it's clear that our people want the same experience inside the organisation as they get in the outside world, so this horizon scanning is a really important behaviour that we are developing.

Our thought leadership events provide another opportunity to bring together a diverse mix of people – sometimes with seemingly little in common – but where new insights and learning almost always result in our looking at opportunities or challenges differently. A recent transportation event was live-streamed between London and New York, for example, bringing together a diverse group of people.

The insights that were shared – from a taxi firm, a car manufacturer, UK and US road network operators and academia – stretched us all to think more broadly about intelligent mobility. Our internal mobile strategy was facilitated by insights from a real-time mobile-device connection dashboard, created by our architecture team, and our new winning-work dashboard provides global insight into our opportunities pipeline.

We've also entered into partnering arrangements with niche companies that can help us more quickly achieve growth in intelligent mobility. We have also partnered with a digital innovation company to help us 'infect' the organisation internally with digital thinking and techniques and help us pitch ideas to clients in totally different ways.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
Last year I restructured the IS organisation. We now have four client/customer-facing functions: global services, technical services, digital services and client technology.

Global services and technical services are focused on operational excellence. The two teams work closely together to ensure we deliver great customer service and continuously improve and simplify our processes so that our people have the tools and services they need, when they need them, to deliver great services to our clients. We have service delivery managers in each sector, ensuring that what we deliver matches what the business needs to operate efficiently and effectively. Our service management framework enables the way we work, but on the ground, our mindset is to wow our customers every day. We are making good progress delivering our cloud and mobile strategies, which is important to us in enabling our people to work seamlessly with no disruption wherever they are in the world. We constantly challenge our cost base, always looking for ways to drive out cost, including transferring work to where it can most efficiently and effectively be delivered.

Our client technology team works at the heart of the business through the winning and delivering work lifecycle.

Our digital services team has been set up to interact directly with our key business processes: win work, deliver work, people, business operations, and knowledge and collaboration. Mapping our services directly onto the way the business operates has enabled closer working relationships to be developed, which is critical as we adopt agile, lean startup approaches that depend on having the business 'in the room' with us.

Supporting each of the four functions, we have three additional teams: transformation (driving forward our IS in 2020 strategy), the portfolio office (prioritising and managing the delivery of our investment portfolio) and business change (a network of business change leaders who work inside the business, making sure we drive value from the things we deploy in the businesses).

We've kept governance as simple and lean as possible: an operational leadership team, a client leadership team, the IS investment team and a technical design authority. We provide a 'front door' for all new requests and ideas, with a weekly prioritisation meeting and the updating of product roadmaps. We commit to nothing on our roadmaps that doesn't deliver value within three months.

Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
In addition to being Atkins' CIO, I was recently appointed group CDO. Rather than seeing myself with two roles, I very much see CDO as the evolution of the CIO role. As CDO, I have developed, and own the implementation of, the digital strategy for the whole organisation.

Digital will transform our industry. Everything Atkins does, and the services we provide to clients, will change. This creates opportunities for us to shape new offerings, exploit the potential of big data, and reengineer how we work internally.

Our digital strategy aims to take the impact of digital and turn it into a competitive advantage. We have created a video of our vision for digital engineering in 2020 to bring this to life for our staff and clients. I am also driving our digital surveying product development: with drones being cheap and accessible, it is now possible to capture incredibly accurate survey information in maybe 10% of the time it used to take with manual on-the-ground approaches. We are developing a range of products and services that means we can offer new surveying approaches to our clients and use the data collected in new ways.

I am leading on introducing digital ways of working across the company. We have a digital playbook that explains different techniques and makes them accessible by showing where and how they have already been used in Atkins. It is great to see the terms like 'hackathon' and 'business model canvas' now entering the everyday vocabulary of the wider organisation.

I lead on innovation across the company. We have developed an innovation manifesto that has engaged our staff with a message that innovation works only if it is inclusive and something we expect everyone to be a part of. I am delivering outcomes in three areas: culture (making innovation an essential part of how we all behave), clients and corporate ("moving the needle" at a corporate level in terms of revenue and margin). Although innovation can be fun and exciting, our mantra is to measure real value – ie substance over style. We have good examples such as re-using design components that are making a measurable improvement to our margins, and our Bid in a Box product, which enables us to put together more compelling proposals – both were crowdsourced ideas.

Within the IS group we are having a revolution that is flipping from a fairly traditional approach to corporate IT into a model where we are digital by default. We think it is important that this is adopted by everyone in the IS group. This mean adopting digital ways for working as standard – for example, lean startup, minimum viable products (MVPs), agile development including Scrum and Kanban, and also adopting digital strategies around cloud, mobility, automation and data analytics. I have said that we will be fully in the cloud by 2020.

I also chair the company's investment committee, where we have started to adopt digital techniques by requiring all requests for investment to require a measureable return within three months.

Describe how you use and promote technology to redesign the processes, services and structures of your organisation to enable it to become more efficient and customer-focused
We have a One Atkins steering group where the business process leads for winning work, delivering work, people, knowledge and collaboration and business operations collaborate with my IS teams to develop roadmaps to guide our investment in technology. It is through this process that we bring in digital thinking to inform our roadmaps and to enable the process leads to understand how technology will enable the business to be more efficient and customer-focused.

This has already resulted in the development of our digital engineering ecosystem – a spider web of communities across the organisation looking at digital engineering, asset management, digital site surveys and more. Another good example is the work we have done with our winning work community, where better dashboards, client portals, industry insights and key account management technologies are bringing to life our 'clients at the heart of what we do' ethos.

We now have winning work communities across the organisation, sharing knowledge about our clients and using common systems and tools. We are creating a new business approach to innovation and a global collaborative culture by pioneering digital ways of working. We want to be contributing meaningful revenue to the company's bottom line and are repositioning Atkins as a technology innovator in the marketplace.

We aim to give all staff a real voice in shaping how the company feels and operates. We are a design and engineering company, so many staff spend time on client sites at our building and infrastructure projects. We are deploying a mobile-first plan to improve productivity by enabling our people to work from anywhere and directly improve company profitability.

A key theme in our 2020 vision for Atkins is collaboration on a global scale. We are using enterprise social media as the key tool for empowering staff to share knowledge and innovation across the company without the constraints of organisational boundaries. As a result we are beginning to feel like a more fluid organisation, better able to create value from the wealth of talent we have across the organisation. We've already used crowdsourcing to shape our digital engineering vision, to create a company-wide Bid in a Box product and to prioritise development for our Atkins On the Go app, which enables our people to work seamlessly across the world.

We've made good progress this year on moving to a single, integrated, cost-effective global service model. This is helping foster innovative thinking around fix-once, automation, self-service and lean.

We know that self-service doesn't just happen, so we've invested in each sector having a dedicated regional service delivery manager whose role is to make sure we support the business in becoming more self-sufficient (with user training, the Tech Bar, employee engagement and improved communications). Alongside our business education programmes, we have a team of IS champions who are driving forward continuous improvement within the IS organisation focused on achieving our IS in 2020 objectives.

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?
We regularly publish technology stories on Axis (our intranet) and are currently running a One Atkins campaign, where we have reached out to our people around the world to gather their examples about collaboration, client focus and exploiting technology. However, while we do use traditional 'broadcast' approaches (blogs, intranet articles, group emails, etc), we have found that digital engagement products shared through our wide network of business communities reaches more people.

Engaging with business leaders is an important element of our engagement strategy. I am a member of the group's senior leadership group, attend the sector strategy sessions, and have regular one-to-ones with the sector CEOs, often attending their leadership team meetings. This provides ample opportunity to discuss with them the role technology can play in achieving their business objectives.

Working closely with our group communications function, I contribute technology thought leadership to PR colleagues, as well as investor relations presentations. Another engagement approach involves working with our business change leads, the innovation and disrupter network, win work and deliver work communities, all of whom help to spread the word.

Creating videos about technology (eg the digital engineering vision, client hackathons, crowdsourcing and so on) and then cascading them through the organisation via our communities gives a greater reach and provokes more engagement and feedback than the traditional methods. We make extensive use of Yammer to engage employees in conversations about technology – primarily through our thinking digital, digital services, innovation and disrupter, and client technology groups. We've used Yammer to crowdsource ideas to deal with client problems, generate ideas for hackathons and create storytelling from user perspectives about the role technology is having in their world.

We also survey staff regularly to measure satisfaction and understand their perceptions and priorities. I also have a blog where I share my thoughts to the whole organisation and a Tell Richard What You Think button so that anyone in the company can tell me directly what they think of the services we provide, make me aware of issues or share ideas. My objective is to reply to each one personally. This provides me with a revealing, uncensored source of information from our staff on the ground and has helped improve trust and transparency.

How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
We have developed our own, self-hosted platform (Angles) for collating thought leadership and expert opinion across Atkins and share this content widely across our chosen social networks of LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook primarily. We highlight the issues, innovations and challenges that technology creates and provide bespoke employee training on social media.

We encourage our employees to be active with their networks and communities online. As brand advocates, they amplify our key messaging and highlight the Atkins' perspective on a wide variety of topics.

We have an extremely popular LinkedIn company page with over 190,000 followers and our primary corporate Twitter account now has over 30,000 followers. Through these, we engage with colleagues, peers, clients and other key stakeholders, sharing content, engaging in conversations, and knowledge sharing and collaborating on industry-wide campaigns that benefit the industry we work in (eg National Women in Engineering Day).

We have also created niche communities, such as our unbranded Intelligent Mobility group on LinkedIn, where we facilitate conversations and discussions about this burgeoning sector without being overly promotional or dominating with Atkins-specific news. In this case, the conversations are more important than our brand promotion activities.

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?
I think that the most effective way to strongly align my function with the full business is to link into multiple business touchpoints so that we know what's important to our external clients and understand our business drivers. Those touchpoints include being an integral part of the regular operational heartbeat of the business, as well as sponsoring specific network events.

Being closely linked with the strategy and operational leadership of the organisation means I have full visibility of what's important. Having a global client technology team that is hooked into our win work communities around the world means that we can quickly identify good ideas in one part of the organisation and surface them for use across the group. Being at the heart of the company's client account reviews means that we find out about our clients' challenges and are able to input ideas about technology and innovation that will drive our clients' businesses forward.

The newly formed global product team is proving to be a very effective way of exploring and discussing technology in the context of what's important to the business. And the global business change leader network gives us another route by which we can gather feedback and share technology advancements. In addition, I regularly sponsor events – whether thought leadership, hackathons, conferences – that take a business problem or opportunity and explore how technology will enable us to deliver better outcomes for our clients and gain a competitive advantage.

Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management
We use the usual sources of information from external bodies to give us independent views on how the market is developing. My teams make great use of industry events and external memberships to keep abreast of wider developments and network with peers in other organisations. However, I encourage my teams to treat this information only as useful input and not as a substitute for thinking through our specific requirements and the solutions that best meet our needs.

We also hold workshops internally and with our partners and clients. Internally, these are just as often about behaviours, and being lean and agile, as they are about technology. And externally, more and more they are taking the form of innovation workshops and hackathons. 

Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
As we were developing our IS in 2020 vision, we reached out to all of our staff to ask them to help shape and describe our values. And they did a great job! Our values of being bold, proactive, experimenters and trusted have really helped us to anchor our developing culture. We regularly use polling to take the pulse of the IS organisation to make sure we are making progress in achieving our IS 2020 vision and living our values. We celebrate good examples of this behaviour and I have bi-weekly calls with everyone in the IS group to ensure high levels of transparency and cross-fertilisation of views/opinions to help make our values feel real.

I think that moving from being a UK-centric IS organisation to a truly global organisation has helped us become more diverse. We are learning much more about our cultural strengths and celebrating our differences. We've definitely moved away from leadership and management positions being almost entirely UK-based and now have an extended leadership team that operates in every one of our regions across the world. Atkins has a very clear and common purpose that goes beyond describing what we do, to articulating why and how we do it, and I think that this has really helped to bind our global team together. I'm also really proud of the fact that we have a relatively high proportion of women at all levels in the organisation, including my senior leadership team of four men and five women.

Describe how you collaborate with and influence the organisation and its leadership team
I think the most effective way to influence the organisation and its leadership team is to get really close to the business. That's why my client tech team gets involved in account and client review meetings, contributing to innovation and digital plans for each client. Understanding the business drivers for each of our sectors means that whatever technology discussions we engage in are immediately perceived as relevant and important to the business.

Obviously, being involved in strategy from formulation all the way through to execution gives me insights that would be difficult if I were not operating at this level in the organisation. Being able to put digital thinking into strategy is a really important part of the process.

There's also something about timing. I think that Atkins is at a point of maturity where the digital agenda is front and centre of our leaders' minds. To be honest, collaborating is easier than it would be in an organisation that had yet to embrace the opportunity that technological disruption is bringing to their industry.

Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills
I try and constantly challenge myself to push the boundaries of the role of the CIO and play an active role in the wider industry, engaging in debate to help shape the future. I have found taking risks and being a disruptive influence may feel uncomfortable but is an essential part of personal development.

I make sure that I get regular interaction with a wide range of different people and perspectives outside of my normal day-to-day influences. I learn a lot from engaging with the younger generation and make sure that I find time to do this in informal ways as well as sponsoring MBA student projects. I still value improving my knowledge of advanced management techniques, particularly seeking out the latest thinking on adaptive leadership and innovation.

What new technologies are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with?
We are actively investigating or developing solutions with many emerging technologies. Machine learning, coupled with intent-based search capabilities, for example, will play an increasing key role in the personalisation of our internal systems, ensuring that individual users are delivered a working environment that helps make them as personally productive as possible.

Data is at the heart of all we do, and the richness of the analytics solutions sparked by the big data revolution of the last few years is being leveraged for everything from self-service business intelligence through to NoSQL-type solutions that marry huge data sets to provide insights that only a few years ago no one would have thought to explore.

What really excites me is when we can provide this level of innovation directly to our end clients, as some recent examples in the intelligent mobility space demonstrate. The same applies to IoT, which we see not just as the precursor of a move to smart buildings and cities, but in reality to smart everything. And that's where rich data analytics, including in real time, is key. We are also using virtual and augmented reality at different stages of the design process and see robots involved in construction.

How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach?
I have very publicly stated our commitment to have moved the company fully to the cloud by 2020. I haven't been specific about public, private or hybrid cloud, or even PaaS, IaaS or SaaS. But my people know that the preference where possible is SaaS and public cloud. That is our vision, and we are working most closely with our technology suppliers and partners who share that vision.

Internally that has given us a real focus. We obviously consider solutions on a case-by-case basis, but knowing our default and aspirational direction is key in aligning our various initiatives technically.

In terms of teams and the work we do, we are obviously building our core competencies around our strategic direction, with a focus on a strong organic capability that can be augmented quickly when required through external partnerships. We aim to minimise bespoke work, favouring configuration over customisation, but at the same time realising that bespoke development can be essential when real competitive advantage is to be obtained. And that is the key: we aim to focus our creative efforts in those areas that are the real market differentiators.

Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
One benefit I find from being very open and taking about our strategy openly in the IT press is that I get contacted on a daily basis by smaller startup organisations with more disruptive propositions that align with our strategic objectives. I select the most promising of these to meet with members of my senior team to help challenge our thinking and look for ways to achieve our strategic goals more quickly or cost effectively.

As part of my role I also have access to a pipeline of startup organisations which we assess for use internally or potential partnering opportunities. We have regular strategic alignment sessions with key vendors to enable a two-way exchange of views and plans. We find that most of these companies now have incubation groups that are also a useful source of new technology startups with interesting propositions. We also use crowdsourcing to encourage all staff across the organisation to share their experiences of new products or technologies which could be of value to the whole organisation.

Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
We have a devolved strategy that pushes responsibility and accountability for sourcing, procurement and vendor management closest to the teams most impacted by those decisions. This requires a very real commercial focus from all those involved. This was new to many of our people, who were more used to being able to rely on a large and centralised procurement team. But it is proving a great success, as evidenced by some major contracts we have recently signed. 

Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the last year and what they have enabled
Internally we've made a major commitment to Microsoft's cloud platform, including Office 365, Exchange Online, Yammer, Delve and Azure. We're now rolling out self-provisioning for SharePoint sites, and a self-service BI capability using Power BI for all our staff. Being able to decommission on-premise infrastructure is obviously a major benefit, but this is really about something far more significant.

Visiting London recently, Satya Nadella said: "Work is what you do, not where you're at." That chimes closely with our staff mobility strategy. Any device, anytime, anywhere is the mantra, and we're already seeing the benefits.

Some say that short of 1PB of data, you can't really talk about data being big data. I don't buy into that; for me it's really about the analytics you do on the data rather than the volume of it. We've held hackathons over the last year, particular in the transport space, that have explored the marrying of data sets to create all sorts of innovative solutions. The challenge is that there is just so much we could do in this space. Over the next year we will be working with our clients to focus on those areas that lead to greatest benefit to both them and their customers.

Site surveying is a major part of our industry, and it has traditionally been a manual and time-consuming process. We've been pioneering the use of drones for acquiring aerial raster data. By collecting geo-referenced digital images from the sky, we're hugely simplifying the whole survey process. This is saving great amounts of time in both the collection and post-processing of survey data. We've also taken this to the next stage using virtual reality technology such as Oculus Rift, in which we can now provide our clients with incredibly rich and interactive simulations of both work in progress and options for future development. This is revolutionising how we conduct our business, and we're incredibly energised about staying at the forefront in the whole digital engineering space.

What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
Our deal with Microsoft gives us full access to Enterprise Cloud Suite and Office 365 Enterprise E5 for all employees. By moving to a per-user licensing model, we are now able to take licensing off the table as we design cloud-based collaboration, analytics and productivity solutions in the months and years to come. This is a significant change for us, and fully aligns with our vision for 2020 and beyond. In addition, we are now planning our move to cloud-based PBX, and more. Microsoft Azure is already featuring as a key part of our app development.

Rate how important your sources of innovative technology suppliers are
Often use: analyst houses, consultants, CIO peers, industry body. Always refer to: media.

Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?

How is cyber security led and discussed by senior management?
Cyber is actively discussed and owned at board level, with our CEO taking the lead. We have a proactive cyber and information security strategy where we assess our readiness and effectiveness and share this with our audit committee. We have also achieved Cyber Essentials Plus certification as independent verification. I have worked on positioning cyber as not just a technology issue but one where staff awareness is key, so we have a mandatory training programme for all staff that is led from the top, positioning information assurance as a key part of our company code of conduct.

When did you start your current role?

What is your reporting line?
Corporate development and strategy director.

Are you a member of the board of directors?

How many users does your department supply services to?

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?
Nearly all internal.