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Saving £150m on Europe’s largest-ever infrastructure project

SCS Railways

Project size
£4bn over 4yrs
Lead consultant
Julian Sharples

Systems Transformation

SCS Railways – a joint venture between Skanska, Costain and Strabag – holds the £4 billion contract to build 21km of tunnels under London from Euston to West Ruislip as part of Phase 1 of the HS2 rail link from London to Birmingham.

The challenge: create and implement a Common Data Environment

The As it is team were brought in by the Head of Technical and Quality Assurance to reduce the Design Review and Assurance process from 19 to 12 weeks by creating and implementing a Common Data Environment (CDE) – estimated as being able to save £150 million over the course of the four-year programme.

A CDE is considered the gold standard for managing and sharing project information and is defined in ISO 19650 – an international standard for managing information over the lifecycle of a built asset using building information modelling (BIM).

Previously, no large infrastructure project had ever implemented a CDE successfully.

There were five main elements to this challenge:

  1. Helping users understand why the CDE was necessary

  2. Working with key users to design the CDE

  3. Selecting and working with a third-party vendor to build the CDE

  4. Ensuring that all users actively wanted to use the CDE (rather than their current tools)

  5. Transferring knowledge from the project to the whole organisation.

As it was: lots of spreadsheets

The existing Design Review and Assurance process revolved around the Technical Assurance Plan (TAP), which ensured that what was being built by SCS Railways was fit for purpose and met contractual obligations.

At the heart of the TAP was a workbook containing over 20 spreadsheets, none of which were linked, and each of which was managed by a separate team. Some of these spreadsheets were gigantic, with more than 8,000 rows and over 50 columns.

Collectively they contained critical quality assurance data and relied on manual systems and ways of working to ensure they were managed correctly and efficiently.

The use of spreadsheets was error-prone and presented serious risks to the delivery of the programme. Keeping them up to date was labour-intensive and there was no master set of data as users created different versions of the same spreadsheets that they saved locally.

SCS Railways needed all the spreadsheets to be integrated into a single CDE that contained a unique set of master data that had clear, simple processes that all users would follow. This CDE also had to integrate with other applications that were being used on the programme: EMT, ProjectWise, AssetWise (ALIM), Primavera V6, Zutec and eB.

The solution: Digital Flow

Tasked with delivering Phase 1 of the project over a 14-month period, we first needed to design and implement a CDE to replace the most critical spreadsheet – the Task Information Delivery Plan (TIDP).

The design had to be able to incorporate all the other spreadsheets and additional applications in subsequent phases.

The TIDP tool

The As it is team on this project was led by Julian Sharples. One of his key roles was Product Owner of the TIDP tool project. He was responsible for:

  • Selecting a team of subcontracted developers to write the code for the TIDP tool

  • Development and implementation of the tool

  • Ensuring the tool was aligned to the initial vision and goal

  • Ensuring the entire development process was transparent and clear to all the stakeholders

  • Making sure that the TIDP tool addressed the user requirements.


Digital Flow logo

In addition to the programme logo, we developed a suite of graphic assets and used them in all communications with the business.

Phase 1 involved:

  • Developing a brand identity for the project

  • Establishing terms of reference and project governance

  • Setting up an Agile delivery team and embedding Agile ways of working

  • Selecting a third-party vendor to collaborate with SCS to build the product

  • Managing user acceptance testing (UAT)

  • Establishing a network of advocates to drive user adoption

  • Handing the project over to an in-house team to incorporate the remaining spreadsheets into the CDE.

We called the project Digital Flow because a CDE is not merely a sophisticated document repository, but incorporates the automated flow of data.

This was an incredibly challenging project in which Julian and his team showed incredible determination, focus and resilience under testing circumstances.

They delivered the first phase of a new digital tool, but more importantly they were instrumental in shifting the attitude and mindset of employees to embrace new ways of working and more flexible ways of thinking.

Photo of Jeremy Gill
Jeremy Gill
Head of Technical & Quality Assurance at SCS Railways

The results: As it is now

The main benefits of the CDE we created are that:

  • It avoids data duplication

  • It needs fewer people to manage the system

  • It reduces the risk of costly errors

  • The data can be used to generate bespoke reports.

Lessons to learn

We learnt several important lessons on this project, and many things that we already knew were reinforced, including:

  • Do not underestimate how attached people are to existing processes and ways of working (even if they are painful, time-consuming, and risky). People tend to revert to familiar processes and consequently need lots of help to adopt new ways of working.

  • Engage stakeholders from the outset. If they feel that their voice is heard and that they are part of the change, they are far more likely to embrace and become advocates for it.

  • Senior leaders need to understand the detail of what you’re doing as well as the big picture. That way, they have the credibility to bring employees along for the journey.

  • Coaching senior leaders can help them understand the role they need to play on a project. This need not be time-consuming, but is worth all the time it takes.

  • Politics are important. You need to manage stakeholders who may perceive what you are doing as a threat either to them personally or to their department. If you don’t bring them on board, they may try to undermine your efforts or sabotage what you are doing (often covertly).

  • If something has never been done before, there is probably a good reason why. Be clear what this reason is and seek to address it at the outset.

  • Change can happen faster if the situation is viewed as it really is, and not through rose-tinted spectacles.

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