Month: October 2020

Changing rail industry, digital in the north

RailSmart Software on mobile tablet

Like most industries, the rail industry is experiencing a tidal wave of digital transformation like never before.  From IoT sensors and smart monitoring to paperless records and ticketless gate lines, all kinds of digital breakthroughs are allowing for better network performance, improved safety and enhanced efficiencies.

Although not the only initiative dedicated to the digital railway, one project in particular that highlights the transition towards digital is Network Rail’s East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP). This is the first step in a long-term deployment plan that aims to digitally transform how the region’s railway works for passengers and rail freight users. A digital railway is about upgrading train control systems to convert a fixed, conventional railway, to one that is flexible, reliable, safer, faster and cheaper. It is designed to modernise how railways are operated and maintained, and has been a growing concept for many years.

The ECDP aims to fit the latest in-cab signalling control technologies and intelligent traffic management systems to increase efficiencies and reduce passenger delays. It will allow signallers to talk to trains constantly in real-time, rather than just at set points.

The implementation of ECDP has triggered not only an increased need for technological uptake, but a cultural change too. The programme requires Network Rail to implement a partnership approach, working closely with the government, train operators and technology providers – the first of its kind in the industry. It’s change management on a grand scale. The government and supply chain are working closer together than ever before, whilst taking the workforce with them on the journey. It’s necessitating new ways of working, learning and communicating.

Bringing together these many partners places importance on embracing new technologies and employing collaborative working methods to ensure the success of the programme and beyond.  This is a step-change, not only in how train control is modernised, but in how all relevant stakeholders need to work together. Heralded as the flagship programme, ECDP is an exemplar of how the rail industry will work in the future, and the robust business changes that will need to happen.

Northern potential

There has been a noticeable change in recent years in terms of regional input in rail, with the North emerging as a major player and finally receiving the recognition it so rightly deserves. In addition to ECDP, which will see considerable involvement from northern regions, HS2 will be pivotal in enhancing the northern transport network and untapping the potential of our local workforce and supply chain. The capability of the North, from manufacturing to digital technology, all have a part to play in transforming the rail network, both locally and nationally.

Northern Powerhouse Rail and Transport for the North is just as important in helping to unlock the substantial opportunities of the north and promises to invest in skills, innovation, transport and culture. It made history as the first Sub-national Transport Body in England, and is acting not only to drive the northern economy, but to support intra-regional connectivity as well. It’s connecting our urban centres for social economic and environmental benefit, and enabling better road and rail links to airports and ports. Establishing strong connectivity to our deep sea and inland ports is of the utmost importance to the UK plc if we are to maximise the north’s global reach.

And let’s not forget that the north is thriving with digital agencies and tech companies making critical contributions to the digital railway revolution. In fact, 3Squared’s home of Sheffield is a renowned tech hub. And then there’s, Sheffield Digital; an independent trade association that recognises digital as a sector in its own right, acting as the voice for businesses and individuals involved in Sheffield’s digital industries. The potential is huge, to say the least. Continuing to revive the north is so important if we are to encourage businesses to set up shop outside of the bigger cities like London and Birmingham.

Change in product goals

The types of products and services being conceived by the rail industry are evolving too. Enhancing the passenger experience is vital if we are to transform the capabilities of our railway network and continue as our habits change.

Engaging with the end-users and ‘putting passengers first’ will be crucial in helping customers understand why we need better transport and why short-term disruptions are worth the longer-term gains. While technological advancement can help to simplify fares and reduce the dependency on paper ticketing systems, making the experience much more streamlined, they can also help to manage the operations of the railway increasing safety and efficiency.

Changes due to Covid-19

Along with digital technologies, coronavirus has played a part in shaping the rail landscape in recent months. While COVID-19 has no doubt been a catastrophic event that had disrupted people’s lives, it has brought unforeseen benefits to the rail industry. The pandemic has instilled a sense of urgency forcing us to invent, innovate and collaborate at a faster pace than ever before.

It has helped to accelerate the approval of new technology, and further cultivated the collaborative mindset that is so crucial for the growth of the digital railway.

If one thing is for sure: the rail sector has had the opportunity to change like never before. Digital technologies are a key driver for change in the industry, and the possibilities are endless. But it is imperative that we adapt our methods of working accordingly to keep pace with the railway’s ever-increasing demands.

3Squared are at the forefront of delivering innovative products as we move towards a digital railway, helping organisations to support their teams, improve performance of their assets and drive operational efficiencies. Find out more about our innovations and what we’re doing to help our customers.

3Squared to provide ETCS digital solutions for driver training on ECDP

Railway lines sunset image

Sheffield’s digital transport solutions provider, 3Squared together with Rail Professional Development (RPD) Inspire has secured a contract to deliver a number of digital and traditional training solutions for the East Coast Digital Programme through London North Eastern Railway (LNER) and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR).

Heralded as the ‘flagship digital programme’ for Network Rail’s Control Period 6 (CP6), 3Squared will provide the digital solutions and RPD Inspire the operational and driver training expertise to support the development of familiarisation and training of drivers on European Train Control Systems (ETCS). Providing consultative support to help shape and deliver the overall industry driver training programme for ECDP, 3Squared and RPD Inspire will offer a blended learning environment, bringing together modern adult learning techniques and effective management of simulation with new digital solutions.

Paul Durrant Managing Director RPD Inspire comments

“Working with 3Ssquared provides a unique opportunity to fully integrate digital technology with ETCS driver training and improve methodology, resource availability and competence.”

Tim Jones, Managing Director of 3Squared, comments:

“We are delighted to be working with RPD Inspire, playing an integral part in the East Coast Digital Programme , which is such a significant and ambitious project within CP6.  This will create a new model for industry investment and growth. It is the first step of the digital network strategy and long-term deployment plan, projecting strong growth for future opportunities across the UK rail industry, creating a dynamic railway fit for the future.

“Delivering a digital railway is fundamentally about changing how the railway is operated and maintained. It is about showcasing the sustained benefits it will provide to customers, stakeholders and funders, and reveals how a new operating reality can be underpinned by world standard technologies for in-cab train control and traffic management.

“The application of a digital railway takes a conventional railway from one that is discontinuous, proprietary and fixed, to the worse case scenarios with intermittent safety provision. It transforms it to a railway that is continuous and interoperable, enabling each train to run to its capability while maximising the safety of the railway. This project will have a tremendous impact on the rail sector in the mid to long-term, enabling a reduction in the overall cost of maintenance and the capability to dynamically flex capacity.”

3Squared already works with the ETCS in mainland Europe, supporting operators and standards teams as drivers, crew and ground staff are transitioned to new ways of working. Using tools such as its RailSmart® EDS, 3Squared supports a wide range of organisations to manage change, create and identify training needs and schedules a blend of classroom-based learning, assessments and interactions.

In addition, 3Squared provides its RailSmart Virtual Academy platform; a learning management system used to deliver eLearning courses, virtual instructor led training and micro simulation, delivering a learning experience that adapts to the training needs of today’s busy, time sensitive organisations where resources are tight.

RPD Inspire is the GB rail’s leading supplier of ETCS driver training, having worked on the development of ETCS national driver training strategy with national project, awareness programme with Network Rail’s People Capability Team and ETCS implementation with MTR Elizabeth Line, Great Western Railway and GTR.

Introducing you to some of the 3Squared team

3Squared Team Introductions

This year RailWeek has a digital twist and as a company which specialises in software solutions for the rail industry, we have a whole host of roles that help to illustrate just how many opportunities there are. We thought we would take the opportunity to give you a little look behind the scenes at some of our team members with some little introductions in their own words.

Tim Jones and James Fox

We are the founders of 3Squared, it is our job to build the company and steer it as we continue to find software solutions to the challenges of making the railway safer and more efficient. We launched 3Squared 18 years ago after graduating from Sheffield Hallam University.

Since the beginning we’ve always wanted to develop realisable benefits to customers through technology, and help streamline and automate business processes. We are proud of our software solutions and it’s thanks to our fantastic team at 3Squared for helping to achieve this.

We love listening to our customers about how our products help them work more effectively, and love collaborating on new ideas they bring to us.

My role @3Squared is Head of Service Design. This involves managing the Service Design team, collaborating with designers and developers to envision and iterate concepts, defining and delivering our team’s strategy, aligning this with other teams, collaborating with the Operational Management team to deliver 3Squared’s strategic initiatives, working with clients to help them to re-think how they approach organisational problems and tailoring products and services to deliver the best working solutions for our suite of @railsmart products that are helping #digitalise #rail.

I started at 3Squared as a UX/UI designer, and as the company grew, we realised there was a need for more defined requirements. As my role evolved from design to business analysis, mentoring, client engagement and sales, the Service Design team at 3Squared was born and I was asked to head this up.

I began working more closely with our clients to fully understand the problems they are aiming to solve, and along with managing the team, this is the aspect of my job that I enjoy the most.

Martin Gleadow

Twitter: @mgleadow

Martin Gleadow

My role @3squared is Head of IT and Support. It involves looking after the people and systems which keep our @railsmart product suite running, and so helping digitise rail. I got into my role after 10 years working in a server admin role in Sheffield, and I love seeing people develop and how our products make the lives of our customers better.

Lucy Prior

My role @3squared is a Business Engagement Director. It involves building new relationships with stakeholders across the industry, helping to communicate how the @railsmart products are helping #digitalise #rail and communicating the sector’s needs to our team.

I adore my job because it involves helping the railway modernise in so many ways. Our mission is to help the railway become safer, greener and more efficient and it’s so exciting to see how tech is helping achieve that.

Callum Walmesley

My role @3squared is a Service Analyst. It involves communicating with our clients to help solve any issues or questions they may have as well as proactively ensure that they are getting the best possible service from our RailSmart applications which is an important element in the @railsmart product suite that is helping #digitalise #rail.

I got into my role after completing my BSc (Hons) Computing course at Sheffield Hallam University and after gaining a passion for the rail industry from my internship at DB Cargo (UK) Ltd. I love my role as I get to talk to so many wonderful people on a daily basis from all across the rail sector and work with them to continue their enjoyable experience of the RailSmart suite.

Leon Martin

Twitter: @LMartin526

Leon Martin

My role @3squared is a Development Apprentice. It involves programming to create, implement, fix and/or change features of a new or existing product. All of this is important as I continually help to make the user experience more pleasant, which is an important element in the @railsmart products that are helping #digitalise #rail.

The role (Development Apprentice) was offered to me at the end of my work experience @3sqaured which I was over the moon about. There are a lot of things I enjoy about my role but to keep it short, I enjoy the satisfaction of overcoming an obstacles, the social aspect of working in a team and I enjoy programming itself and continue to have a deep passion for it.

Cherry Limb

Twitter: @CherryChallis

Cherry Limb

My role @3squared is HR Manager. It involves finding new team members and enabling and supporting our current ones to do their best work; people make a company, which is an important element in the @railsmart product that is helping #digitalise #rail.

Everything always comes down to people, people make the world go round and if we spend the majority of our lives at work, so its important people are fulfilled, challenged, engaged and well. HR can make a difference there.

I enjoy seeing people grow, develop professionally and personally, rise to new challenges and am always in awe of people’s talents!
I came from more general Office Manger roles but always enjoyed the people element over the finance, delivery and health and safety arm so luckily have a role where I can specialise now in just HR.

Andrew Powell

My role @3squared is a Senior Software Engineer It involves: Working with Microsoft C#, writing web front end, web API and database full stack layers. Implementing new client requested functionality, Estimating requirements, documenting the requirements from a development point of view for myself and other members of the team. Bug Fixing and Investigation into Issues. Increasing performance of queries as I love a bit or SQL which is an important element in the @railsmart product that is helping #digitalise #rail.

I got into the role after working at 3squared as a midweight dev. I have worked at two other companies before this so have been doing it for 15 years now, after graduating with a degree in software engineering.

I enjoy the company atmosphere, learning new skills and becoming a better developer, earning your senior stripes . There is always something new to learn.

Investing in young talent through work placements

3Squared work placements

At a time where the rail industry is rapidly changing, supporting the growth of STEM skills has never been more crucial. As the industry evolves, so too will the talent pool and the diversity of skills needed to ensure the successful future of rail.

Since 3Squared’s inception, we’ve always been incredibly passionate about collaborating and investing in young talent to drive digital innovation and new ways of working. Despite the obvious disruptions of Covid-19, 3Squared has experienced continued success, and it’s been a strangely perfect time to welcome fresh blood into the business.

One of the key collaborations we’re extremely proud of is our long-standing partnership with Sheffield Hallam University. Both the company’s founding directors, Tim and James, are Sheffield Hallam graduates themselves, and understand how invaluable internships can be.

We’ve worked closely with Sheffield Hallam for a number of years to provide placements for students in-between their second and third year of study. We also recruit students from other universities too. It allows us to act as mentors to the next generation of digital workers, giving them a taster for life after graduating, while giving something back to the Sheffield community.

Each year, we try to take on students in at least three departments. Last year, we were lucky enough to be part of Sheffield Hallam’s Preferred Placement scheme. We were one of six companies to pitch our placement scheme directly to the students in a lecture theatre; a much-coveted opportunity, to say the least. We also attend the careers fair every year.

We believe a placement year is a vital part of personal and professional development, and an excellent introduction to industry life. It’s incredibly rewarding to watch the students flourish and we’re so pleased to offer such a scheme. But it’s also highly beneficial for us too. The interns bring fresh ideas and new ways of thinking, which is intrinsic for innovation and the future of the digital railway.

In light of Rail Week, which aims to celebrate the diverse career opportunities available across the rail sector, we spoke to some of our placement students to find out about their experience at 3Squared and what their role involves.

Dom Petrauskas, Junior QA Engineer

“I am a computer science student, currently doing my placement year as part of my course at Sheffield Hallam University. 3Squared was one of the companies involved with the university placement partner scheme, and one of my modules required me to apply to several companies as part of my assignment. After all of the employer presentations, 3Squared stood out to me the most because of the role, work environment and the industry the company is involved with. I applied, followed through with the interview process and secured the job.

As a junior QA engineer, I get to test software. During this process, not only do I get exposed to the technicalities and role-specific tasks, but I also get to learn about the industry (both software and rail), and develop friendships. All of these aspects are, in my opinion, the key reasons why doing a placement year is so important.”

Jacob Minor, Junior Software Engineer

“I am a junior software engineer on the web development team. This role involves many different tasks such as fixing bugs, developing new features on products in the RailSmart suite, working with peers to ensure that the feature and code I, and they, produce is to an efficient and good standard.

At university, I am studying a Bachelor’s degree in software engineering. Doing this course has allowed me to gain the skills and knowledge which I require to do my placement at 3Squared. I found the placement position at 3Squared through the Preferred Placement scheme run by the university. After attending a talk by 3Squared and speaking to many different people at the company careers fair, I decided that this placement was the one where I was going to succeed and learn the most.

I feel that this placement year at 3Squared will be valuable to my learning as it will allow me to gain industry knowledge and work with people who will be able to pass their knowledge onto me. Not only will it be beneficial to my learning, the connections I will make at 3Squared, I am sure, will be invaluable to my future after I finish my degree.”

Hamza Mahmood, Graduate Developer

“I am a graduate developer who returned to 3Squared upon completion of my software engineering course at Sheffield Hallam University. I had first heard of 3Squared during a guest lecture at university, after which I attended the careers fair later in the year. Here I was told that I could submit my CV in order to apply for the placement role. Following the interview process, I was informed that I had secured the role.

My placement year began in July 2018 and was over at the end of August 2019. During this time, I had built upon skills acquired during university whilst also learning some new ones. My placement year consisted of mainly development-based tasks such as the fixing of bugs and implementation of new features. I also had the opportunity to spend some time in a quality assurance-based role which put a whole new perspective on things, and really taught me the importance of the quality of code and the application as a whole. The placement year was great, it was challenging at times, but this only provides further opportunities for learning, especially when colleagues are always happy to help.”

3Squared selected as approved G-Cloud supplier

3Squared Crown Commercial Service Supplier

Sheffield’s digital transport solutions provider today announced that they are to feature on the UK Government’s Crown Commercial Services’ G-Cloud 12 framework – the system went live on Monday 28th September 2020.

A UK Government initiative, G-Cloud simplifies the procurement process for government entitles including the DfT, ORR and arm’s length bodies such as operators LNER and Northern, opening up a host of new business opportunities for the digital solutions specialist, 3Squared.

James Fox, Commercial Director of 3Squared, comments:

“It is a fantastic achievement for us to be included on the UK’s government trusted G-Cloud 12 framework, and an opportunity for Government institutions and arm’s length transportation businesses to engage with us direct for the purchase of our RailSmart cloud based solution. This new procurement route combined with traditional methods of procurement are about giving the public sector choice and flexibility when it comes to procurement.”

Since the first G-Cloud inception in 2012, more than £6billion of sales has come through the framework, demonstrating the value of cloud-based services to the public sector.

3Squared provides a wide range of cloud software services on the G-Cloud framework, specialising in rail solutions (RailSmart) and the associated services for implementation, training and support.

Find out more about 3Squared’s services.