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whether or not you ‘get it’ and are looking at a big enough picture to solve the prob- lems.


Similarly, a little bit tongue-in-cheek, I like the cartoon where the guy says: “I’ll be hap- py to give you innovative thinking, just tell me what the guidelines are.” I think there’s truth in that, and that we are constrained as an industry in the way we think inside of the box, not outside it.


It’s not all about criticising the industry. There’s lots of reasons we fi nd ourselves where we are. System complexity is spi- ralling and the amount of data we have to manage is increasing all the time, and we all work in a safety-critical environment.


To realise the benefi ts of change, you have to change things on a massive national scale which means you’ve got enormous levels of investment and long time frames. Government potentially changes every fi ve years. It’s very diffi cult to make those long-


term investments and stick with them to bring about real transformation.


Interfaces are not open, and neither are our system architectures. As suppliers, we of- ten design bespoke solutions which make it very diffi cult to integrate multiple systems from multiple suppliers.


In other industries, as complexity has in- creased, companies have come together and technologies have been shared beyond the boundaries of the conventional organi- sation. We’ve seen the use of universities within the supply chain to develop tech- nologies to then be exploited by commer- cial operations. The railway has not worked like that; it’s tended to focus all of its in- novation and technology development in- ternally.


We need to start looking outside of our own organisations.


Marriage of inconvenience


Another challenge is the unpredictability in the rate of change of technology. We’re trying to move one of the slowest-moving forms of technology – railway signalling – and blend it with telecoms technology, which is moving at a frighteningly and alarmingly fast rate. Those two worlds don’t come together naturally. We’ve got to fi nd a way of doing that without fi nd- ing that our investment is obsolete in fi ve years.


I was at an innovation seminar recently


where a prominent guy from Network Rail stood up and gave a presentation and said to everyone that Network Rail is really up for innovation, and is happy to try anything – as long as it’s not the fi rst. I thought that was a bit of an oxymoron – ‘we will inno- vate, but won’t be the fi rst to do so’.


But the fi rst generation of technologies are often prone to bugs and infections. So, it’s very diffi cult for an early adopter, or an in- novator, to actually get the value from his investment. You invest in something, then you’re forever, in the early days, putting right the bugs in it.


We’ve also got lots of cultural issues. There’s research that says the older an in- dustry becomes, the less innovative it is. There are counter-examples, but empiri- cally it is true. We operate in an industry that’s 150-plus years old, and we become constrained by the rules and the processes that have grown up in the industry to main- tain safety. I often come across people who say ‘we tried that 10 years ago; it’s didn’t work then, it’s not going to work now’. There are so many stories: just about any- thing you try to do, someone will have a story about how it didn’t work. We’ve got to get beyond that.


One little criticism of engineers – so apolo- gies – is that we love to focus on technol- ogy. Maybe we do that more than focusing on the operational needs and solutions that customers are looking for. We need to start driving solutions that deliver business ben- efi ts, rather than just those that are techno- logically advanced.


The way we run things is enshrined in standards and procedures. Often, they’re prescriptive and written around certain technologies that were in place around the time an incident occurred to prevent a recurrence of that. We need to have the mechanism to challenge that thinking and introduce new ways of working.


Small world


There are a lot of new faces here, but there are an awful lot of people I recognise. It’s a very small industry and people tend to move around within it, but don’t neces- sarily come in from the outside. We use a language unique to the railways that makes it diffi cult for other people to understand the concepts and what’s going on. It’s dif- fi cult to bring in technology from outside because of that.


We use safety, often for the right reasons – to prevent accidents – but often as an excuse, because it’s a bit hard to challenge


34 | rail technology magazine Jun/Jul 11


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