Crossrail 2: The journey to a digitalisation strategy

Duncan Evans of Crossrail 2 talks to the Infrastructure Client Group (ICG) about their journey of writing and delivering a digitalisation strategy; how it came about, the approach taken, the problems encountered and key lessons learned.

Image courtesy of CRL2
Image courtesy of CRL2
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Duncan Evans led the delivery of Crossrail 2’s Digitalisation Strategy. Crossrail 2 (CRL2) is a subsidiary of Transport for London and is currently developing the scheme ahead of submission of the hybrid bill. The Infrastructure Client Group first asked Duncan how the CRL2 digitalisation strategy came about.

How the strategy came about

“Its important that it’s driven from the top.” Simon Adams, Head of Commercial at CRL2 identified the need for a digitalisation strategy. It may seem obvious, but getting leadership buy/in is essential. As Duncan goes on to explain, this is because the digitalisation strategy cannot be an add-on if it is to bring true value – it must be a part of the organisation’s core culture and values. Duncan was asked to join the CRL2 team from his previous role as Head of Business Systems at Crossrail. Initially he thought that he could “do it alone”, but soon realised that it was important to get the right team together. A head of Information Management from Crossrail and a Senior BIM manager soon joined to bolster the team. The final step of getting the right team together was engaging Mott Macdonald, who were already providing some design consultancy to the project. This brought several advantages, primarily access to Mott’s network of people involved in digitalisation who could provide valuable knowledge and peer reviews.

So, the first two lessons from CRL2 on how to make a digitalisation strategy happen are:

  • Get buy in from the top
  • Get the right team with the right diversity to deliver it

How they approached it

Duncan and his team took a very structured approach to the development of the strategy. They put together a schedule for when they aimed to deliver the strategy and engage with stakeholders and got buy in to it from the management team. Then Duncan created the framework – what the strategy needed to consider.

“The framework gave us the contents page for the report. We then took a top down approach to flesh out the detail”. This process gave 6 themes for the strategy and the team then hosted a workshop for each of them. The workshops focused on principles and values rather than ‘how’ the strategy would be delivered – this can be worked out later. CRL2 brought in other industry members to the workshops to challenge views and benefit from the experience as well. Even at this early stage CRL2 decided to take an open approach to their digitalisation journey.

Once the strategy was on paper, the next stage was to involve the ICG’s digital transformation task group (DTTG) for peer review and critique. The group provided a lot of constructive feedback, as some members had recently gone through a similar journey. It also provided some confidence that what CRL2 had created was the right approach. One of Duncan’s key reflections from this part of the journey was that “it really helped being part of the DTTG. There were 12 or so similarly minded people who had similar challenges who we could share with.”

CRL2’s digitalisation strategy doesn’t talk about BIM, or Augmented Reality, or Blockchain. These are tools. Digital transformation for CRL2 is about the way they approach their work - not a transformation of the tools that they use to do so.

Stakeholder engagement

Keeping stakeholders on board is a key part of delivering the strategy. Duncan states that having clarity on who needed to be involved and how to manage their expectations was key. This is a reflection that has been echoed by other members of ICG.

As stated earlier, the need for top end support was also key. In CRL2, this meant that the Managing Director, Head of Engineering and Head of Commercial were key stakeholders. The team made efforts to keep these stakeholders involved with the process in an efficient way. Regular but short and focused meetings were set up, and these key stakeholders saw and commented on outputs before anyone else. This was a part of making the digitalisation strategy a key part of the project, rather than an add on to it.

The Challenges

The team had to overcome a series of problems to create the strategy. Many of these were also experienced by other ICG members.

  1. A common understanding. Digital means different things for different people. The team had to work hard to get a common language for the project. This is a key part of managing expectations, as often people can think they are talking about the same thing but are actually miles apart.
  2. What does strategy mean? Linked to challenge 1, the team found that some people were asking for a strategy but really wanted a Gantt chart or a plan. CRL2 was keen that the strategy was a framework and a method to support your transition. One of the other issues Duncan raised on this topic is that they “didn’t know what a good strategy looked like”. This is something that the ICG could help with to an extent, but CRL2 was one of the first members of the group to undertake this journey. In CRL2’s experience people find making plans easy but getting a coherent strategy that ties everything together at the right level of detail was difficult.
  3. People worry about how. A lot of the people engaged worried about how the strategy would be delivered. This can lead you off track, or narrow views, or just turn the strategy into a plan or a procurement list. The how is unknown, and is affected by funding, technological change, innovation and behaviours. It is unhelpful to try and think about ‘how’ for more than 3 years ahead, as there is too much uncertainty with technology, the nature of relationships in the industry and in the case of CRL2, the project itself.
  4. You think you can write. Engineers write a lot of reports but sometimes aren’t the best authors. In Duncan’s words “You think you can write, but you soon realise the value of proper editors”. If the strategy is for a large organisation, its worth getting a specialist to assist with the language and communication of the strategy.

Lessons

From inception to implementation, the CRL2 digitalisation strategy took nearly 2 years. As a result, Duncan has some lessons for how he would do it differently next time.

  1. Don’t send people a document to review - Nobody has time and it won’t get the attention it deserves. Arrange a meeting to talk it through. This has the added benefit of building relationships with the stakeholders.
  2. It needs to have one owner driving it through.
  3. Use the network, or other people's networks to get the strategy reviewed and provide feedback. The strategy isn't commercially sensitive so it can be shared - just make sure your internal stakeholders see it first.
  4. It’s all about people, not technology
  5. Keep focus on the ‘why’. We default to the ‘how’ or the ‘what’, but that doesn’t bring real sustainable change. If people understand and buy-in to the purpose, then you can digitally transform. If you deliver the ‘what’ or ‘how’, you just get some new technology.
  6. Start early. If you want to make digital a part of your project rather than an add-on, you should get in early and help people recognise that it can’t be done in an amateur way.

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