by Mark Chillingworth

Crossrail CIO Andrew Turner on business as a project

Apr 20, 20159 mins

A transformational CIO always has a number of major projects steaming through the organisation, but for former Hiscox CIO Andrew Turner, his entire organisation is a project and as a result, once it is completed his role and the organisation will no longer exist. Turner is now IT Director for Crossrail, which is considered to be Europe’s largest engineering project and is due on platform in 2018, just three years away.

When completed Crossrail will be a 118 kilometre long route connecting Berkshire and Buckinghamshire to the west of London with Essex via central London with major central London stops at existing main line stations Paddington and Liverpool Street and Tottenham Court Road, amongst others. A new 42km tunnel under the centre of London and its existing underground transport network is the main feature of the project, which began in 2009 following approval and Royal ascent in 2007 and 2008 respectively. When completed, Crossrail operator MTR Corporation will run 24 trains per hour. Crossrail underwent a spending review in 2010 at the height of the financial crisis, which found that £1 billion of the £15.9bn budget in savings was required.

“Five years ago Crossrail was 100 people in Victoria trying to get permission, now it is between two and three thousand people at around 41 sites,” CIO Turner says. “Crossrail will provide a 10% increase in rail capacity to the 150-year-old infrastructure of London. That is a huge shot in the arm and will help all the other lines,” Turner, an experienced commuter, says explaining that Crossrail is a joint venture between Transport for London and the Department for Transport.

“The Tottenham Court Road site is impressive, the scale of the tunnels and platforms (250 metres long so trains can be lengthened to cope with demand). It is not a Tube-sized platform; it is a full-size railway platform and a testament to the civil engineering teams. It is going to be very impressive and we are also doing a lot around the stations in terms of urban renewal so that they are pleasant and to help the communities and the passenger flow.

“There’s something about working for Crossrail, it’s a drive to get this done. We are here to build a railway by 2018, on time, on budget. So there’s a strong sense of purpose and that has challenges, but there’s a real desire to get the job done.”

Business as a project

“We are a project, not an ordinary business. Four years from now I won’t be here running a team and we will close down our systems that are no longer required and hand over to the operators.

“It is an exciting business. We don’t have any competition, but we do have stringent timings. We are now, over this year, transferring over from civil engineering to station fit-out and a move towards a rail operations bias. So that is a big scale of change and organisational structure. Crossrail is 60% of the way towards total build; so now we are planning for how we move to a new challenge and how we support the next level of activity and support the interdependencies between the various activities of fitting out stations, tunnels and signals. It is a lot of people coming to do a lot of single activities, so it will be a different set of complexity, but we have learnt a lot during the first half of the build.”

One of the interesting things that became clear in the discussion is that the role of a CIO in an pop-up organisation like Crossrail is to enable innovation to ensure the organisation meets that deadline of handing over the railway in 2018.

Mobility and its role improve processes on the construction sites is not without complexity. “There are safety issues. You don’t want people looking at their phones and having an accident, so we set out clear guidelines and how to use mobile on site,” he says. An iPad application for supervisors is improving planning and improving productivity.

“We are also trying to improve vehicle safety by using mobile technology to enforce standards. It’s simple and powerful technology which plays to the strengths of mobile,” Turner says. “These systems were developed in-house and with close collaboration with Crossrail’s construction teams.”

Building Information Management (BIM) is key to the Crossrail project as once it is built it will be handed over to someone else to run and operate.

“Crossrail’s document management system is the single source of at the heart of ensuring that the project has the right data available to support construction, as well as providing an audit trail for the thousands of decisions that are made very week,” Turner says. BIM has become significant to public projects like Crossrail and is being used to improve information management throughout the project life-cycle. “Being relatively new, we have to continually sell the value of BIM, but the benefits are there for the taking.

“Crossrail systems are protected and all contractors use their own infrastructure, with a VPN to access our systems,” Turner explains.

As CIO, Turner represents Crossrail on the Digital Railway strategy board, which is defining the systems that will underpin the new railway. “The operation and maintenance of the new railway has to be seamless to deliver the best possible customer experience and it’s all about blending tried and trusted systems with innovative new technologies,” he says.

“As a project we have installed a huge amount of monitoring with millions of sensors around London for ground movement for example. So it’s a large data store that we are capturing and lot of data that we are producing through our computer aided design and there is an entire audit trail around that.

“The Internet of Things will evolve over the next 10 years, so we don’t need a solution immediately. What is more important is that we look at data and make the best decisions. Already I see huge amounts of data and it could easily get to beyond looking for outcomes.

“The digital rail project board involves Transport for London and Rail for London and it’s focusing on application systems for maintenance and operations. There has to be alignment with their visions for say, a station. There are also two programmes within that involving the hand-over of the data and how we hand over and help them run the railway.”

Turner’s own team is relatively slim and he relies on a portfolio of service providers to deliver the majority of the infrastructure service, with applications supported by a mix of internal and external resources.

“We are looking at cloud where we can use it and we are now at the point of sweating the assets,” he says of the three-year countdown to a train leaving the platform. Turner sees cloud becoming useful for when the transition from Crossrail to operator begins.

“When you go down to the sites they are making Crossrail happen and they tell you they have worked in Dubai, on London 2012, the Channel Tunnel, and these people go all around the world,” Turner says with enthusiasm for the engineers he finds himself surrounded by whether he’s underground or at the office.

“It’s very easy to squirrel away here in Canary Wharf,” he says from the Crossrail headquarters across the road from sister rail engineering project HS2. “But once a month I do a site visit and in doing that you are providing an independent safety view and some support to make sure that safety is taken seriously. Talking to the teams about this there you are talking to them when they are doing the job and you get to talk about IT,” he says of the ideal opportunity to reinforce the role and opportunities IT offers the project.

“CIOs can bleat on about shadow IT, but in this day and age you can’t stop it, unless it is causing a safety issue. In most cases it’s a well meaning attempt to help the organisation. Sometimes it is a difficult conversation, but most of the time it is an easy one. We are giving a lot of olive branches out to our teams,” Turner says of his on-the-ground approach to being a CIO.

“Crossrail has a fantastic apprentice scheme as well, so we are developing UK skills and it will give people the opportunity, it is not a 10 year career we can offer, but it is a reasonable tenure and that a huge feather in your cap to have been on Europe’s largest engineering project, he says.

Turner last graced these pages as CIO of fast growing insurance firm Hiscox in 2011, which he described as “ambitious and bold”, but the rail industry is not a radical departure for the CIO with a strong financial services heritage. As a graduate trainee Turner joined British Rail working at Old Oak Common near Paddington station.

“It was after the age of steam,” he jokes. “My job was to manage a shift of 120 people that had to turn around the rolling stock over night. The night shift was the busiest shift and was adjacent to Wormwood Scrubs prison, and I used to wonder who was better off”. Old Oak Common is being rejuvenated by Crossrail and is on the plans for HS2 too.

“It’s nice that this is a feature again,” he says. “Rail operations haven’t changed that much in 20 years so it’s nice to be able to understand the lingo,” he says of his return ticket to the rail sector.

Turner has experience of FMCG, airlines, utilities and insurance firms RSA and Aspen Re. “I have done a set of roles and have a lot of insight into different sectors and this has been a breath of fresh air and it’s a huge change for London,” he says. The keen marathon runner recently completed the Tokyo marathon, which means he’s completed the major marathons in London, New York, Berlin, Chicago and Boston, raising money for a local children’s hospice in all of them.

“It’s very different to insurance,” he quips.