Client Story

National Highways

Building the road to a digital future

As drivers and road network users continue to leverage digital technology, transport operators have to ensure they continue to modernise and keep up with change. The only way to do this is to deliver modern and constantly evolving digital services.

National Highways, the government-owned company that looks after England’s 4,300 miles of motorways and strategic road network, was seeking to transform its IT team into a modern, scalable, and delivery-focused digital services function. It was critical that it enhanced its delivery of digital services to improve everything from road planning and maintenance to keeping drivers safe and informed.

Our team worked with National Highways’ technology leadership to define its Digital, Data, and Technology (DDaT) strategy. Our joint team worked together on a long-term programme of transformation, and over two years have turned the IT directorate into a Digital Services division better connected to the wider business, with a stronger ability to realise National Highways’ digital ambitions. This digital future will enable National Highways to keep traffic flowing safely and efficiently.

Digital, data and technology are vital to us, so we needed a digital services function at the heart of our business. PA have enabled our team to play that role and to steadily build the confidence of the wider Executive team and National Highways Board”
CDIO, National Highways

Key successes

Establishing a new way of working

  • Deployed a new business-centric organisational structure to better deliver digital services. As a result, National Highways is approaching two-thirds of its work now being planned rather than unplanned.

Adopting agile ways of working

  • Set up an Agile Centre of Excellence where we trained 200 people in agile ways of working in order for them to better collaborate with other business partners.

Bringing transparency to IT demand

  • Introduced a new demand management process for IT demand, bringing more transparency to what digital services to prioritise and how they align to wider business goals.

Building executive credibility

  • Earned the trust of the National Highways leadership to get buy in for a transformed digital function that changed the way the IT directorate was perceived.

Investing in a digital future

Digital technology, connectivity, and data play an expanding role in running the country’s roads safely and efficiently. It could be designing and building roads and bridges, or giving drivers information about traffic to plan journeys or change routes. All of these improvements will be facilitated by National Highways’ commitment to invest £1 billion in digital technology by 2025.

National Highways needed to know which digital services to prioritise and where in the business they would have the most impact. One of the challenges it had faced was teams procuring their own IT services without consulting the digital team, which resulted in a lack of consistency and compatibility of digital services across the business. With an improved IT directorate, National Highways would be able to better shape digital services according to the strategic needs across the business. This in turn would enable better long-term planning, collaboration, and lifecycle management of services which would ultimately lower costs.

We needed to change the perception of digital and why it’s critical to the safe, efficient, and reliable running of our roads. We knew PA could work with us to transform our digital capability. They’re candid and bring the new ideas and thinking we need to join up our organisation”
CDIO, National Highways

Our experts in digital, strategy, and change were well placed to help, having collaborated with National Highways and its predecessors for over 20 years.

National Highways was making a generational shift from an organisation that built and maintained roads to one that harnesses technology to keep traffic flowing freely and safely.”
Transport, clean and smart mobility expert, PA

Turning the Digital Services directorate into a trusted partner

There was a huge opportunity. National Highways needed the Digital Services function to undergo a transformation by rethinking its role and mindset as a partner working alongside the other directorates in the business.

Our specialists in business design and transformation worked with the National Highways team to create its new operating model, defining the roles and capabilities it would need. One of the most significant changes was new ‘business partners’, who are core to the Digital Services Leadership Team, aligned to each directorate, and work collaboratively with those teams to discover their needs and plan how to meet them. This new means of collaboration has set the foundation for long-term partnerships across functions that make National Highways Digital Services much better at anticipating and prioritising work.

Prioritising demand for digital services

The new ‘digital demand process’ for internal teams makes for a more collaborative relationship between the team and the rest of the business. Service requests are increasingly planned in advance which makes demand more efficient and strategic. A better relationship also makes other teams less likely to resort to ‘shadow IT’, where they buy their own hardware or services, which can lead to expensive duplication. The result is that demand for Digital Services has risen substantially as teams have realised how important the function now is.

A key communication tool for the team was the Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) strategy. The strategy enabled National Highways to align everyone across the business around what were the priority digital services and communicate those priorities up to the executive level. This made it easier to lay down short, medium, and long-term priorities through its five-year goals. Now supported by quarterly planning and reporting, National Highways can be transparent with colleagues about which projects will happen first and why, leaving everyone clearer about timings, outcomes, and overall direction.

Embracing agility

Working together with our experts, Digital Services is now capable of meeting demand more efficiently. By employing agile tools and techniques, National Highways has encouraged teams to break down siloes and form groups around strategic objectives, not specialist skills.

Before implementing changes, it was important to understand the depth of agile knowledge and skills across the IT directorate. To do this, we carried out a maturity assessment which informed our recommendations for how to fill the gaps in agile knowledge. The recommendations included coaching of existing employees in agile techniques, setting up a network of agile change agents, and holding leadership workshops. We ran department-wide demonstrations to facilitate dialogue with the teams to ensure there was engagement and transparency at every step. As National Highways continues to evolve its agile capabilities, it will extend its agile thinking into procurement, tooling, demand and portfolio management, and quarterly business planning.

As a result, the Agile Centre of Excellence (CoE) will make the business more responsive to fast-moving change including the switch to electric, hydrogen, and autonomous vehicles. The CoE has also designed and introduced an Agile Delivery Framework. This framework has trained over 200 colleagues in agile ways of working, enabling Digital Services to fully embrace the move toward the adoption of future digital technologies.

Engaging business leaders at the digital summit

National Highways had ambitions for this transformation to reach beyond Digital Services, and this meant its senior leaders would need to buy into the change. To enable this, we brought the whole executive team to our Global Technology & Innovation Centre in Cambridge for a ‘digital summit’ underlining the role of digital services and the impact they could have on National Highways.

The team heard from senior technology leaders from the education sector and also closer to home including Network Rail, who we’ve also put on the road to a digital future.

We got executive team members working together to decide how they’d make the change happen. This means the whole top team is bought in to the need for change, which is vital to a successful transformation”
Transport expert, PA

Seeing results

By improving visibility and communication between different directorates across the business, the transformed team is now proactive with significantly more demand being captured, planned, and budgeted ahead of delivery.

While demand for the team’s expertise has risen, so has its ability to deliver. Risk has reduced, with availability of the road network improving, partly thanks to digital technology. The team has also been able to put its relationships with suppliers on a new footing, resulting in better value.

Additionally, its commitment to finding digital solutions will improve decisions around planning, maintenance, and congestion that will ultimately help the UK accelerate its ambitions in pursuit of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

National Highways now has the skills to deliver a digital future that will enable it to keep traffic flowing safely and efficiently.

Digital is now a topic for the whole business, not just my team. The PA team moved us from an IT function to a Digital Services team and built the foundation for our digital future.”
CDIO, National Highways

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