During a 25-year career, Steve Marshall has helped organisations in sectors spanning from telecoms to finance to order and interrogate their vast data troves and identify connections and insights which have significantly improved business performance.
Before joining PCSG, as an Information Management Senior Consultant, he spent nearly a decade with Hitachi Consulting leading Horizon Nuclear Power’s Information Management and Document Control programmes.
So science and tech run in the family?
Yes, I grew up thinking it was normal to be surrounded by soldering irons, oscilloscopes, and hand-built Sinclair Mk14s.
My father started out in Malvern at the government Radar and Signals Research Establishment as a physicist. Then he was seconded as the science and technology councillor in the Tokyo embassy, then came back and joined Plessey as MD for their research facility at Roke Manor near Winchester.
This made for an interesting childhood?
It was very interesting. I grew up in Malvern, Tokyo, Essex, Salisbury, Sheffield and Surrey,
During my two years as a teenager in Tokyo in the early ‘80s, I used to love exploring the electronics bazaars of Akihabara, buying components and building electronics projects. One day my dad brought an Apple 2 from the US and my future was sealed.
You followed-up your initial degree (B Eng in Electronic Engineering (Information and Systems)) with a phD in Neural Networks for Computer-Aided Decision Support. You wanted to put yourself through that?
My undergraduate degree spanned from electrical engineering to information management, control systems, robotics, neural networks and artificial intelligence. I was attracted to the “how” of micro-electronics and the “what” computers were going to make happen.
I really enjoyed the Artificial Intelligence and Neural Networks side of my degree that were a hot topic at the time, well before their current resurgence. I demonstrated a talent in this area and was offered a funded PhD placement by my department.
You enjoyed early success in applying your knowledge of these technologies to the working world?
Yes, I built “CDS-MI” – an AI tool for aiding the diagnosis of heart attacks. It won me a “Young Business Software engineer award” and was marketed by a medical computing company for a while – but this was pre-iPads in the days of 386 PCs and floppy drives. All a bit too cumbersome for an A&E department!
What emphasis did organisations place on data at that time?
“Big Data” was not a term back then, but using machine learning to get value from data was suddenly all the rage.
I joined SD-Scicon’s Advanced Technology team. Wherever data was being collected, we used advanced statistics and neural networks to look for ways to improve business performance.
I worked with financial institutions to analyse financial and business data streams. In the US, I worked with telecoms companies to analyse customer churn and in the UK I worked with News International to analyse newspaper sales patterns against various environmental factors and to produce forecasting systems to optimise distribution to newsagents to maximise sales and reduce waste.
It was an exciting time – I remember bringing in my modem in from home, and colleagues gathering round as I brought up a “Web page” and explained that this might be something important to look into!
What was it like to be part of a behemoth like EDS – the global IT services company?
EDS – which had a workforce of 140,000 people – acquired SD-Scicon as I joined.
Every company suffers from silos – not knowing what others are doing or have done, what has been delivered in the past, or what is the “right” way to do something. As a global company EDS had more silos than most – and in many cases we discovered teams across the globe each trying to solve the silos problem – but doing it in silos themselves.
To solve this EDS’s CIO in the US spun up a global KM team to implement tools and processes to connect experts, share knowledge and break down barriers to collaboration.
We took our ideas and worked closely with Microsoft to adopt their emerging platform they were working on – something that became rather well known – SharePoint.
Prior to joining PCSG you were playing a key role in the high-profile Horizon Nuclear Power development programme.
I spent nearly a decade as an Information Management Consultant at Hitachi Consulting and five years supporting the Horizon client.
My involvement ranged from the launch of SharePoint EDRMS, delivering Horizon’s Integrated, Management System, running the Document and Records Management function to leading the Information Management programme activities to deliver BIM – implementing CDE tools, standards, processes and business change.
Had you envisaged a move into construction / the built-environment during your career?
I’ve worked with almost all sectors over the 25 years of my career, but for the past 6 or 7 my main clients – NATS and Horizon, had construction and asset management as a core element of what I helped enable.
With the emergence of BIM and Digital Twins I realised the skills I’ve applied elsewhere were ripe for exploitation in this arena, leading me to where I am today.
Progress around applying digital, data-centred ways of working in construction has been pretty slow. Is that likely to change?
I firmly believe so. The technologies and processes are maturing rapidly, the reasons make sense and the modern workforce expect it to be there. Those who don’t adopt and adapt won’t survive.
You have a large family (and a menagerie of animals). Any tips on how modern couples can successfully manage busy working lives with busy family lives?
My wife and I always cringe when smug parents feature on Radio 4 or the Guardian explaining how they’ve managed their perfect family. Five children has taught us that every child is different and every situation unique, so work out what works for you and stick to it.
My family are central to and the most important thing in my life. If you believe and keep that front of mind whenever balancing the unending “urgent” verses “important” decisions we all make every day, then you’ll put enough “important family” in front of whatever that day’s urgent tasks are.
I can’t remember the tasks that made me fly to the US and miss my son’s 5th birthday twenty years ago. But I’ll always remember that that was the wrong call and I’ve tried never to repeat it.
In three questions…..
Best business book? “The Tao of Pooh & The Te of Piglet”
Business muse? Jeff Bezos. In 1994 anyone could have decided to sell books online – including me. But he did and I didn’t. Damn.
Apple or Android? Apple all the way since my trusty Apple 2.
For more information on how PCSG advises and supports asset and infrastructure owners to more effectively order, connect and control their project and asset data and to leverage maximum value from it, please contact our Business Development Director, Olly.Thomas@pcsg.co.uk