My Story – Part 3

1993 – 2007

Jan 1993 – March 1994

Self Employed Management Consultant

 Local Building Firm – Oswestry – Marketing System

Worked with the marketing manager of this company for three months to set up a bespoke CRM system. This required a considerable amount of investigation into how the company operated in terms of marketing as she wasn’t really clear what she wanted, or why.

Architects – Newcastle on Tyne – Project Management System

Worked with this international company specialising in sports and leisure facilities for around a year, on and off site to put in place a project cost management system which would relieve the architects themselves of having to do anything particularly ‘financial’ and focus on their creative abilities. This entailed quite a lot of process discovery which was sometime a revelation to the senior management who were more focussed on marketing than how the business operated.

 March 1994 – present

CEO Business Developments Limited

Having been offered a commission with a public company it was necessary at this time to establish a Limited company (as I had done before with my printing business). The company continues to be fully operational after 30 years.

Clients served:

Railtrack – Civil Engineering reorganisation

A three month assignment to look at the operation and organisation of the Civil Engineering management function inherited from the break up of British Rail. This relatively small management unit is responsible for commissioning contractors to undertake engineering works on the rail infrastructure whereas previously all the work had been done through in-house staff. The concept of managing external organisations was new to them and I was able to use the benefit of my MBA experience in restructuring the organisation appropriately.

Railtrack – ‘Geogis’ Asset management system

Following the privatisation of BR all the data concerning the UK railway infrastructure ended up in different databases owned by different companies. Railtrack was charged with the overall management and maintenance of the infrastructure but did not have a clear picture of its location and distribution in terms of what was where and how much. I was given 12 months and a budget of £1M to ‘sort it out’ with the key outcome of knowing exactly what was where, as a basis for valuation of the company prior to issuing shares for purchase by the general public.

Reporting direct to the Head of Systems I was also issued with a memo from the CEO of Railtrack giving me his personal authority to speak without hindrance to any employee in the organisation. I discovered on this and later projects a significantly toxic culture of fear and blame permeating the company which was a contributor to its demise and replacement by Network Rail a few years later.

Different infrastructure items of all shapes, sizes and functions were recorded on different databases and the task was to consolidate everything into one database – Geogis – to provide a definitive picture. The primary problem was location accuracy as what might be the same item was shown in slightly different locations on each source. This was before the availability of GPS location and before the advent of drones so in many cases the only answer was to send a team out with a measuring tape. Organising all this was a mammoth task and I co-ordinated it region by region involving talking to a lot of front line people and managers in different parts of the country to capture their local knowledge.

At the end of the project which came in slightly under budget and a couple of weeks early the recorded – actual – infrastructure was reduce through elimination of duplicate records by about a third, which although it reduced the ‘value’ of the railway also reduced potential future maintenance costs.

Railtrack – Performance Regime

When is a train on time and when is it not? I was surprised to discover there are several definitions of when a train might arrive at a station for passengers to get on and off. The way the system operates is one company manages, maintains and develops the infrastructure and several companies are licensed to operate train services. There are some exceptions to this in the London area but Railtrack at the time was the company who looked after the national rail network.

Their relationship with the train operators was mixed. Operators could be fined for trains arriving late and Railtrack penalised for the infrastructure being unavailable or not fit for purpose, and of course there were the famed ‘exceptions’ such as the wrong kind of snow, leaves on the line and so forth.

Defining what would be a fair and reasonable definition of ‘late’ took several months and a large number of investigations of how things actually worked in terms of ‘running a railway’ in different regions and different locations. I carried out a huge number on interviews with front line staff and management to find out, for the benefit of senior management, how things actually worked – usually not what was filtering through to them through six or seven layers of intermediate management.

At one extreme the train operators were looking to be allowed 10 minutes to arrive at the end of the last signalling section before a station, at the other, passenger groups and politicians were expecting trains to stop on the platform and have the doors open according to the timetable. There was a continuous discussion between the Operators and Railtrack as to why trains were caused to be late, how to clear tracks, schedule engineering works and so on. I found out a massive amount about how the railway works during this time primarily through confidential discussions with front line people who would talk to me as a third party.

In the end a three minute compromise of when the train arrives at the platform was achieved although there is still controversy about how long it takes to open the doors!

Railtrack – Y2K

For many industries, particularly those of a ‘mechanical’ nature this in my opinion was a vast waste of effort and money. I was brought in as one of three ‘critical path managers’ to oversee the completion of the year 2000 review effort for which we recruited a team of 20 temporary data managers to keep all the records on a database separate from everything else in the company.

Everything for which there was any possibility of electronic involvement such as display boards on stations, driver information in cabs and office systems of all sorts had to be checked out and reported back to our team as to whether or not they needed attention to deal with the presumed Y2K ‘bug’. As we travelled the company talking with front line people we found several systems were not used or had only been used once, people had reverted to paper records because systems didn’t work and there were many other anomalies. Rather than a ‘simple’ Y2K investigation it became a full systems review with all anomalies being recorded.

After about 18 months it became apparent there was very little to be done regarding the ‘millennium bug’. Only around 250 programs had to be adjusted and the major problem discovered was all the timetabling systems had been wrongly assigned a date for February 29th in the year 2000 as people had not realised the centennial year is not a leap year, This wasn’t really a systems problem but was the largest piece of work the exercise generated.

Railtrack – Crash Investigations

During my time with Railtrack there were a number of significant multi-fatal accidents, notably at Ladbroke Grove and Potters Bar. Without going into the details which remain confidential I and my colleagues were brought in to assist in the investigations. What we found in each case was the failure of different departments to communicate with each other to pass vital information about changes which had been made or were in the process of being made to the micro-geography of the railway. These failures were at the root cause of the accidents and largely arose from the top heavy – or middle heavy- management structure.

Around this time the government were becoming increasingly unhappy with the performance of Railtrack and prior to its demise and replacement by Network Rail we were asked if we wanted to leave as consultants or stay on as employees at about a third of the rate we were being paid. Like most of my colleagues I chose to leave.

Rotherfield Peppard plc – ‘Bruce’ driver information system

This company, set up by the former Head of Systems at Railtrack who I’d worked with before was developing a portable robust (military grade) hand-held tablet which would allow train drivers to send and receive real time reports. It was not considered appropriate to issue the drivers with phones which were quite primitive at the time and iPads had not yet appeared on the scene. My role in this was to discover what the drivers were able to do in terms of sending information and what they needed to receive. Another consideration was whether the device should be issued to the driver or to the cab. We decided on the latter as it would allow drivers, the critical asset in running trains on time, to report where they were if out of position or their potential arrival time if late for any reason. As part of this I was issued with a cab pass and allowed to accompany a driver on a typical journey which was very instructive in understandings the problems they encountered on the way. Sadly, the project never went into production as better technology rapidly became available

Railtrack North West Region – Track Access Safety Review

Throughout the rail network there are various ‘access points’ where maintenance staff can get on to the tracks. I was asked by the NW Region to take charge of documenting where they all were as reliance on ‘local knowledge’ was becoming insufficient. There was also a consideration as to whether these locations were ‘safe’ in the light of increasing Health & Safety requirements. Most of this was achieved through maps and phone calls but there was occasionally a necessity for me to visit locations and sometime walk the track itself.

Survey Inspection Systems – Asset Management Consultant

This company were in the business of continuing the work I had done on the Geogis project to move the mapping of the railway forward creating a photographic and video record of the whole infrastructure base. They were also working alongside Transport for London to map as far as possible the underground network finding ways of inspecting all parts of it. One of the things introduced was an air balloon carrying a video camera used to inspect ventilation shafts previously inaccessible. All this was well before drones and the Google style cameras used for Streetview and managing and planning it all proved very time consuming. I was able to speed things up somewhat by utilising local knowledge from interviews and again deploying people on site visits. It’s one thing to record the network on a database but another to record it as an accurate map.

Rotherfield Peppard plc – Document Control and Co-ordination

In addition to the ‘Bruce’ system mentioned above the company were also involved in the development of other innovative technology for the road and transport industry in general. It was my role to develop and implement processes for the management and control of technically sensitive documentation and have a clear understanding of who was doing what in the company and by the various subcontractors they employed. This required me to develop an extensive appreciation of what was relevant to who and to whom documents could be made available.

Survey Inspection Systems – San Francisco

A week in San Francisco with a software company working on asset management systems for rail and road infrastructure operators to explain how we manage ‘linear assets’ in the UK. Roads and railway lines have very few ‘ends’ and can go on for very long distances which presents problems for their maintenance, operation and most of all valuation. I was able to demonstrate the approach taken by Railtrack based on my earlier experience together with how linear assets are practically measured based on experience with SIS.

Serco Consulting – Docklands Light Railway

Ten months assisting Serco with their bid for management of the Docklands Light Railway in London. From looking at existing processes and discovering how the train operator (DLR) actually managed driverless trains through replicating the system electronically we came up with the proposal to build a bespoke system which closely met their exact needs. The bid as however won by a competitor who proposed a ‘ready made’ system which met most of the requirements and would have to be adapted. I’m unaware of the reasoning behind the decision, may have been cost or time but I suspect it took longer than expected and cost more than the initial bid to be made fit for purpose.

Metronet – London Underground Resignalling

A three month assignment to assist with the massive ongoing London Underground resignalling project replacing the signalling systems and infrastructure some of which was around 100 years old, My role was primarily to interview front line station staff on the various ways in which trains were managed at and through underground stations, discover any operational difficulties and determine what the requirements were at each individual station. I learned a lot about how this amazing operation works with a very short time window each night when engineers can actually get down to the tracks. Unfortunately, budget cuts deemed these investigations were unnecessary and further work could be based on what had already been discovered even though every station on the network is different.

After this project I decided to discontinue this consultancy work, largely due to the requirement that I had to be in London full time and ‘visible’ in the offices as evidence I was ‘doing something’. The weekly commute from Cheshire was becoming an unnecessary burden. The consulting business is intended to continue under more favourable terms.