Being digital-born doesn’t inoculate an organisation against IT problems. When Alex Farr arrived, he found code duplication, and a lack of storage and documentation standards for code, all arising from having developers reside in different business units. He created a virtual devops team within IT by getting those business-embedded developers allocate two hours a week to a devops push that has helped create a central and highly secure repository of relevant datasets that is accessible to all stakeholders – the foundation stone for the business.

Job title
IT director

Company name
Transport Systems Catapult

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
Catapult runs a network of world-leading centres designed to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in specific areas and help drive future economic growth funded by Innovate UK. Essentially, we act as an accelerator for startups while trying to speed up their time to market. In IT we are constantly having to reinvent our offerings to ensure we draw people in to use our centre. Last year we took the decision to improve the centre by introducing an Omnideck and VR simulators. They’ve been used for a number of projects, including the user experience of driverless cars. We’ve also created a simulation of Milton Keynes – using VR, our partners can virtually walk around Milton Keynes and experience a driverless car.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
One of the critical business outcomes that we are judged on by Innovate UK, our key stakeholder, is our unique assets. In IT we won a funding project to develop a platform to host, manipulate and model transport data. The aim of this project is to unlock value for the intelligent mobility (IM) industry through the enhanced use of data and data analytics. We created a central and highly secure repository of relevant datasets (our data store) and made it accessible to all transport stakeholders. We had to source the adequate expertise to exploit this information and provide ‘insight as a service’ for companies with limited analytics capabilities. Access to the data store was designed to be on a commercial basis, to ensure ongoing funding requirements were covered.

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
The data store, as discussed above, covers both product and technology innovation in our organisation. As far as business model innovation goes, we have created a virtual dev/ops team within IT. Across the business we had a number of developers who resided in different business units. The issues I saw were duplication of code, a lack of standards when storing code, and how code was documented.

I approached the business for additional funding to help each of these developers allocate two hours a week to dev/ops. This helped us address the issues highlighted.

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
I have been able to effect both cultural and behavioural change by creating an agile environment in terms of our IT offerings. We have adopted a hotdesk environment within our office to assist one of our key organisational values – collaboration. As a department, this has significantly helped, as I have been able to spread my team across the organisation to understand some of the issues within the organisation better. I have found this informal approach to looking at opportunities to identify areas for improvement more efficient than workshops or formal meetings.

Another way we’ve effected these changes is our adoption of a multitude of cloud platforms. The strategy I wrote last year focused on switching our production systems to the cloud. This has improved our time to market for certain services, allowed us to offer CYOD/BYOD, and make services available at any time for anywhere. Moreover, the shift of these business-as-usual applications has meant we now have more time to innovate or drive value from the IT department.

How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
We are in the very early stages of this. As a fairly new organisation (just four years old) we’ve been fortunate enough to have digital in mind from the outset. I think the biggest inroad I have made with the board has been to look across a number of markets and not just our sector. Some of the unique assets we’ve built could be used in other sectors, and we are working with two other Catapults to test this theory.

How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
SME and startups are extremely important to our organisation. We host a number of these and what we’ve been able to do is learn from them. Our company, despite its age, already has some deep processes, and what we’ve been able to do is learn from these companies and change the ways in which we work.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
We have recruited two additional members of the IT department. I was well aware we lack diversity in the team and we have adopted a value-based recruitment approach which has helped with diversity. I feel this has helped address diversity in two ways. First, in terms of the people we employ, but also the skillsets we have brought in. We have tried to move away from specialists and to employee people with a wider range of skills. Changing the recruitment from technical-based to value-based has let us achieve this.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
I have used the OGTM model to help develop our IT strategy. Each organisational goal will have developed at least one IT objective. This has helped us prioritise and organise work that comes into the department as we insist it first aligns with the departmental goals.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
I developed a procurement deal with four suppliers/partners this year. We had found that a number of our projects were taking longer than expected due to the government procurement restrictions placed on us. Any IT project over the value of £50K was having to be posted on Contracts Finder (or similar) before we could purchase hardware, software or services. We ran an OJEU to identify four suppliers on a two-year contract up to the value of £5m. This has enabled us to purchase direct and speed up the procurement process by three months.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?

  • further VR/AR enhancements
  • improvements to user experience – line of business applications
  • digital technology platforms
  • security – Cyber Essentials Plus accreditation.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
Our role as an organisation is to grow the UK market. Brexit could have a real impact on our organisation as we have included Horizon 2020 – a set of EU-funded innovation projects – in our forecasting. Until we know the real impact of Brexit on our ability to bid on these projects we are exploring projects from further afield.

In terms of IT services, government restrictions have meant we have had to use UK-based datacentres for all our cloud services, so this has left us in a good place should Brexit have an impact on data protection.


When did you start your current role?
September 2015

What is your reporting line?

Are you a member of the executive leadership?

Are you a member of the board of directors?

How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?


What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
Operational 72%, new development 28%.


Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:

  1. CIO peers
  2. Industry bodies
  3. Analyst houses
  4. Consultants
  5. Media


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

Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?

Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
Head of security – consultant. Reports to me.


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 or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?


Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • security
  • AR/VR
  • enterprise applications
  • devices (mobile).

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • ERP
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • security
  • AR/VR
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • wearables.

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?


Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?

Does your department include technology staff from the EU?

Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?