Since 1994 I have been working as an independent consultant, trading as Questa Computing Ltd. In addition to a number of short assignments for private clients, I have supported several major clients in a range of capacities, as described below.
My initial work centered on the Rating as a Service API which provides quotation services to the UK motor and home insurance industry. It runs complex multi-party processing at high volumes and subject to tight performance targets. I defined a formal set of non-functional requirements, analysing the system’s performance, and creating a detailed analytical model of the demand profile, incorporating seasonal and temporal patterns and the impact of planned business changes and legacy migrations. All these come together in a model which portrays on one page both the progression of projected system demand, and the concurrent system capacity.
Armed with this and other analytical tools I was able to quantify and escalate the business risks, identify demand management actions such as the removal of low-value, high-volume business streams, refine non-functional testing so that it provided an accurate indication of true system capacity, and highlight action areas for capacity improvement.
Aviva was undergoing major changes in its infrastructure provision, and had chosen to impose stringent restrictions on other IT change for the duration. However a number of commercially essential or regulatory required changes had to be delivered within those constraints, including:
I provided Solution Architecture support for all these projects. In most cases the design challenges were relatively minor, but each has required substantial support to structure the work so that delivery can continue within the very tight change constraints.
In addition I developed a general reference model for the insurance pricing processes, which allows an easy visual assessment of alignment of various channels to the target model.
Like many large multinational banks, UBS has a highly complex network, with a high cost of change and management. The New Generation Networks (NGN) programme seeks to progressively introduce new network technologies which will employ extensive automation and orchestration to improve processes and reduce timelines and costs.
I worked with the NGN group’s own development team, primarily in a design and development role. Earlier work had developed a number of fragmented point solutions, and I created a more cohesive solution architecture. This exploits established design patterns to unify request handling and standardise internal data structures, with adapters to handle the multiple disparate endpoint interactions.
I became product owner and lead developer of this architecture’s first use for the DNS solution. This supported a 50% reduction in the DNS team, and will allow a significant element of self-service in what have previously been complex multi-party processes.
Yodel, a UK parcel delivery company, was created out of the merger of two disparate companies, and has an IT estate characterised by significant duplication and ageing legacy technologies. The company decided to replace these with a streamlined and consolidated solution based on more modern approaches.
I was engaged to support a small existing Enterprise Architecture team by documenting and guiding the architecture of the new core system and its integration. When the original package-based approach was abandoned in favour of an internal Oracle-based development, I helped create a strong service- and event-based architecture capable of managing Yodel’s significant business volumes in real time. I documented these in a set of comprehensive reference architectures.
One particular challenge was to ensure that the solution met high business expectations in terms of performance and reliability, in a highly cost-constrained physical environment.
In addition, I designed an identity management solution for external users (using OpenLDAP), conducted an independent review of a problematic billing system, and supported the development of Yodel’s first customer mobile application.
TRW was seeking to establish an innovative web-based capability for the automotive aftermarket, fully integrating cloud-based vehicle diagnostics, technical workshop data, a knowledge base and distributor parts catalogues.
As Programme Architect I worked with developers in London and Berlin to progressively develop unifying architectural principles, covering aspects such as performance, scalability, usability and reliability, and then to progressively apply these to an initial proof of concept to a point where we had confidence of its ability to perform as a commercial product.
I also undertook (and continue involvement in) the development of the system’s knowledge base. This can synthesise information from a number of external sources to guide mechanics from a diagnostic trouble code through to a parts recommendation which can then become a query in the distributor’s parts catalogue.
The project has a complex technology mix included Amazon Web Services (cloud hosting), Oracle WebCenter, Microsoft stack, Linux and open source technologies.
This US-based market research group uses me a part of a panel of external consultants providing market perspective to prospective investors in IT and related businesses.
At National Grid (NGT), I have worked in a wide-ranging role contributing to the group’s IT Strategy, technology development, merger activities, and individual system architectures. I have contributed to major business and technical change, and developing the role of IS architects throughout National Grid.
I have worked with successive IS Strategy Managers to develop the formal IT Strategy, aiming to deliver increased business value while reducing inefficiency, fragmentation and duplication. I innovated popular ways to document and communicate the strategy - the unique and acclaimed “roadmap” representation was my own invention.
As National Grid has grown by acquisition, I have been involved in various pre- and post-merger activities, including moves towards a unified IT Strategy, streamlined technical governance, and a group-wide Internet structure. NG use various system sourcing options, and I have been involved in preparing ITTs, evaluating suppliers and solutions, assisting managers new to the systems procurement process, and providing technical supervision to suppliers.
In late 2002, working with external consultants and the business, I articulated a new vision for the systems supporting NG's asset and work management. This was based around a central asset repository, with an integrated document management system, a field force solution, and a comprehensive data warehouse with Business Intelligence tools, all integrated by a shared EAI backbone.
This has now been almost fully implemented through a major programme of IS and business change, and is delivering business value. In my role as Solution Architect for the £34M programme I provided guidance and supervision to internal and external service and solution providers, maintaining a “hands on” approach. In particular I have been actively involved in the analysis, solution design and resolution of a number of integration, performance and reliability issues.
I then led the replacement of the mobile PC platforms for the various field force solutions, replacing several disparate solutions with a solution family based on a common software architecture. As part of this programme I persuaded National Grid to take an agile approach to introducing a PDA “point of work” inspection solution, which helped deliver solid business benefit much more quickly and cheaply than the normal waterfall method would have done.
Since 2007 National Grid have been engaged in a major programme of systems replacement and rationalisation, starting with their core Asset and Work Management system and now extending to almost the entire landscape. This has included refreshing the integration architecture and building comprehensive integration with a new SAP “back office”. I have worked as Lead Solution Architect and Design Authority throughout this continuing programme, and can claim to have driven design decisions which have delivered innovative value or substantially reduced costs, risks and business impact. In particular by exploiting and extending the strong integration architecture developed earlier we have now managed at least five major system replacements with almost zero impact on other systems at each stage.
Most recently my focus has been on developing a Strategy and Architecture for “Strategic Asset Management”. This programme aims to create an environment in which traditional asset data can be combined with data collected directly from assets in near real time, subject to novel analyses and presented through graphical composite applications to enable a move to condition, risk and criticality-based asset maintenance and replacement planning. As such it will form a major plank of Transmission’s strategy to meet their obligations between now and 2020. The initial stage has delivered an enabling communications and security layer, and I am now developing the data management and application architecture which will exploit this.
I have worked closely with a number of senior business managers, to develop and communicate the planned IT changes and ensure they meet the business aims. My success in defining and executing the Solution Architect role has been recognised by NG, who have made it the template for architects throughout the organisation.
In 2012 National Grid contracted with CSC to re-host the majority of their systems in new CSC data centres. I worked as the lead architect for the IBM team supporting that programme, planning and assuring the migrations from an application perspective. This required building a comprehensive understanding of around 50 complex and legacy applications to identify an appropriate migration approach, required remediation work and appropriate testing for every application. I also had to ensure that the preparations being made by IBM, CSC, networking partners and third party application vendors would provide for a “joined up” and low risk migration of each application in the IBM support portfolio.
It became apparent early on in the programme that there were few established processes and templates suitable to the National Grid situation, and I led a multi-partner exercise to progressively develop a suite of guidelines, documents and processes which could be repeatably applied by various teams to develop the required understanding for each application in turn. During the actual migrations I took an active coordinating and troubleshooting role, on several occasions identifying the source of issues and their likely resolution.
BEPET were in the process of refreshing many of their trading systems. In this short engagement I helped define the requirements, future architecture and project direction for the Retail Spine, which handles the commercial processes for around 10% of Britain’s electricity, supplied to some of its largest corporate consumers.
LMS proposed a major innovation in their core business process, remortgage conveyancing. I assessed whether their existing systems could support the revised process and what changes would be required. I then provided consultancy as this moved into the implementation phase.
I regularly review book proposals and manuscripts for this major technical publisher.
Marks and Spencer had an urgent business requirement for a new back office system, for which several previous projects had failed. It was subject to a number of severe and conflicting constraints limiting timescales, the delivery of new software, and available WAN bandwidth. I designed a solution which met the very tight deadlines, used roughly 1% of the previous communications bandwidth, and exploited the existing Microsoft Office/Exchange infrastructure to deliver substantial functionality without any new components at the desktop. The solution reduced a key business process necessary to get and keep goods on sale from over 14 days to a few hours.
I provided technical leadership for two years, as the design was substantially extended in scope, including multi-country and multilingual support. Complex business and formatting rules were moved from the code to a rule database, substantially reducing the source code, and the system migrated to a very flexible component-based architecture.
Marks and Spencer cited me as co-inventor (with the key business manager) in a patent application covering several important concepts from this system. After the main project I continued to provide occasional consultancy for its development, including a working thin-client prototype of the system, using Microsoft .NET technology, developed in just ten days.
In Summer 2000 I undertook a short fixed-price study to assess Faith's existing IT provision, and possible ways in which it might evolve to support new business models such as collaborative working with suppliers using eCommerce technology.
This led in 2001 to my involvement in a project to establish a Management Information database, and support for new business models. I developed a proprietary transport-independent EAI messaging system running between the stores and their head office supporting data warehousing, software distribution, application integration and distributed near-real-time processing.
During this short assignment, I provided support for both the development of the system architecture and supporting standards, and also for the development of an intranet-based toolset for document distribution and control within the development team.
Oracle’s Interactive Services Project was developing the platform for British Interactive Broadcasting’s interactive digital television service. I undertook a review of the design to assess its likely reliability, which included the development of a novel Fault Tree Analysis technique for such systems. In addition, I supported the development of system test plans and technical strategies for aspects such as error handling.
This project centred around porting the Livingston Group's rental systems from a legacy Data General architecture to a more flexible Unix/Oracle base.
I defined the overall architecture for the new system. Performance benchmarking and prototyping exercises saved the client several hundred thousand pounds by allowing the use of lower-specification hardware . The performance prediction work led to a paper for the EUROStar '96 testing conference.
A leading role in commissioning the new infrastructure included setting up the Sun servers, defining a disaster recover plan and operational procedures, sorting out LAN communications and establishing new configuration control tools. I also set up a Wide Area Network between several European sites, using ISDN and the Suns as WAN routers.
Thereafter I specified, designed and implemented the following:
I supported the introduction of Windows-based code control and automated test tools, and helped define repeatable system testing for the project. To control delivery of complex software infrastructure components, I specified, designed and built a unique PC-based configuration tool using PVCS and a component database. I also led a project to update, index and promote the development method and standards, to encourage developers to adopt and follow them.