Managing Director, Nick Lanigan, talks to Adrian Tatum (Highways News) about how he has taken the time during lockdown to review the direction of the business, prepare for a major new launch and along with his team, understand its customers better than ever.
The Clearview offices in Milton Keynes are a much more modern affair compared to its previous Oxfordshire home. The move, made in 2018, was in part down to the re-branding from Clearview Traffic to Clearview Intelligence, marking a new era for the company and its positioning in an industry that is rapidly changing and at times, a very challenging sector to operate in.
The new office, which was at first just home to Clearview’s product, research and development teams, brought the company some luck during the first year in its new location. In those 12 months the company won two national awards, launched new products and completed work on its flagship Insight Hub innovation suite. Milton Keynes is also at the heart of the rapid development of smart transport technology, ITS and future intelligent mobility, sectors that Clearview had already proven itself to be successful in.
It was also the second part of a transition period that started with Clearview owner Sir John Madejski bringing together the successful companies Astucia, Count on Us, and Golden River to form Clearview Traffic.
But of late, the office, normally teeming with an array of staff has been pretty much deserted, a reflection of the new working at home arrangements employed by pretty much every company in the country during lockdown.
This period has brought much reflection from Clearview’s Managing Director, Nick Lanigan, and his team. The downtime has inevitably drawn a huge debate and discussion internally around how the company currently operates and how it might do so in the future.
“I think the word I would use first to describe the last few months would be ‘enlightening’,” he says. “The time has given me and the senior leadership team the opportunity to take on wider roles which has helped us understand a huge amount about how we operate and how we want to operate moving forward. We have taken the time to learn what our strengths and weaknesses are and as every business discovers at some point in time-what we need to be doing differently to ensure we are producing the best possible service and value for our clients,” he adds.
“This was actually a really positive period for us. What it proved to me above everything else, is that we have a resilient team that can take the business to the next level,” adds Nick. “It has also made us consider how we spend our time and whether before, that time was spent effectively, and we quickly discovered where improvements could be made. For a start, it has proven that not everyone has to be in the office all of the time,” he says.
Last year Clearview produced a three-year business plan that focused on continued growth and innovation working with several key stakeholders across the local and strategic roads sector. It builds on previous years work with a commitment and a vision to help local authorities, Transport Scotland, Highways England, contractors and consultants and other transport organisations deliver a smarter, safer and more optimised network.
“The reality is much of that document still holds true to what we want to try and achieve but the timings of delivery of that plan has been somewhat disrupted by COVID-19. We’ve had to be honest with the board, but there is a renewed confidence we are in a really strong position going forward.”
The time at home, has in fact allowed the company to be more customer-centric, says Nick. “With people working at home, it has given us an opportunity to increase our level of engagement with our clients and understand to a far greater degree what their challenges, problems and opportunities are,” he says. “It has given the team the chance to have much more detailed conversations with our clients, which means we are in a better place to deliver,” he adds.
The biggest challenge right now is the uncertainty that the pandemic has brought to the industry. Whether you are private sector or public, the question over how long it will have a lasting impact on business in the sector is, in most cases, stifling development and progress. But Clearview is determined to race to the light at the end of the tunnel. “This is definitely a time for me and the senior leadership to show leadership to the team and continue to drive forward the excellent development and delivery we have shown over the past decade and beyond. There is no doubt it has been a difficult few months as well and we have had to make some tough decisions in that time but having a team of people with a diverse set of skills means we can address those uncertainties head on and provide solutions for our clients to keep their network efficient, safe and effective during these challenging times,” says Nick.
“The market is so fast moving and is more difficult to predict than ever before but I believe we are in a strong position to deliver solutions for all the stakeholders that are in the middle of a huge shift towards multi-modal and active travel as well as those that want to make the roads safer and more optimised.
“Smart mobility is still very much at the forefront of activities on the road network and the development of new solutions means we are able to offer more and support a much broader range of clients in different sectors. I think it underlines the importance of our Insight smart mobility platform as a vital tool that provides unique data management that can help drive journey time monitoring, analysis of parking assets and an integrated solution focused on optimising service delivery and effective use of road space as well as much more.”
Although an existing solution in Clearview’s comprehensive suite, Insight may never have been as important as it is now, especially with the active travel revolution and the need to really think about how technology is driving change on the network. But this part of the discussion prompts the conversation to go back to the customer. “We already have great solutions, but it underlines the fact that we really need to understand in detail the challenges they face and how we can help solve them in an effective way. Being ‘customer obsessed ‘ in that way will also mean we can get under the skin of what is going on both on the local and strategic network as well as help give us a unique insight into re-shaping our existing solutions and developing our offer to produce new ones.”
In fact, a new solution that is definitely worth knowing about is Connex. Clearview Intelligence provides software and hardware technology platforms and design services for active travel, network optimisation, route safety and parking. Its new Connex Active and Connex Traffic solutions include pedestrian/cycle classification and count, wireless vehicle detection and real-time vehicle counters. Clearview’s Connex Link is a communication and control solution for a variety of application and enables the system to trigger devices, such as Variable Message Signs (VMS). For carriageway and footway delineation, it provides both solar powered road studs, SolarLite, and also its IRS intelligent road studs for more dynamic delineation.
Its software platform, ‘Insight’, hosts several applications which include Journey Time Monitoring (using crowdsourced data), Vehicle Count and Classification and Parking (monitoring and management).
“I am very proud of what the team has achieved with this. It has very much evolved from what we have learnt from Insight and what we have created here is an immensely powerful integrated system that can join hardware and software systems to help the customer make real-time informed decision. Having something like this that can effectively deliver real-time intelligence for the user from a number of different sources providing accurate data is very valuable right now with the changes we are seeing on the network,” says Nick.
The Connex system and its Connex Active and Connex Traffic versions can integrate any sensor technology to its platform in a non-evasive way with no maintenance required. “We had the concept for this back in 2014 without really knowing it,” he adds. “We were showing its as a ‘smart city’ concept back then and everyone loved it, but I am not sure we fully realised what we had achieved. It has taken us six years to take it to the point where it will underpin all of our systems and solutions. It has really started to stimulate some interesting conversations with local authorities and other organisations compounded by the desire to understand, plan and deliver the significant shift towards a multi-modal transport system.” There is already interest from Transport Scotland too, where Connex will help optimise the re-configuration of routes on its network.
There is continued development in the CAV sector as well, where Clearview’s systems are already providing data to help deliver route safety solutions via messages on VMS signs. “The next natural step is to provide that information in-car as we move to the ‘middle-ground before full autonomy,” says Nick. “I am still very excited about the CAV sector and what we can do there,” he adds.
New product and solutions development and innovation is now being underpinned by a greater focus on innovation funding bids, led by the company’s new and impressive Client Relationship Manager, Simon Waterfall who is working both generally with all industry stakeholders and more specifically with Highways England. “The focus now is on RIS2 and how we can help them provide a more effective and efficient network,” says Nick.
One thing that is often not widely recognised is Clearview’s work abroad with a number of key organisations over a 15-year period. Work in Holland, Switzerland, Italy, France, Eastern Europe, the Nordics as well as Australia and New Zealand has traditionally been around journey-time systems, sensors, roads studs and traffic counting-all things it became know for in the UK. “But now with the development and need for the Insight system, things have been changing at a rapid pace and there is much we can learn from the way some of these countries are making their towns and cities better places to live and travel in because of the harmony of all the transport and highways systems working effectively together. These are all driven by real-time, accurate data to help both the transport organisations and the public make better informed decisions,” says Nick.
“In some ways,” he adds, “the adoption of new technology and innovation has happened quicker in some other countries in Europe as they look at every opportunity to take something new and ‘disrupt’ what is already out there and that certainly does help breed innovation. But I would also say the same for Scotland, where they have been very receptive to new ideas and technology, as has Highways England.”
But what will Clearview be know as in the future? “Clearview will always be a technology business and will continue to focus on new ideas and innovation. I think it is clear that is needed more than ever right now. If we can play our part in continuing to be an important systems integrator that is known to be at the forefront on technology innovation then I will be happy,” says Nick. “ We have everything in place now to do that and a very supportive Chairman in Sir John Madejski to enable us to continue in the way we want to. We are here to stay, but only if we continue to make a difference,” he adds.