Dave Sansum joined PCSG after 17 years at Heathrow Airport, latterly as Programme Lead for the £50m Digital Transformation Programme.
He is an accomplished IT programme manager with more than 30 years of experience leading teams to successfully deliver business transformation projects in complex organisations and operating environments.
We talked taxiways, technology and twins ………..
How has your lockdown experience been?
It has been a lot better than for a lot of people. My family (partner Julie, and son, Evan) are all into cycling, mountain biking or road riding, so we have been able to get out on the bikes and enjoy the countryside and the quieter roads. I grew up in Wales (Swansea) and living so close to the sea as a child has given me a strong love for the outdoors and particularly the coast.
On the downside, I have missed the social interaction of the office environment. I think you get a lot of energy in work from the people around you, so that has been difficult.
Will the pandemic acclerate the rate of digital transformation?
Apart from the obvious drive to ensure that everyone can work effectively from anywhere, there has clearly been a strong need for organisations to reduce their operating costs and drive up efficiency during this period, to remain competitive. Digitalisation is now something which most senior leadership teams recognise as an effective way of doing this.
Will technology – if it wasn’t already – now be high-up the C-Suite agenda?
If it is not already a key factor in how they run their business then I’d think so. The important role for people who are closer to the technology (like ourselves) is to be able to present the case for technology investment to executive teams in a way which is straight forward and easy to relate back to the business strategy.
You studied Human Biology. How/where did you acquire your technical / IT knowledge?
I finished my degree in 1986 and, after a period of travelling, started work in 1988 for a software house, writing code. The IT sector was booming at the time, and I found a natural synergy between my inherent problem solving mentality, and the use of IT to ‘fix a problem’. Over time I transitioned from code development more toward the analysis and project management aspects of the role, which gave me the opportunity to have more influence over direction of travel. I don’t think a project or programme manager necessarily needs a detailed understanding of all things technical, but it is important to have a grasp of the key technical concepts, and particularly to be able to translate technical language into something more client friendly and straightforward.
Has the role of an IT lead changed quite significantly since you started out?
Yes I think so. As organisations have embraced technology it has become far more important for IT leads to fully understand how technology drives business benefit. The need for IT leads to have far more exposure to the business change aspects of successful engagements has also been recognised. It is no longer good enough to just be an expert in project management without having the entrepreneurial skills to bring business meaning to an activity and its nuances.
You worked at Heathrow for near to 20 years. How much did its exploitation of technology change during that period?
Heathrow’s exploitation of technology changed significantly through my period there. The organisation moved from being one which was using technology to provide point solutions to one where it recognised the need for more holistic solutions and associated platform strategies. The organisation also recognised the value of technology innovation coming from within the Heathrow team as opposed to continuing to be dependent on our suppliers, and importantly, the power of putting data into the hands of the right operational resources. Heathrow now has an active data analyst community which has only recently existed.
What was the prompt for the Digital Transformation programme, which you led from 2020?
The Digital Transformation Programme started its life within the wider Expansion programme, supporting the 3rd runway development from an information and data perspective. Once Expansion was taken off the table in early 2020, it became clear that there was real value in re-launching the programme as an organisational wide entity, focussing on the efficient management of the vast asset estate through digitalisation.
Prior to that programme, what challenges was Heathrow facing with regard to its data and information about its assets?
Probably very similar to most large organisations. It is always a challenge to gain that single version of truth which is so important when managing such a vast estate, similar data on different platforms, and too much of it in the hands of the supplier ecosystem.
Digital transformation programmes bring with them costs and risks. What is needed to make them succeed? What tend to be the main blockers?
In my experience it comes down to committed support from the top tier within the organisation. The exec. committee have to really understand what it can mean to the business and have a good grasp on the art of the possible. Digital Transformation can come across as being overly complicated or academic, so bringing it to life in a way that a layman can understand is very important. Additionally, the pace of change can often be too slow to keep the interest of the senior leaders within the organisation, so the programme teams need to find a way of chunking up the capability delivery in a way which retains interest.
They can also sound daunting to employees – what was the attitude amongst Heathrow staff?
Generally speaking, anyone dealing with data on a day-to-day basis was totally supportive of the concept of digital transformation. It is clear that there are many people within an organisation like Heathrow who will struggle with the concept and benefits of the ‘Digital Twin’, and likely that momentum builds over a period of time, once people and teams get actual exposure to new capability.
In what way will your Heathrow experience most benefit the clients you will be working with here?
I can see things from the client perspective and think more broadly than just fulfilling the terms of the specific contract/agreement. My job is to help the client deliver business change and value, so keeping that first and foremost in the minds of the PCSG project teams will be where I can be an effective trusted advisor to our Client teams.
The digital space is a fast-moving one. How do you keep abreast of emerging technologies and developments that are of relevance to your clients?
That’s a challenge, as the industry moves very quickly. Investing some time on a regular basis exploring concepts and technologies which become more mainstream is important, as is actively learning from the experts within your own organisation.
How do we encourage more computer science / data science grads into this sector – vs heading off to Google et al?
This is where graduate resources are going to see first hand how Digitalisation and the application of Digital Twin concepts and capability can directly drive value into the UK’s big infrastructure providers.
For more information on how PCSG supports organisations to develop digital strategies and exploit technology to more effectively manage their built assets and inform their decision making, please contact Olly.Thomas@pcsg.co.uk.