Defra Group Chief Technology Officer John Seglias, former CIO of Abellio helped the rail company transform its operations by focusing on services rather than technology to adopt a customer-first approach. Seglias was part of the senior ledership team before his move, and trialled IoT and wearables at Abellio.
Name and job title
John Seglias, former Group CIO at Abellio now Group CTO at Defra
How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
In three direct ways: a) The rail franchise bidding process is our opportunity to set the business strategy of a new franchise for the next 10 years. The bid covers our products, passenger experience and services we plan to offer. The transport sector is now completely technology-driven, from fully digital trains, to digital platforms and mobile apps. IT develop technology concepts and products during the bidding process with our bidding colleagues, and we then test them through a proof of concept process, and develop and implement in the new franchises. b) New products and services are also developed in our current operating companies. We work closely with our colleagues to capture these ideas and needs, and develop them in a way that they can be re-used in our other franchises. c) As a member of the Leadership team, and a member of the various boards in our franchises, where we discuss and agree our various Capital investments
How as CIO have you affected cultural change and / or behaviour in your organisation and to what extent?
I was keen that the IT organisation was transformed to focus on services rather than technology, and to adopt a customer-first approach. This was achieved by restructuring the IT organisation and by embedding IT staff in key business units to work closely with the rest of the organisation. This has resulted in a more commercially driven IT team, and a more tech-savvy business.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s company performance
In the past 12 months we have successfully acquired the Scotrail business, worth billions of pounds over its life-time (at least seven years). The IT element of the five-month take-over project was massive, with a go-live deadline of the April 1, when all IT systems had to work to allow the trains to run, and the business to operate as normal. The project was 100% successful including all of the IT elements. As CIO I was part of the executive steering group managing this project, and was a key decision maker in everything from staff uniforms, to trains and stations, to business systems. My IT organisation was also a key part of the bid team that submitted two franchise bids in 2015, Northern Rail and East Anglia. Combined these are worth more than £1 billion per year
Describe how you have used organisational and third party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
One of the projects I launched when I joined Abellio is the development and adoption of a MIS solution. This has now been developed for our group function, Scotrail and Merseyrail businesses, with our other businesses coming on board in 2016. The MIS solution aggregates internal and industry data (like serious incidents, revenue etc) and produces KPIs in a visual format for our executive team. This has replaced the usual monthly paper-based reports. Because the data is automatically generated and consolidated, it is accurate, timely and consistent across all of our businesses, enabling our executive team to make better business decisions.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
The IT organisation in Abellio aligns with the business decision to centralise strategy, control and governance at Group level but devolve implementation to local businesses. Thus the central IT organisation sets IT strategy, undertakes governance, centralises critical contracts and works with the business on innovation, but implementation and service management remains devolved to local IT organisations. Group IT has separated accountability for IT operations which focuses on our big ERP solutions and IT operations, and Digital innovation which focuses on the passenger experience
Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
Central IT owns digital strategy although we don't have a document called Digital Strategy. I believe such a thing would be out of date the moment it was written. Instead, working with our bid colleagues, and for each franchise we bid for, we agree which areas we need to digitise, what the outcomes need to be, and IT then identify the right partners and suppliers to develop the solutions. To manage and direct the digital initiatives we have set-up a product management steering function that is made out of IT and Commercial bidding
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
One example is our approach to smart technology. In the past year we rolled out c. 15,000 smart phones and tablets to our staff, including all of our front-end colleagues who now have a suite of apps (depending on their work profile) enabling them to be more efficient and provide a better customer service. We have also rolled out apps to our passengers that go beyond the usual mobile ticketing purchase. For example in Scotland we are rolling out Snapp It, an Abellio app that empowers our passengers to report cleanliness and safety issues in real time. And these issues are assigned to our front-end staff on their apps so that we can deal with passenger concerns in real time. These apps are the front-end of digital back-ends. Anything from rostering, to buying a ticket, to connecting to
How do you engage regularly with your organisation (e.g. via a blog/seminars/newsletter etc.) about your team and the role of technology in the organisation and what impact is this having?
We have rolled out Office 365 across our business, and we make extensive use of Sharepoint (for newsletters) and Yammer (for discussions on key topics). I also use Skype for business to stay connected with my team
How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
I am part of the CIO Rail Forum. We formally meet every 2 months to discuss key industry initiatives. Each of us also sponsors one or two key industry projects. I attend industry events, but also find time to meet informally with CIOs from our competitors, to discuss industry issues
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?
Twice a year I bring together my IT leaders to discuss IT strategy and key initiatives. I also run an IT Project Directorate Group meeting every 6 weeks to discuss our key IT projects. My immediate team and I also spend time meeting key business colleagues (CEOs, CFOs and COOs) to discuss how their businesses are progressing and how we are working together. As mentioned earlier we also have the product management steering function that we use to discuss our digital initiatives
Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management e.g horizon scanning, technology strategy workshops, involvement in industry events and bodies
I attend and speak at various IT events (in the past year I presented in 5 events including the Samsung Futurescape, the CIO Event, and Executive Leaders Network event). I have a Gartner subscription and attend the annual Symposium as well as other Gartner events. I also attend supplier innovation events to discuss future developments we may want to plan for
Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
My team was already quite diverse when I joined Abellio, with colleagues from all parts of the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, and from all ethnic backgrounds. During the past 2 years I have though put together initiatives to bring together colleagues from all the geographies, collaborate on projects, and as such increase cross-cultural knowledge and sharing. One such example is our work with our Dutch colleagues to put in place a Group (including our parent company Dutch Railways) Microsoft Enterprise Agreement.
Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
I do so through my being a member of key Steering Groups, boards and Executive Teams. Ialso spend quite a bit of time going to our various businesses and spending time on the ground and being visible to key senior colleagues. This presents opportunities for un-planned and off-the-record discussions.
Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills, perhaps through mentoring, training or external activities
Personal development at this senior level is becoming harder and harder to undertake. A few years ago I took a year off and completed a full-time MBA which was a fantastic development opportunity, and allowed me to come closer as an individual to non-IT colleagues. Since then I spend most of my time at exec level, discussing business issues and plans. This presents another opportunity to learn from colleagues. I also am part of Gartner's Executive Programme, so I have an experienced ex-CIO to work with who provides advice and guidance when needed.
Are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with: Machine Learning / Artificial Intelligence; Data Analytics; NoSQL; wearable technology; Enterprise Apps; Internet of Things; Automation and Robotics; 3D Printing; the Sharing Economy; Anything else?
Yes. We are trialling IoT right now, as well as wearables. We are also looking at real-time data analytics
How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach – e.g. from consuming services from the cloud or on-premise products through to spinning up in-house development teams for bespoke work?
Our IT strategy is to keep our in-house IT to a minimum. We always look to work with suppliers and third parties to develop new products
Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
Absolutely, especially in Group IT, we are continuously on the look-out for something different
Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
Our strategy is based on the adoption of standard services through cloud, either PaaS or SaaS. We work closely with Atos/Worldline, Fujitsu, Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Vodafone, Level 3, Rackspace, Advanced Business Systems, Midland HR, BT/EE and Infor.
Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the last year and what they have enabled
Last year we launched our new Digital CIS solution. This replaces the traditional 3-line Customer Information Screens with an LCD-based solution. It also replaced the back-end workflow and integrates with our apps, so that we have better control of the information that is displayed on the screens, making it more accurate across our passenger touch-points (dCIS, mobile apps, on-line etc) but also richer in data, showing for example the layout of a train, number of carriages, busy carriages etc. We also launched our new on-train media entertainment solution. Passengers now have access to anything from movies to news, to music and websites. It integrates seamlessly with the on-train WiFi (rolling out to all our trains right now) and our platform WiFi. The solution is currently being rolled-out in Scotland
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
As an example we have signed a strategic deal with Fujitsu. They will be providing our smart-phone based mobile ticketing solution. This enables our staff to use their Android phone to sell and validate tickets on trains. It replaces the old cumbersome technology that was very much disliked by all. The new solution will also sell and validate smart tickets on the train, a first for the industry
How do you rate the following as sources of innovative technology suppliers:
Analyst Houses - Always referred to
Consultants - Often use
CIO Peers - Often use
Industry Body - Often use
Media - Ocassionally use
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
How is cyber-security led and discussed by senior management?
Cyber security and Information Security is at the top of our business risk register, and managed by the executive team (of which I am a member). It is led and managed by my IT function
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
How much of your IT budget is capital and how much revenue?
Most of the IT budget is Operational. CapEx is focused on key digital initiatives and developments and we allocate the cost to the relevant business units
What percentage of your budget is spent on:
IT operational spend ("keeping the lights on") - 60%
New developments (innovation) - 40%
What number of 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?