In March 2015, Hack Partners CEO, River Tamoor Baig, set out to drive forward innovation in rail by creating a movement now known as the “HackTrain”. Baig, wanting to improve the way trains were operated in the North of England having travelled on them for several years decided to do something other than just complain. In setting up HackTrain, he hoped to help operators improve customer experience and operational efficiency through the use of new technology and data.
Baig’s vision was kick-started by running a “Hackathon”, a 48-hour event bringing together software developers, graphic designers, and entrepreneurs challenging them to create tech prototypes that solved some of the rail industry’s biggest challenges. To make things even more difficult, these would-be rail innovators were put in live train services travelling across the country. The benefit of doing this was to allow the innovators to experience the problems they were solving firsthand and also gain feedback about their ideas from fellow passengers.
HackTrain 3.0 hackathon participant, Vishnu Menon stated “our team was creating a tool designed to predict when a train delay would occur and highlight the impact it would have on the rest of the rail network. Ironically, one of our trains was actually delayed during the Hackathon! We were literally collecting that very delayed train data and could see all the other services it was subsequently delaying in person. This real-life scenario gave us an even better understanding about what to solution to build for passengers and train staff.”
What started off as a one-off event supported by Virgin Trains, Network Rail, and a host of other rail companies has grown to what is now recognised as the driving force of innovation in the rail industry. Hack Partners have worked with every major transport group in the UK enhancing their innovation capabilities and solving real world problems via the ideas generated by the Hackathons.
As an example, Trainline benefitted from the initiative with the creation of the tool “BusyBot” – ideated in HackTrain 2.0. Designed to help passengers find a seat on trains the tool is used annually by 9m passengers. Furthermore, Hack Partners released a report providing an in-depth honest analysis of barriers to innovation in the rail industry. Its recommendations were ultimately enacted by the DfT and several Train Operating Companies (‘TOC’s’). With impactful solutions and value adding industry contributions, stakeholders from across the industry – including the Department for Transport (‘DfT’), Network Rail, and multiple rail operators continue to support and advocate the initiative – prompting Hack Partners to expand into a new sector to share the benefits across a broader population.
Baig, states his reasoning behind entering the infrastructure sector was because “aside from health and finance, no other industry impacts as many people as infrastructure does, from the highways that we drive on to the water that we drink, being able to use public and private infrastructure is a daily part of our lives. However, to cope with increases in demand, aging assets, and changes in user behaviour we as an industry must innovate the way we build and operate new and existing infrastructure.
At our last HackTrain event, we included a challenge from the Office of Road & Rail around helping them track the performance of Network Rail’s Major Enhancements Projects more efficiently. One of the outcomes from our Hackathon is now being used by the ORR team day-to-day to predict and prevent projects from going over budget and being delayed. This and the macro-changes we’re saying around digital transformation highlighted that a HackTrain initiative in the infrastructure sector could add a lot of value and really help accelerate the adoption of new technology in the industry.”
Bentley Systems’ Year in Infrastructure attendees discussing key challenges their organisations face around digitisation and project delivery
The InfraHack initiative extracted challenges from a live audience at Bentley Systems’ Project Delivery Summit during the Year in Infrastructure Conference Bentley hosted this year in London, from 15 to 18 of October. “The Hack Partners team ran a challenge workshop with 50 to 60 of the industry’s current and future leaders during the Project Delivery Summit during the Year in Infrastructure Conference. The goal was to give an open platform for the industry to tell us about some of the key problems hindering them from doing their job more efficiently so that we can take these problems to the InfraHack hackathon and actually build solutions for them. This way, when we host the conference again next year, we’ll show that not only have we listened, but have done something about it,” said Antony Oliver, former editor of Construction News, who hosted the Project Delivery Summit for Bentley Systems.
Baig and his team will spend the next 6-months collecting challenges from industry stakeholders and work with them to unlock datasets never before released to the public. In parallel, he hopes to attract other partners to the initiative citing that “for the initiative to be a success it needs to not only solve tangible problems, but also, to have a healthy amount of industry players involved so that these problems can be solved in scale.”
Once sufficient challenges have been gathered the Hack Partners team will run the first InfraHack Hackathon event from the 22nd – 24th of March 2019. “We’ll be bringing together over 100 innovators from the tech industry, giving them data from the likes of Highways England, Heathrow Airport, and Network Rail. The objective of the Hackathon will be for innovators to use this data to come up with new ways of solving the aforementioned challenges using new technologies like augmented reality, artificial intelligence, drones and the like” Baig mentions.
The National Infrastructure Commission CEO Phil Graham welcomed the new InfraHack. In his words: “Whether through the development of our advice to Government, or our Young Professionals Panel bringing together 16 talented individuals across the sector, we always want to hear about the latest ideas and new perspectives on how we meet the country’s future infrastructure needs. I’m therefore excited to see how the industry as a whole can benefit from Hack Partners’ experience through this new InfraHack initiative, and how this could lead to the use of the latest technologies and development of new innovations to bring long-term improvements to our infrastructure network.”
Network Rail’s Head of Buildings and Architecture, Anthony Dewar- who recently supported Hack Partners’ last event states why he’s excited for InfraHack: “To put it simply – I loved the Hacktrain at innotrans. My team are really excited about the results we had from the hackers – my two challenges made it to the final! One, using Amazon Alexa, resulted in a developed proof of concept which will improve our business efficiency. The second involving artificial intelligence has really got us excited – we see it as a catalyst to revolutionise and introduce efficiencies to an existing costly engineering activity, that will benefit Network Rail as well as the wider infrastructure industry!”
Bentley Systems, a leading provider of software solutions like ProjectWise, AssetWise and SYNCHRO, for the design, construction, and operations of infrastructure, are also backing the InfraHack initiative. Adam Klatzkin, senior director of iModel technologies for Bentley Systems said, “As an innovator in advancing infrastructure, Bentley Systems is very pleased to support InfraHack and participate in the application of the latest digital technologies to solving the industry’s most pressing challenges. The industry is “going digital”, and we see many opportunities to implement digital workflows, digital components, and digital context to leverage the digital DNA of infrastructure assets and improve asset performance for the benefit of all citizens.”
Global engineering powerhouse Mott MacDonald is also supporting the initiative. Chief Technology Officer Mark Enzer said: “As our business environment evolves at an ever-increasing pace, it is more important than ever to exploit technology and make the most of innovative thinking. InfraHack gives us a fresh and exciting way to explore forward-looking solutions to the big challenges faced by our clients.”
“Hack Partners has a great track record of injecting cutting-edge relevance, so we’re really looking forward to working with the best minds in the industry, transforming infrastructure performance for the benefit of our ultimate customers.’
Infrastructure operators who have challenges they would like to be tackled by distinguished innovative thinkers and solutions developers are encouraged to contact Hack Partners directly via their website at: hackpartners.com.
Hack Partners has also launched a podcast where it will be sharing what the team have learned on their journey so far and also interviewing prominent industry figures including Philip Graham, the CEO of the National Infrastructure Commission.
You can listen to the first Hack Partners podcast via the links below.
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