John Swift is the new face of Gaist in Scotland and North East England. Based in Glasgow, he brings 27 years of experience of providing technology solutions to the public and private sectors.

We caught up with him, via Teams, to hear about highways innovation, the Hindhead tunnel – and playing top-level hockey…

 

Q. Snowy scenes there today John?

A. Sadly not, but there is sunshine, which is always good in the city they call “grey Glasgow!”

Q. Your career started in radar rather than roads?

A. Yes, I served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers for seven years, as a radar/electronics engineer. I was responsible for commissioning, repairing and maintaining rapier surface to air missile systems.

It gave me a route to a professional engineering accreditation – HNC Electrical and Electronic Engineering – and a chance to travel. It was also a microcosm of life – letting me experience different people and different situations and making lifelong friends.

Q. Innovation and introducing new, more efficient ways of working, has been a common thread throughout your career?

A. Yes I have always loved innovation, not for its own sake but for how it helps people, organisations and businesses to achieve their goals and to meet their needs – so much so that I’ve actually been introduced to people as “John – he’s a disrupter.”

After the Army, I went into IT systems and infrastructure. It was the early 90s and I got involved with a lot of wireless/wi-fi challenges. I worked mainly in the Scottish public and private sectors for names such as Siemens Network Systems in Stirling and Computacenter in Edinburgh, where I built up the IT infrastructure services market share across the public sector, commercial, oil and gas sectors.

At Siemens, I was proud to secure the contract to provide voice and data network provision for the Scottish Parliament.

I also gained a good understanding of why the introduction of technology is really not about the technology but about the people – their reaction to it and their fear of the change it will bring about.

Q. People are often reluctant to change how they do things?

A. Yes of course – mainly it’s related to worries about their own careers. The status quo always seems safer.

I remember when someone asked me why I needed to send an email if could pick up the phone? It’s about hearts and minds being set in a traditional way and needing to understand why another way might be better.

I think that’s what I do well – set out and explain the case for change both for the customer and the customer’s customer.

Q. So how did you find yourself in highways technology?

A. I fell into it really – 13 years ago. Prior to that, if you’d mentioned roads to me, my first thought would have been about sitting in traffic!

I joined an intelligent transport solutions group and during those years I was proud to be a part of many ‘firsts’ – helping for example to bring about the first two large-scale solar LED road stud installations in the UK (South Lanarkshire Council/City of Edinburgh) and the first UK installations of ground wireless vehicle detection for East Ayrshire Council / City of Edinburgh Council (both solutions were also first into the UK Trunk Road network via Amey Scotland). I was also part of the first installation of wired LED roads studs in a UK tunnel – the Hindhead tunnel – via Balfour Beatty Scotland.

Being in the industry, I was always hearing about Gaist and knew about the great things it was achieving and how it was using technology to take our understanding of roads to a new level. When an opportunity came to be a part of that work, I seized it.

Q. What’s your proposition for the Scottish market?

A. It’s a simple proposition – we want to help make the road network safer and to make understanding the condition of it far easier, through our unrivalled intelligence about and analysis of the road and roadscape.

Take local authorities – in Scotland, as in England, one way of assessing the condition of the network has dominated for many years. We’re showing that there is another way. This way  centres around the capture of accurate, fresh and highly detailed data, data which is easy to work with, easy to explain to other stakeholders.

Scotland’s trunk road network is one of its biggest infrastructure assets – its gross asset value is over £20 billion. Thousands of jobs are linked to it and it plays a huge role in areas like our tourism industry by providing safe and efficient access throughout the country, including to remote tourist destinations.

Being effective and efficient in how we maintain and repair it and ensuring smooth, efficient journey times, is so important. That’s where our technology and approach comes in to play.

We’re not challenging the status quo for the sake of it – we’re doing it because we know the real, practical benefits that our rich data about the road and roadscape can bring.

It’s not just for local authorities either but for others who interact with the network and whose operations can be made faster and more efficient and their decision making more informed through having the deepest possible understanding of it at their fingertips. This includes  broadband companies, for example, and those rolling our revolutionary new developments such as Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs).

Q. Data is the new oil, the Economist famously told us?

A. Similar in that both are unrefined but the comparison stops there.

Data, once turned into a refined (or defined) state is much more valuable, with an almost infinite scope of how it can affect everyone and thing on the planet.  If you did a mind map of data then the tentacles would be so varied and intertwined it would be almost brain-like in appearance.

The Gaist world is about making deep data, including associated visual data, useful and accessible for clients to make better decisions, avoiding unquantified decisions and therefore enabling better outcomes.

Q. AI is a key piece of your approach? How do you utilize it? Do Clients embrace it? Or feel confused by its role?

A. It is a key piece now and moving forward but one of many pieces and one, like data, that is required to be refined / defined. We use it where it fits the client’s required outcome.

Q. When you are not on a mission to encourage companies to unlock the benefits of the Gaist approach you are equally passionately attacking another passion – your hockey?

A. Yes, I love hockey, probably too much. I’ve played at National, Regional, District and latterly International Masters level, captained, coached and umpired at all levels.

Q. What challenges – and opportunities – has the pandemic brought to this sector?  How is it changed the thinking of the organisations you work with?

A. I think the demands and changes that organisations are facing as a result of the pandemic means that good technology – as well as the best people – working together, are critical now more than ever. These are the two ‘tools’ all organisations in both the public and private sector need in their armory to thrive.

Q. How are you coping with the pandemic? Has the hockey helped?

A. Hockey as an amateur contact sports has been shelved not just in 2020 but 2021 (well, until September at present) so it’s home-based fitness apps for me along with early morning running.

Q. How has it been joining a new employer remotely?

A. Joining Gaist at this time  didn’t really pose an issue. However it is rare to experience such cohesiveness so quickly and I’ve really seen how supportive everyone is of each other and truly pulling in the same direction in the best interests of the clients.

To learn more about how Gaist supports private and public sector organisations in Scotland and the North East with our unrivalled intelligence and analysis about the road network and roadscape, please email John at John.Swift@gaist.co.uk