Late Post

CIO interview: Victoria Higgin, Highways England

In Might this yr, Highways England revealed a Digital supply paper outlining how the company that appears after England’s motorways will use digital applied sciences.

Within the paper, Victoria Higgin, Highways England’s chief digital and knowledge officer (CDIO), outlines a contemporary and versatile expertise structure that she says will enable the organisation to create new companies or enhance present ones shortly by means of the reuse of present companies.

“We can even concentrate on decreasing complexity and rising standardisation throughout our infrastructure and platforms, which is able to allow larger automation, orchestration and adaptability throughout our expertise stacks, resulting in faster provision of infrastructure companies,” she notes within the paper.

Higgin joined Highways England two years in the past. Previous to this she labored for the Nationwide Grid, the place she held numerous roles over her 22-year tenure, together with working within the management room, IT, undertaking supply, enterprise relationship administration and IT transformation.

Whereas the brand new organisation shares similarities with the Nationwide Grid by way of being a community that requires administration, she says: “Once I left Nationwide Grid, I didn’t know a lot about Highways [England], however it has fairly an enormous digital agenda.”

In addition to each organisations being targeted on nationwide infrastructure, she says Highways England and the Nationwide Grid every have a way of responsibility to the general public and are security oriented.

Making connections

Higgin describes Highways England as an organisation that connects the nation. “We aren’t journey planners; we join the shoppers by means of the journeys they take and thru the expertise we implement.”

Together with street customers, clients embody freight firms, the emergency companies and the communities working or constructing the street community. Highways England additionally must be linked to native authorities, as Higgin explains: “No person’s street journey begins or ends on the motorway. All of us dwell in native authorities and so we talk with them.”

She leads the 277-strong digital companies workforce at Highways England, which, amongst different issues, is trying on the nation’s “digital roads” agenda. By its strategic marketing strategy, the organisation is investing £27.4bn within the strategic street community (SRN) between 2020 and 2025.

That is supported by digital applied sciences and information to allow Highways England to ship safer, smoother and extra dependable journeys for its clients. “It’s about adopting extra agile methods, reworking our companies and offering our folks with the information they should make higher choices,” says Higgin.

The digital freeway

There are three components to Highways England’s digital roads plan. Broadly talking, these cowl asset administration and security – operational applied sciences to enhance site visitors administration and digital companies for patrons. “We will successfully handle the way in which we run the community utilizing digital channels, real-time information and roadside expertise,” says Higgin.

“We will successfully handle the way in which we run the community utilizing digital channels, real-time information and roadside expertise”

Victoria Higgin, Highways England

Highways England is launching two new IT frameworks for tender – the Data and Know-how Industrial Framework (ITCF), price £1.5bn, and the Operational Know-how Industrial Framework (OTCF), price £500m. Contracts shall be awarded to supply the operational roadside expertise, operational programs and enterprise IT that drives the strategic street community in England. “It’s a large piece of labor,” says Higgin, “and we’re taking a look at how we companion to allow it.”

Nonetheless, being “large” doesn’t essentially imply contracts shall be awarded solely to the biggest IT and operational expertise suppliers. “Extra area of interest firms are particularly good at information and are fast in growing information tasks,” says Higgin. However she concedes that there’ll all the time be a necessity for the massive suppliers to assist Highways England’s mission-critical programs.

Staff effort

Alongside these main initiatives, Higgin says Highways England can be constructing out its personal inside IT, information and cyber safety capabilities. “We’re growing our personal folks,” she says. “We’re additionally taking a look at apprentice and graduate schemes.”

Inside growth is very essential in roles the place there’s big demand available in the market, resembling enterprise structure, information science and cyber safety. “There isn’t a finish of alternatives to develop.”

Like many bigger organisations, Highways England has legacy IT and technical debt, however Higgin says it’s on a journey to decommission a few of this older IT. “There may be some stuff we received’t wish to change, however we’ll wish to do some issues extra digitally and reap the benefits of information.”

She says her position at Highways England places her in a great place to facilitate the breaking down of silos and connecting components of the organisations collectively to allow end-to-end information flows and companies. “I can see proper throughout the organisation, end-to-end. The executives hear to one another to make adjustments, and look to me [for recommendations].

“We’re info suppliers,” she says. “The work round information is spectacular. We have now a workforce accountable for delivering information as a service and connecting the dots throughout the organisation.”

The position of information

One of many alternatives Highways England is taking a look at is the power to make use of roadside signage to ship information on to automobiles, offering in-vehicle signage. It’s working with car producers to entry information from automobiles. “We’re taking a look at what we are able to present, safety, how automobiles discuss to our infrastructure and what we are able to do with the information,” says Higgin. 

Highways England can be exploring how information can be utilized to optimise journeys, resembling monitoring site visitors stream and coping with roadworks and accidents. “We have now information that’s distinctive to us to optimise street journeys,” says Higgin. Externally, information is principally shared with native authorities, however she feels that extra must be performed to share information with different transport organisations resembling Community Rail and HS2.

Optimisation can be a key a part of any main street undertaking. Main work on motorways is deliberate and rehearsed utilizing digital twin simulations. 

Discussions on information inevitably lead on to synthetic intelligence (AI) and machine studying (ML). When requested about the place Highways England sees AI being deployed, Higgin says: “There may be potential to make use of AI to help our management room operators.” As an example, AI might be deployed to supply predictive analytics for sustaining roadside property. “There could be no have to schedule in visits to property when it isn’t wanted,” says Higgin. Not solely does this enhance effectivity, however it additionally helps to enhance security, since predictive upkeep reduces the variety of visits engineers have to make to the roadside to test signage.

However whereas the company is exploring utility areas, Higgin says she needs to “get the moral half proper earlier than we dive in”. This implies assessing what Highways England needs to get out of AI, making certain it isn’t biased, and understanding the way it will influence clients and workers.

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