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From my office in Bath to across the globe: Developing safety critical systems in an ever-expanding digital world

Andrew Hawthorn
Aug 2, 2023

As we begin to gather pace in the run-up to DSEI 2023, we’ll be sharing a series of blogs under our ‘Powering your digital capabilities, defining your digital culture’ DSEI banner. The first in the series comes from Andrew Hawthorn, who shares his personal thoughts and experience on how new technology has changed his working world over the years and created the need to adopt a digital culture.

I’ve been developing safety critical systems for over 20 years and over that time our approaches had been slowly evolving but in the last few years the pace of change has ramped up and I see that pace continuing to increase with a range of new technologies that are coming to the fore. Up until quite recently, my role as an architect for safety critical systems was based around my office in the beautiful city of Bath. Most days I would go into our office near to the train station and meet colleagues who I’d worked with for many years and when I needed to see a client I’d jump on the train or take the car and have a physical meeting.

Now technology (and Covid) has transformed my working life and the complexity of the systems that I work on. With the now ubiquitous use of video calls I now talk to clients from all over the world and create solutions for our clients that encompass capabilities not just from our Bath office or even just our UK offices but encompassing capabilities and experiences from all over the world. Clients no longer constrain us by saying that our team members must work in or close to their site, so we are now able to develop high-integrity systems for clients across the globe. This means that our clients can draw on a wider pool of talent and our teams get to work on a wider range of systems. It also means that we can incorporate digital capabilities experiences from a wide range of teams in our solutions, for example, a GNSS manufacturer in the US needed deep expertise in GNSS systems, safety critical systems and hardware design which we could pull together from France, India, and the UK.

There are some slight drawbacks though. With such a wide network to call upon, it can result in more meetings and days where I’m back-to-back on video calls. At times this can be exhausting, and I miss the energy I get from meeting people physically.

As an engineer though, I really love learning about the myriad of teams and technologies that can be bought together to help us build the truly Intelligent Industry of the future. We are using new tools to help us build a strong digital culture and to work together more effectively. Model based tooling is used extensively and increasingly we are seeing our clients ask us to integrate design, development, and verification tools even further and make them available in the cloud. This will enable us to develop systems that make all of our lives easier and to do so more quickly and more efficiently than ever before. As an architect of safety critical systems and seeing that autonomous systems are becoming more ubiquitous, I’m looking at how we can enhance CI/CD pipelines by supporting Continuous Certification. This will require a myriad of digital technologies, particularly ones that allow us to collaborate even more effectively across the globe and strengthen our digital culture.

As an architect of complex systems, I’m always looking at how we can produce the most impactful systems in the most effective way, in essence, I’m always looking at how we can do things more efficiently. Digital technologies are helping us improve day-by-day, but we need to always think about the impact these technologies have on individuals, by taking away tedious and repetitive tasks they will clearly be appreciated but we must design them such that face-to-face interactions and human conversations remain a key part of our working lives going forwards.

Andrew Hawthorn

Chief Architect | High Integrity Systems and Intelligent Industry
I have over 20 years of hands-on experience in developing high-integrity systems and now oversee a large team of incredibly talented systems and software engineers developing critical software over multiple domains including air traffic control, defence systems, automotive, energy and rail.