CIO interview: Victoria Higgin, Highways England

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

In the paper, Victoria Higgin, Highways England’s chief digital and knowledge officer (CDIO), outlines a contemporary and versatile know-how structure that she says will permit the organisation to create new providers or enhance current ones shortly by the reuse of current providers.

“We will also focus on reducing complexity and increasing standardisation across our infrastructure and platforms, which will enable greater automation, orchestration and flexibility across our technology stacks, leading to quicker provision of infrastructure services,” she notes within the paper.

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

While the brand new organisation shares similarities with the National Grid when it comes to being a community that requires administration, she says: “When I left National Grid, I didn’t know much about Highways [England], but it has quite a big digital agenda.”

As nicely as each organisations being targeted on nationwide infrastructure, she says Highways England and the National Grid every have a way of obligation to the general public and are security oriented.

Making connections

Higgin describes Highways England as an organisation that connects the nation. “We are not journey planners; we connect the customers through the journeys they take and through the technology we implement.”

Along with street customers, prospects embody freight corporations, the emergency providers and the communities working or constructing the street community. Highways England additionally must be related to native authorities, as Higgin explains: “Nobody’s road journey starts or ends on the motorway. We all live in local authorities and so we communicate with them.”

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

This is supported by digital technologies and data to allow Highways England to ship safer, smoother and extra dependable journeys for its prospects. “It’s about adopting more agile ways, transforming our services and providing our people with the data they need to make better decisions,” 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 visitors administration and digital providers for purchasers. “We can effectively manage the way we run the network using digital channels, real-time data and roadside technology,” says Higgin.

“We can effectively manage the way we run the network using digital channels, real-time data and roadside technology”

Victoria Higgin, Highways England

Highways England is launching two new IT frameworks for tender – the Information and Technology Commercial Framework (ITCF), price £1.5bn, and the Operational Technology Commercial Framework (OTCF), price £500m. Contracts will likely be awarded to offer the operational roadside know-how, operational programs and enterprise IT that drives the strategic street community in England. “It’s a massive piece of work,” says Higgin, “and we are looking at how we partner to enable it.”

However, being “massive” doesn’t essentially imply contracts will likely be awarded solely to the most important IT and operational know-how suppliers. “More niche companies are especially good at data and are quick in developing data projects,” says Higgin. But she concedes that there’ll all the time be a necessity for the large suppliers to assist Highways England’s mission-critical programs.

Team effort

Alongside these main initiatives, Higgin says Highways England can also be constructing out its personal inside IT, knowledge and cyber safety capabilities. “We are developing our own people,” she says. “We are also looking at apprentice and graduate schemes.”

Internal growth is very essential in roles the place there may be enormous demand available in the market, similar to enterprise structure, knowledge science and cyber safety. “There is no end of opportunities 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 is some stuff we won’t want to change, but we will want to do some things more digitally and take advantage of data.”

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 knowledge flows and providers. “I can see proper throughout the organisation, end-to-end. The executives pay attention to one another to make adjustments, and look to me [for recommendations].

“We are information providers,” she says. “The work around data is impressive. We have a team accountable for delivering data as a service and connecting the dots across the organisation.”

The position of information

One of the alternatives Highways England is taking a look at is the flexibility to make use of roadside signage to ship knowledge on to automobiles, offering in-vehicle signage. It is working with automobile producers to entry knowledge from automobiles. “We are looking at what we can provide, security, how cars talk to our infrastructure and what we can do with the data,” says Higgin. 

Highways England can also be exploring how knowledge can be utilized to optimise journeys, similar to monitoring visitors movement and coping with roadworks and accidents. “We have data that is unique to us to optimise road journeys,” says Higgin. Externally, knowledge is especially shared with native authorities, however she feels that extra must be achieved to share knowledge with different transport organisations similar to Network Rail and HS2.

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

Discussions on knowledge 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 is potential to use AI to assist our control room operators.” For occasion, AI might be deployed to offer predictive analytics for sustaining roadside property. “There would be no need to schedule in visits to assets when it is not needed,” 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.

But whereas the company is exploring software areas, Higgin says she desires to “get the ethical part right before we dive in”. This means assessing what Highways England desires to get out of AI, guaranteeing it isn’t biased, and understanding the way it will influence prospects and workers.

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