A collaborative approach to industry architecture

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 17
Last year, the first iteration of an industry architecture that will underpin the digital transformation of the rail network was completed. RTM’s David Stevenson discusses the work behind the programme with senior representatives from BAE Systems and the Digital Railway team.

The railway is at the start of a long and complex journey: transitioning away from the traditional command and control methodology to using automatic traffic management solutions. 

In order to deliver this step change, it is important to understand what alterations must be made at every level, from people and processes to infrastructure and performance, as a ‘business as usual’ approach is no longer an option.

Therefore, for the first time in the rail industry, an industry architecture framework has been developed to provide a comprehensive model of the railway future state. 

BAE Systems led the client side team and, through extensive stakeholder engagement across the sector, was able to identify and prioritise the capabilities that are critical to the strategic outcomes of the Digital Railway. 

Michael Hill, rail delivery director at BAE Systems, said: “We all worked together collaboratively to define the ‘as is’ view of the railway today, and the maturity of all of the capabilities that make up the entire railway – whether that be from regulation through to traffic management to cooling trains to the definition of the timetable, all of the things you need to run a railway business regardless of the multiple stakeholders. 

“We had over 60 organisations interacting to make the railway work. The whole intent was to give people an ‘every person’ view, so you could read it and understand at a conceptual level how the railway of the future would work.” 

A common language 

Reflecting on the work, Andrew Simmons, the Digital Railway programme’s chief systems engineer, told RTM that the work was an unprecedented success, and was also a key enabler to understand how the Digital Railway programme could fit together with all aspects of the RSSB’s Rail Technical Strategy. 

“From a Digital Railway perspective, one of its main aims was also to make sure that if we are talking to a multiple stakeholder environment, we all have a common understanding of the key architectural outputs, as it were, that we were looking for,” he said. “We have a common language, and I find it very useful to use it as a background to explain to people how we approach digital railway.” 

Hill added that BAE Systems, the multinational defence, security and aerospace company, brought its proven System-of-Systems Engineering and Business Change processes to establish the industry architecture. 

“We brought innovation from the defence industry, combined it with work we’d done previously with rail, and worked with partners to fill in the gaps,” he said. 

Simmons explained that, on top of this, BAE Systems formed an umbrella of “organisations underneath them to bring subject matter experts in that even they didn’t possess”. 

“No single organisation, working in such a complex environment, had all the answers,” Simmons noted. “Generally, and genuinely, I think it has been seen as a good piece of work, and others are looking to take this forward themselves.” 

Increasing capacity and improving performance 

Discussing the intricacies of the project,  Hill stated that underpinning all of the architecture was input from the SMEs that were brought in to work on the scheme. 

“We brought together security, safety, operations and data SMEs working in a highly agile manner to create the architecture, in order to utilise it with the phases of the actual Digital Railway projects,” said Hill. 

“More trains, better connections, greater reliability; those are the three areas we broke the deliverables down into. We then designed an architecture to meet each point of that. At the end, we then designed back to understand how best to take into account all of these nodes.” 

While being the first gestation of the industry architecture, Hill stated that the aim was to provide a framework from the simulation and modelling that will de-risk the roll-out of Digital Railway. 

“If you think about anything that you are delivering over 20 years, it is very complex,” he added. “You can de-risk it by doing some modelling and planning and finding risks early. That was our hope, and seems to be the direction of travel at the moment.” 

But Colin Brown, the Digital Railway programme’s principal systems architect, argued it was much more than just simulation: “It provided a scenario generation so we could see where the integration was needed, which may lead to a different way of engaging with our contractors.” 

Identifying solid foundations for change 

It is a great foundation, said Brown, and is enabling the Digital Railway team to take aspects from the low-level systems, such as ETCS, and seeing how it maps all the way up to the business requirements and processes. 

“This means that people who may not understand how the technology of the railway works, but understand how the business of the railway works, can actually appreciate what is going on,” he reflected. 

But Brown added that, more importantly, it means the industry can identify where capabilities need to be changed. 

This innovative approach has led to the entire rail ecosystem being captured in a single comprehensive architecture for the first time. And both Brown and Simmons are confident that this will fundamentally change the way the rail industry develops and delivers capability into the future.

Reflecting on the project, Hill told RTM: “The uniqueness of this project was that the UK railway is so complex, in terms of the number of stakeholders, that it requires and demands a different approach to planning the complexity of change across all those organisations. 

“The other bit that brought about the project’s success was the level of collaboration which, from my perspective, was quite unprecedented in the rail environment. This consisted of around 60 stakeholder organisations, including some of the unions, and all of it was massively positive and collaborative. 

“That many rail organisations working in harmony, without regulation or being paid to do it, was really quite phenomenal. There really was no distinction between the Digital Railway and BAE Systems teams: we left our badges at the door. And that was not by accident.”

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