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Tony Matthews Head of Systems Integration

BLOG - “We need to find innovative ways to really understand what our future customers would see and feel.”

Tony Matthews, WCPD’s Head of Systems Integration, talks about WCPD’s work to utilise the latest innovative techniques to map the customer journey.  

04 May 2023

Tony Matthews, West Coast Partnership Development’s Head of Systems Integration, explains the importance of utilising innovation and technology to support the business in understanding our future customer’s needs.  

In our work to design new high-speed services, we are continually seeking innovative ways to shape and analyse our customer experience proposals and how we make the overall programme the success.

Some of the WCPD team visited the Arup Experience Lab in February, which really opened up my mind, not just the work we are doing now, but how technology today is continuing to advance in so many directions. The team at Arup – who provide advisory services in design and construction - talked to us about current and emerging innovation, which was supported by case studies and projects.

“The detail looked so real that I felt I was a customer on-board.”

We were then welcomed into their immersion room which contains 26 speakers and a 6m curved screen. The technology uses headtracked projection which fills your field of view and responds to your movement. The impressive nature was that there wasn’t a VR-headset in sight, and yet through the screen and specially designed glasses we were able to see the new HS2 route mapped out in 3D, with the stations built-up to appreciate how they will complement the environment where they sit. One of the surreal parts was that the technology allowed us to stand in the carriage of one of our new high-speed trains. It was an incredible experience as the detail looked so real that I felt I was a customer on-board. And it seemed realistic when we stood on a virtual riverbank adjacent to HS2 watching a high-speed train pass. Even the sound replicated what you   may see and feel as a passer-by, with the noise of train getting louder before rushing past, and then disappearing into the distance.

WCPD team in Arup Experience Lab

For me, it opened my eyes to what technology can show me before decisions are made – which is something that I never thought was possible. It offered such a unique opportunity to visualise, through immersion, what our ideas will look like in reality, the impacts it will have on local communities and for our staff who will operate the service.

We need to find innovative ways to really understand what our future customers would see and feel. A lot of our work at the moment is around scenario mapping and design mock-ups to analyse our proposed ideas.

With this complex programme, there are many challenges we need to solve. One of which is to make sure that our trains deliver for all the different customer needs across our route. Another one is that we are developing our plans now in 2023, but HS2 will not be in operation for at least six years. In addition, the trains that we are procuring will be used for at least 30 years; thus, we need to build in flexibility which will allow us to make changes where required.

It’s innovations like the Experience Lab at Arup which allow us to think differently about our designs, and how we overcome these challenges. They are planning to continue to develop that work – and I’d relish the chance to go back and see how it develops with HS2 or even with other projects.

Main image: Tony Matthews, Head of Systems Integration at West Coast Partnership Development

Image in blog: West Coast Partnership Development colleagues inside the Arup Experience Lab