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Insights Kelly's digital future in Highways & Roads

Kelly Burdall is Digital Futures Lead for transport in Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis Group. She started out her career in Central London in the finance and legal industry. In 2003 she took a career break to raise her two daughters. When she was ready to get back to the world of work in 2006, an opportunity arose in a small maintenance depot close to home.

image of Kelly smiling

What attracted you to the position?

The role was to book and programme schemes and maintenance works to optimize road space. It had flexible hours and the opportunity to create tangible financial improvement on the M25. 

How did you come to work under Connect Plus?

In 2009 the Balfour Beatty, Atkins and Egis consortium won a 30-year contract to design, maintain and operate the M25. As Connect Plus, it works on behalf of Highways England to manage and operate the M25 network.

I applied for a job as Network Occupancy Coordinator. Joining that part of the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) business meant dealing with clients, seeing designs built, and engaging with contractors to ensure buildability was considered in our planning. 

What was it like being part of the Operations and Maintenance business?

The M25 is one of the busiest motorways in Europe and O&M is a fast-paced and exciting environment. There are complex problems that need immediate resolutions. These decisions mean you have direct accountability and contact with the client. As a result, you build long-lasting collaborative relationships. 

The variety of work with its fundamental focus on safety made it so engaging. Everything was very immediate in terms of reactive maintenance. And that meant a real focus on customer awareness.

The asset is king when it comes to understanding the life of the project road and how the right interventions are key to providing sustainable solutions. I learnt something new every day and have met some great people along the way.

How has Atkins company supported your growth and development?

Early on into the contract, it was clear that there were many professional growth opportunities in Connect Plus Services (CPS). The contract's longevity allows us to work across different departments, big/small projects and gain experience in a wide variety of disciplines.

Continuous improvement is fundamental to an operational commission. Multi-facetted problem solving and incremental advancement is part of the routine. So the opportunities I've had for long-term development here have been enormous.

My technical skills have most definitely developed since I've been with CPS. I've also grown personally in relationship management, collaboration and when it comes to applying technical solutions to an operationally live environment. CPS has helped me appreciate risk and the opportunity that comes with it. 

Some problems are complex, but working with a high-performing team across disciplines has given me wider business knowledge and understanding to resolve and improve situations in a dynamic environment.

What have been some of your career highlights?

Bringing Lean management to CPS and reaching the industry-leading top score in Highways England Lean Maturity Score in 2020! To be part of this success has given me a real sense of achievement. Identifying and removing waste from the process has really given me a focus on value-added activity not only for our clients but internally. This is my greatest achievement, without a shadow of a doubt!

Proactive Management Review Success. I'm proud of putting together this document that captures all of the excellent work and, in many areas, added-value aspects of what we do in CPS. It showcases our innovations in an operational world that goes beyond "just" delivery for highways England.

The Road Space Booking System was something I devised and is still used today for the M25. This piece of work annually enables a real stand back review and detailed look at benefits and innovation. It helped me appreciate the value of taking the time to understand what works well and what doesn't. I had great support and engagement from the team, and we all enjoyed celebrating the success. 

Road widening for the London Olympics. Working as part of a diverse and competent team, we completed the project on time and under budget. This really helped my development. My peers taught me to understand the best way to tackle complex issues.

All Lane Running sections on the M25. Supporting this team helped me focus on looking past projects and to long-term objectives for the client with technology more embedded than before.

Bringing digital transformation to the M25 was less about technology and more about understanding how to bring efficiency to the operational world and how the teams managed change.

What keeps you at Atkins?

It's great to learn from others and be valued for my contributions. I love the feeling of working with people who are really engaged and passionate about effective delivery, whether that's an external or internal client. Working with a diverse team that looks at different perspectives is crucial to developing dynamic solutions. I enjoy our flexible working culture and how I feel supported by the team with whatever I need.

What do you think the future of Operations and Maintenance looks like? 

It will most definitely ensure we focus on the asset lifecycle going forward. We can plan for predictable outcomes by using data like digital twinning and machine learning.

Interventions at the right time will enable customers to reap efficiencies of predictability, time and quality. This is how we're helping our clients get delivery right, the first time. O&M can be a case study in how we innovate our transport systems and demand accordingly.