Transport for London (TfL) is the public authority responsible for almost all forms of transport in London including the underground network, its famous red buses, London Overground trains and the cycle hire scheme – amounting to some 3.5 billion journeys.

Most recently the first cable car spanning the River Thames was launched, and has seen nearly 1.5 million journeys. TfL has also just delivered its millionth customer on the London Overground extension between Clapham Junction and Surrey Quays – completing the Overground orbital loop.

TfL’s role is the implementation, management, and support of London’s transport strategy, with many being run by private operators, either in whole or in part. One example is Serco operating the cycle hire scheme.

Technology is at the forefront of everything TfL do, from London Underground, to traffic management on the roads to administration and HR.  

IT leader: Steve Townsend, Chief Information Officer, Information Management Directorate, Transport for London.

In role since: August 2011.

Reporting line: Report directly to the Managing Director of Finance.

Board level seat: No, but I have direct access to the board and provide many reports for the board, such as the introduction of WiFi on the London Underground.

IT budget: IT budget responsibility over the current business plan is circa £1.5 billion. Our budget responsibility is 37% of TfL’s total annual income of £4 billion.

IT estate and or number of log on accounts under the control of the IT leader: More than 24,500 colleagues within TfL have IT user accounts, with additional accounts being granted to third parties and support partners such as locomotive manufacturer Bombardier and bike hire operator Serco. Strategic suppliers also have remote access to the system to provide additional support.

Within the Information Management Directorate there are 700 log in account holders, plus substantial framework teams from from CSC, BT, Computacenter, Fujitsu, HCL Axon, HP, IBM, Microsoft, O2, Oracle, SAP and Virgin Media.

IT staff currently employed: Around 700 within Information Management, plus substantial framework teams from CSC, BT, Computacenter, Fujitsu, HCL Axon, HP, IBM, Microsoft, O2, Oracle, SAP and Virgin Media.

Split between in-house/outsourced staff: TfL have a core compliment of 513 permanent colleagues, which is supplemented by 250 contract and fixed term colleagues based on business pipeline demand. In addition to this we have a number of outsourced support contracts.

IT management team and reporting structure: The IM leadership Team is made up of CIO, six direct reports, and three indirect reports:

  • Head of Service Management.
  • Head of Project Delivery.
  • Head of Infrastructure Services.
  • Head of Integration.
  • Head of Business Relationship Management.
  • Head of Performance and Compliance.

CIO also have several dotted line reports:

  • Head of ICT Commercial Procurement.
  • IM Finance manager.
  • HR business partner.

Primary technology platforms at the organisation: ERP, CCTV, real Time Information (RTI), Asset Management Systems, CRM, BI, P2P, Mobile technology and social media.

Primary technology suppliers: Our Strategic suppliers for IM are currently CSC, BT, Computacenter, Fujitsu, HCL Axon, HP, IBM, Microsoft, O2, Oracle, SAP and Virgin Media.

Significant strategic technology deals struck in the last 12 months: One of our biggest technology deals was when we appointed Virgin Media as the Principal Partner to supply broadband to the London Underground.

Major technology or transformation project recently completed and how did it transform operations, customer experience or the organisation: One of our most significant projects in the last year has been the planning, installation and delivery of WiFi to 72 city-centre stations on the historic London Underground in time for the London 2012 Olympics.

Installing WiFi in a network 200ft underground is one of the most challenging tasks in transport technology, but to undertake such a project on the world’s oldest underground system – much of it with Victorian infrastructure – is even more daunting.

The London Underground, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary, is also one of the busiest in the world, delivering 1.1 billion passenger journeys a year. This meant installation teams were limited to working only four hours a day when they had access to the network during “maintenance hours” in the early hours of the morning.

From day one since it was launched on June 7th, 2012 WiFi on the London Underground has been hugely popular with customers. The free service gives access to the latest real-time TfL travel information, social media, internet phone calls and all other internet applications.

When it was initially conceived, the project was proposed as a means of improving communication to station staff without them being tied to their desks. However it soon became clear that there was an overwhelming benefit for millions of customers.

The key deadline was the start of the 2012 Olympics and we wanted to firmly place London and its iconic Underground at the forefront of the digital age so visitors could keep up to date with all the latest news from the Olympic parks as they travelled to and from events.

Transport for London CIO was in overall charge of the project, putting London Underground in an elite group of underground transport systems in the world that have WiFi. It was one of many projects and initiatives undertaken by Transport for London to support the London Olympics 2012 in what is the biggest peacetime logistical challenge any city can face. The IM Directorate played a key role in keeping London moving through meticulous planning to encourage regular commuters to adjust their travel plans to reduce the risk of congestion.

Did the above project reach its cost, timing and transformation objective: The cost of the project was £20 million and it will give a full return on investment by 2017. In doing so it has created the first non-fare revenue stream for TfL Information Management Directorate.


The timeframe for the project was just four months from design to completion.

  • Designed – February (2012).
  • Built – April .
  • Tested – May.
  • Launched – June 2012

Transformation objectives: Our key objectives were to;

  • Ensure Olympics delivery. The project delivered great added value to the London Games with an ongoing legacy for the benefit of millions of customers.
  • Help deliver the Mayor of London’s goals. The project is a major milestone towards the London Mayor’s goal of making London one of the world’s most connected cities.
  • Boost customer service. The project is an outstanding example of the best customer service, transporting the world’s oldest underground to the forefront of the digital revolution.

Customers have had nothing but praise for the service which attracted new sign-ups at a rate of 10,000 a day during the Olympics.

As the public authority responsible for almost all forms of transport in London, we ultimately report to the London Mayor Boris Johnson.

His stated aim is to make London the “most digitally-covered and WiFi accessible city in Europe, if not the world.”

Customer Service. Our latest customer satisfaction surveys (July-Sept 2012) show we have achieved record high scores - about 10 percentage points above the average for public sector transport providers. The feelgood effect of WiFi on the London Underground has been an important factor in contributing to this.

Strategic aim of the CIO and IT operation for the next financial year: During the period of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, our IM Directorate delivered 99.8% critical system availability to TfL.

My strategic aim for the next year will be to build on the very successful support model we put in place for the Games.

With the increase and improvement of service levels we have achieved, my three-stage development approach (Stabilise, Consolidate, and Innovate,) is now evolving into it’s consolidate stage. With the increasing demands from business and the flexibility of changes within the industry, I am currently addressing the current desktop and looking to future proof it into an access portal across the estate, and creating an enhanced user experience for all.

Customer service is at the heart of every thing we do and the many innovations we have introduced are transforming our ability to meet customer demand and expectations.

An example of this is how I recently initiated a Run Better Programme which will work towards establishing a solid framework for the ongoing management of TfL’s ERP solution, addressing immediate tactical issues and putting in place a governance model, support agreement and vendor frameworks to plan, approve, and oversee ongoing change whilst driving efficiencies.

Looking forward I am spearheading a step change in the way TfL procures IM services, and I have recently initiated a strategic sourcing project – once again looking to leverage value for money from the marketplace. While looking to stabilise, consolidate and innovate our technology offerings, we are also playing a vital role in supporting to TfL’s efficiency savings. Mobile devices procured and configured to support TfL’s 4,000 Travel Ambassadors during the Games period are to be utilised throughout the business, providing mobile working options, allowing staff to spend more time supporting the transport services, rather than being desk bound.

In 2012 we won the Best Innovation award for the London Underground WiFi project at the Best Business Awards. This year we will be continuing the successful roll-out of underground station based WiFi, with the support of Virgin Media, creating non fares revenue, a first for IM. With over 60 million individual browsing sessions, this has given enhanced RTI (Real Time Information) to travelling customers – whilst also securing enhanced communication to station staff.

I envision that this technology in time could lead to remote monitoring of tube trains – identifying possible issues, and managing a train out of service prior to the fault developing, therefore enhancing our service offering to those travelling.

Technologies being considered to enable transformation: Our aim is to harness the very latest in transport and other technologies to improve our performance.

We recognise that consumer-IT will change how the transport industry operates. With the increased use of social media, TfL is keen to capitalise on this, offering RTI through applications such as Twitter and Facebook. Open source information released by TfL is already being utilised by numerous iPhone and Android applications to provide customers with real time tube and bus arrival/departure information.

Open standards and open data:

  • Getting data into the hands of the travelling public is crucial in enabling the customer to make better travel choices. Open standards such as HTML5 and open data initiatives such as Digital London and the London Data Store promise much for the future.

Sensor Networks:

  • Sensors which monitor every aspect of our operations promise to be the driving force behind the ‘smart city’ of the future.

Ubiquitous connectivity:

  • An always-online customer base represents a world of opportunity to TfL and will vastly improve our ability to keep customers informed and to keep London moving. The continued roll out of Wi-Fi to key stations post London 2012 will prove particularly important.

Big Data and data science:

  • TfL is a data driven company; and as the volumes of data available to us increase, our ability to translate what we gather into actionable insight will be crucial. An example of this is how we use Oyster card usage data and information gathered from Journey Planner enquiries to respond to travel demand.

IT/IS/Engineering convergence:

  • The worlds of ITS, engineering and IT/IM are being thrust together as both camps realise that there are significant benefits to be had from a joined up approach. The work we are doing today with our engineering and ITS colleagues (such as planning the future of the deep tube lines) will position us well for the future from a technology and a capability perspective.

CIO has been at the spearhead of technological transformation within TfL as we have transported the world’s oldest underground network to the very forefront of the digital age.

Leading transformation in an organisation that employs nearly 25,000 people means we do not have the same agility as a smaller organisation but my view is that the business model of an SME has many advantages that we can learn from and apply on a larger scale.

Transformational inspiration sources: I am in the very fortunate position where my “free hand idea” has gained support across the business. Run Better will transform our organisation driving efficiencies and new ways for work for our entire workforce of nearly 25,000.

Following a period of significant organisational change, Run Better takes the opportunity to step back and reassess TfL’s strategic objectives, ensuring that our business processes and technology effectively enable TfL’s four pillars: People, Value for Money, Delivery, and Customer. This assessment is achieved through a structured engagement approach, working with leadership across the business to understand the outcomes they are looking to drive, identify processes that require improvement, and designing projects to deliver the identified changes through a blend of business and technology enablers.

The first projects developed through this process focus on change to the ‘People’ and ‘Value for Money’ elements of the TfL Story. Through a blend of business and technology change, the ‘People Effectiveness’ project will focus on developing line manager capability to effectively support and develop their staff, recognising that its people are TfL’s most valuable asset. The ‘Integrated Planning’ project will deliver an integrated solution to capture business demand and improve TfL’s ability to manage its resources over the short, medium and long term, bridging the gap between business strategy and its execution and linking funds and business resources to desired business outcomes.

We benchmark our services against the best transport companies and authorities nationally and internationally, and we’re constantly seeking to find new ways to improve our offering to customers.  In recent years there have been many major advances in transport technology including developments in the monitoring and management of road traffic, and we have continued to invest in the very latest equipment to keep London moving – as was evident during the Olympics and Paralympics.

We are also inspired by new business models and lean approaches. Although not a technology per se, there’s a broad body of knowledge that large enterprises can learn from those being applied today in the world of start-ups. Methods such as lean, business model innovation, agile, user experience/design thinking, customer development and similar could provide significant rewards for large organisations such as TfL.