Could HS2 rethink signal an innovation reboot for businesses and communities?

31st October 2023

by Richard Farrell

The Government’s cancellation of the northern leg of HS2 is highly controversial. But could the diversion of billions of pounds into new projects provide an opportunity for some businesses to regroup and retool?

Changing destinations

Leaders in the rail and construction industries have been forthright in their reaction to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirming that Phase 2 (Birmingham to Manchester) of High Speed 2 (HS2) will not go ahead. Many have been disappointed and disheartened, according to reports in New Civil Engineer.

But there could be positives on the horizon for businesses and communities. The pledge to reinvest £36 billion elsewhere in nearly 80 transport-related projects across the country could provide fresh business stimulus. Projects include rail line upgrades, new stations, more trains, better road links and a blitz on potholes, as listed by Construction Enquirer.

As these smaller projects pick up steam, there could be an opportunity for some broad community benefits, fresh business thinking and greater innovation — with local, UK-based and UK-focused businesses having a bigger role.

Engaging with UK businesses

The reasons for engaging more with local, UK-focussed businesses are compelling in the transport, utilities, and construction industries. They create jobs in hard-hit areas, which boosts communities and rejuvenates local economies. Things start moving.

But they can also bring extra innovation to the table. Often, they’re more agile to adapt to challenges and opportunities. Many are able to deploy new technology faster. They can find better ways to manage internal business processes, complex projects with third parties, and communications with customers.

Even without huge budgets or help from outside developers, some businesses are unlocking the benefits of low-code app development, robotic process automation and AI. They’re creating their own software tools, connecting data from legacy systems, launching new digital services and using automation to save a fortune.

New era, new approach?

Although the shift in Government spend from HS2 to multiple smaller projects brings disruption, there is an opportunity for project teams to rethink how they manage major programmes – and the extra value offered by tech-focused UK businesses.

With major rail, construction and utilities projects, innovation can include:

  • Connecting disparate project teams and engineers in the field with all the systems and real-time data they need to make effective decisions.
  • Where possible, simplifying, streamlining and automating a host of time-consuming manual tasks, from risk assessments to compliance.
  • Keeping internal customers and stakeholders updated automatically with costs, timelines and next steps.
  • Quickly creating the engagement tech for a project helpdesk or an omnichannel contact centre for engaging with members of the public.

Proven to succeed

Network Rail simplifying its Risk Assessment Method Statements (RAMS) approval processes with a digital system, improving maintenance and operations

UK Power Networks

UK Power Networks sharpening its performance and customer satisfaction with low-code apps for GDPR, automation and payments

NCB logo white

The Network Certification Body’s portal built with low-code, streamlining compliance, client communication and cost control processes

East Midlands Railway using AI-driven messaging to reduce call volumes

The National House Building Council’s Future Homes Standard application for gathering, approving and sharing photographic evidence to support and manage compliance

In each instance, teams found swift, intelligent and practical solutions to issues – and could take their performance to the next level.

Innovation doesn’t always require signing up with a global IT software consultancy or investing in a rip-and-replace programme with a hardware vendor. Digital transformation can sometimes be delivered in better ways — when hundreds of small wheels are turning faster.

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