Steve Townsend is using technology for some big wins at TfL. Big data is particularly important, with recent plans include enabling passengers to see whether there will be a free seat on an approaching bus. And instead of vehicles being brought in once a week and serviced, regardless of whether they need it, condition data is being analysed to ensure maintenance schedules are maximised, making maintenance cheaper and more reliable. Data modelling is also being employed to advise on traffic light configuration across London, and the aim is to provide this information to the travelling public through real-time monitoring, offering advice on the best times/places to travel. Meanwhile the rollout of iPad minis to all staff on London Underground has made them greatly more visible, able to answer customer queries and to undertake operational tasks via a suite of bespoke apps.
Name and job title
Steve Townsend, Chief Information Officer, Transport for London.
How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
I have built strong relationships with the senior leadership teams across Transport for London. With a seat at the table with the managing director for rail, underground and surface transport, I am able to participate in regular reviews with the board to monitor the impact of technology, as well as hearing first-hand what customers may require in the future. As the TfL board sits at City Hall level, I work directly with TfL leadership as a technical adviser. In addition, I am in regular contact with TfL leadership and audit through briefings.
When the information management department was set up, it sat within finance. However, I believed that my team should be innovating directly for customers and therefore felt that finance wasn't the most suitable place for us. In 2015, my persistence paid off as my entire department was moved to the MD of customer experience and marketing – right at the heart of the customer.
How as CIO have you driven cultural and behaviour change in your organisation, and to what extent?
How many cities are made most famous by transport? From the iconic London red buses to the world's oldest underground network. As a result, TfL is possibly one of the most important facets of modern London, yet, until recently, it was often referred to internally as being 'stuck in the 18th century'. Since my appointment as CIO in 2011, I've been instrumental in bringing in technology to transform this old-fashioned and traditional business to ensure that we aren't just fit for the 21st century, but for the future. Thanks to technology solutions I have led on, employees' time has been freed up. This allows them to focus on helping our customers, as opposed to being hindered by administration and bureaucracy.
Experience has taught me that the thoughts and opinions of frontline employees are by far the most important and valuable of all. TfL employees are such a vital part of our solution that we're now phasing out archaic systems and processes by challenging the 'we've always done it this way' attitude. By harnessing technology to bring certain processes up-to-date, we are enabling culture change.
For example, the introduction of a tablet-based solution on London Underground is allowing staff to reduce the amount of time they need to spend in the back office and be 52% more visible to customers. This same solution has also democratised a lot of processes, empowering frontline staff to perform tasks that would previously have been the responsibility of managers. This in turn frees up managers to focus on improving the customer experience at their stations rather than getting bogged down in day-to-day admin.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the past 12 months and their impact on your organisation's company performance
The initiatives I have overseen in the past year are helping to deliver improved customer satisfaction. For example, by empowering agents to resolve customer queries and carry out operational tasks via a suite of bespoke apps on tablets, I have helped to enable the closure of ticket offices across the entire London Underground network. Now, rather than sitting behind glass panes (used by just 3% of customers to purchase tickets), agents are on hand to help customers at the machines, where they are most needed. As a result customer satisfaction is 2% higher at stations where ticket offices had been removed (now 83%), and mystery shopping results on staff helpfulness were 96% – up from 92% prior to ticket office closure. London Underground bosses say the programme will save £50m a year.
On my watch the IM department achieved a world first when it brought Wi-Fi underground. Our frontline staff can now access technology in ways they'd never been able to before – making 'fit for future' changes possible. The solution didn't stop there, however. Driven by a desire to improve passenger experience, I also led on allowing organisations such as EE, Vodafone and O2 to supply Wi-Fi services to the travelling public, not only increasing passenger satisfaction, but also introducing an additional revenue stream.
TfL is a very data-rich organisation. We therefore use data analysis across the organisation to provide insights that ultimately drive productivity and efficiency. For example:
- Improved timetabling: I oversaw the examination of maintenance-scheduling data from which we derived key insights that enabled improved timetabling and thus improved reliability. This ultimately improved customer satisfaction.
- Quicker accident detection: By analysing big data to understand traffic patterns surrounding accidents we are now able to proactively alter traffic flows around London rather than simply react to traffic hotspots.
Describe how you have used organisational and third-party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
We champion open data at TfL. Anything that we can make freely and publicly available, we do. This transparency enables us to harness third-party insights into our data. For example, as part of IM's ongoing engagement with the developer community, we held an urban traffic data hackathon on 14-15 November 2015 with Data Science London (DSL), the largest data science community in Europe.
The event gave my department the opportunity to engage directly with developers to work on creative and innovative solutions to the challenges presented by London's roads. We set challenges around three key areas:
- Best understanding of urban movement.
- Best approach to visualisation of urban movement.
- The most innovative use of data.
Teams were then given 24 hours to analyse more than two terabytes of data. The winning team for the best movement model demonstrated that traffic sensor data could pinpoint future delays by identifying road incidents faster than they currently get reported.
The award for best visualisation went to a team that moved the data onto open mapping. This offered a great opportunity for business information to be more open, and again was highly relevant to the challenges we face in helping drivers to plan and complete their journeys as painlessly as possible.
The award for best innovation was for analysis identifying when and from which stop/station you could catch a bus/tube with the best chance of getting a seat, based on location, date and time. The event was such a success (we plan to implement the winning suggestions) that my department has already received enquiries to repeat the exercise with other sets of data, to productionise hackathons as a service for other areas of the business.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
Our primary goal at TfL is to keep the capital working, growing and to make life in London better. This mission is supported by a strategy that sits in four clear pillars: value, delivery, customers and people. These principles cut across everything we do. As my department is responsible for technology (systems, real-time information, etc) that enables the organisation to function, it's essential that it is effectively organised and run.
This is achieved firstly by the way I have structured the department, with seven reporting lines sitting directly under me, including a dedicated role for business engagement, whose exclusive remit is to look at how technology and data can be harnessed to solve business problems, create opportunities and save money through engagement with the wider business. Secondly by my management approach, which is founded on:
- Empowering my team. I don't believe in micro-management; instead, I provide the vision and leadership, but allow the team to run with ideas and make suggestions as to how we can help realise the departmental, and ultimately business, vision.
- Encouraging integration with the wider business. When I joined, IM was quite a siloed function, but we are increasingly engaging with the wider business to see how technology can be used as a business enabler.
- Outsourcing where appropriate. This frees up the team's time to focus on where they can add the most value (usually at the strategic level). 88% of my team said: 'I understand how my work contributes to the success of TfL.'
Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
TfL does not have a separate digital strategy. It all comes under a single technology strategy, which I lead. This strategy includes:
- Harnessing insights provided by big data to empower both staff and passengers. Recent plans include enabling passengers to see, for example, whether there will be a free seat on an approaching bus.
- Using the latest technology to give staff the tools they need where they need them – whether that's helping customers with a query at a ticket machine, or reporting a fault on the track.
- Providing preventative, rather than reactive solutions.
Describe how you use and promote technology to redesign the processes, services and structures of your organisation to enable it to become more efficient and customer-focused
Promoting the use of technology in the transportation sector can be a challenge, not least because we are catering to a very diverse user base. For example, some of our frontline staff are tech-savvy enough to develop their own apps, while others have limited experience using even basic technology such as the internet and email. To overcome these challenges our approach is to involve the end users in creating the solutions, while also making it as easy as possible for them to adopt.
- Making IT solutions intuitive to use.
- Encouraging staff to familiarise themselves with new devices in their own time, by allowing personal use (each agent can use their iPad mini as a personal device as well, for example).
- Providing training and giving ongoing support to staff thanks to peer support (each station has their own tech advocate).
- Giving the opportunity for refresher courses on new technology.
Thanks to this approach, we have been able to successfully roll out a number of technology solutions, which are improving operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. Our approach has been so admired that we have received visits from New York and Boston Metros, as well as the Toronto rail company, which looked to our work on London Underground as a leading example of how to use technology effectively and how to get commitment from staff and unions on such projects.
How do you engage regularly with your organisation about your team and the role of technology in the organisation, and what impact is this having?
As mentioned, I strive to ensure every employee across TfL is able to voice their opinion and come forward with creative ideas. I regularly report back to staff on progress and developments – for example, through monthly Ask Steve sessions – our town hall-style discussions with staff. This not only allows people to see their ideas coming to fruition, it keeps new ideas flowing!
TfL is such a large organisation that in addition to general monthly updates, we deliver bespoke messages to staff focusing on whatever aspect of technology will particularly affect them. For example, in the case of the London Underground Fit For The Future project, we:
- Introduced a tech blog where we regularly update London Underground staff on the rollout of the digital aspects of the solution. This includes YouTube videos to really bring what's being done to life.
- Engaged with unions before, after and now during the rollout of the solution.
- Had station staff seconded to a tech project team as subject matter experts to get their input.
- Carried out a dry run at eight stations to test the solution, from which staff feedback was gathered and the solution amended accordingly.
How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
I personally use LinkedIn to connect with peers, post relevant news articles and keep abreast with latest developments through groups. In addition, I regularly speak with publications such as Information Age, TechWorld and Huffington Post.
Our digital blog features all the latest news and includes insights on a wide range of projects and updates for the TfL website. We also post blog articles on our other digital tools and resources, from social media to open data. This is a public forum, which enables comments and discussion from all.
How do you bring the organisation together to explore and discuss technology and its challenges and to develop stronger alignment of the technology function with the full business?
I bring the organisation together on the subject of technology by:
- Encouraging my own team to interact with the wider business. 78% of my team said they felt encouraged to collaborate with others outside of their team in our latest annual engagement survey.
- Working personally and directly with the wider leadership team to understand others' departmental challenges and wish lists.
- Using my links to City Hall and TfL leadership teams to keep tech high on the agenda.
- Getting grassroots employees involved in creating their own technology solutions through workshops, trialling solutions, ongoing feedback and encouraging them to become tech advocates – ie frontline staff, who have been given more in-depth training to enable them to support and help their colleagues.
Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management
I frequently attend various events across both technology and transport. Both sectors are continually changing, so I utilise worldwide expos for horizon-scanning to see what else is going on in the marketplace. Recent events include the Gartner Expo held last year. In addition I am a member on a number of CIO advisory boards, including Fujitsu and Oracle. I also encourage my team to keep abreast with industry updates by attending seminars and being part of community groups.
Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
There's a clear link between a diverse workforce and a stable, thriving team. I am committed to closing the gender gap and increasing the diversity of my team. I'm proud to say that two key positions within my leadership team are held by women, and I am an active member of 100 years of women in transport and was a judge at this year's Women in IT Awards.
As a business, we have specific equality outcomes which are reported on; the scheme focuses on creating a workforce that is representative of London's diverse communities. I also use this framework as guidance for how my department operates. In a recent survey, we saw a three percentage-point increase in members of my team believing that their workplace is free from discrimination, bullying and/or harassment.
In addition, I fully support membership of TfL's networking groups, which were put in place to:
- Help improve working life.
- Identify common workplace issues for the organisation to address.
- Provide a forum to share ideas and best practices.
- Provide information about opportunities for personal development.
- Meet in a safe, supportive environment and assist in shaping TfL's equality agenda.
Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
As a technical adviser to the TfL leadership team, I am able to continually explore and discuss the latest ideas and challenges with the board. Now that I am reporting to the customer experience and marketing MD, I am able work directly with the wider leadership team to understand their challenges and wish-lists. We work collaboratively to work out where technology could help them, be it something simple like creating electronic systems to replace manual logging, or something more complex like providing Wi-Fi to London Docklands.
Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills
I firmly believe that to have an effective team, you need to build one that works together and apply the correct skills at the right time. I am part of my employees' team and, in turn, they are part of mine. I don't operate with a task-driven style – I develop our objectives and plans through collaboration. I allow people to take initiative and run with their ideas, always ready to support and influence – but never controlling. This is also true of my relationships with colleagues across the organisation.
We have a very strong people development culture within TfL, including a university-level leadership programme for all directors and senior managers. I am continually reviewing skills within my team and identifying development opportunities (either through skills gaps or a change in the marketplace). I use training programmes as part of my team's development plans and aim to ensure each member of my team attends at least one course every year.
What new technologies are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with?
We are using more devices than ever before to capture and exchange information around travel. Consequently, the amount of raw data available to TfL is increasing exponentially, while the potential to distribute timely information (for example, sending alerts direct to citizens' phones in the event of a travel delay) is also increasing. To ensure we can effectively capitalise on these opportunities I have overseen the introduction of data hackathons, which are the perfect way to see what insights can be gleaned from this data and how we can use those insights.
The first data hackathon we ran was something completely new for us. It was the largest amount of cloud data we've ever provided to a team of external developers. We wanted to offer our data to people outside the transport industry to open our eyes to new possibilities, unrestricted by conventional thinking.
We work with all areas of the business to help them use technology to make improvements. For example, someone wanted to create a cycling simulator using gaming technology to test the various impacts on potential cycle lane improvements. We were able to help them create the infrastructure, meaning trials could go ahead without any risk.
How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach?
I believe in evaluating each decision on a case-by-case basis, weighing up:
The value that the wider marketplace can deliver – for example, we outsource our datacentre as it is more cost-efficient. Typically, we outsource commoditised services, which enables employees to focus on strategic areas where they can add the most value.
While we do use cloud services, this is predominantly restricted to low-risk areas and to those where a cloud approach can add the most value. For example, in 2015, we deployed SAP Hana's cloud service to help process the multimillion transactions we get daily from the streets, thereby further enhancing road space management.
We have a number of in-house developers, but before creating a project team to devise a solution, we will go to market to see if there is either an off-the-shelf product we can use as-is or modify to suit our purposes. As a result, we have what I would describe as a 'hybrid' environment, blending in-house and outsourced models to give the best solutions.
Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
The scale of TfL (the business employs just shy of 30,000 people, including over 1,000 IT staff, and supports numerous third parties and key partners) means it is not only imperative to keep up with the marketplace, we also have the resources to dedicate to this as well. We are fortunate to have a dedicated COO within IM, whose principal remit is to deliver value to the business by
- Constantly reassessing our existing vendor relationships (especially when coming up for renewal).
- Keeping up with developments in the wider marketplace.
Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
I believe in outsourcing where appropriate – that is to say where the marketplace can deliver greater value and a better service than we can internally. Predominantly this will be the case for commodity-based, repeatable services. Key suppliers include: Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, EMC, Fujitsu, ComputaCentre, Atos, Daisy Communications, Axon, AWS, Azzure and Google.
Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the last year and what they have enabled
In the past, our maintenance processes system was purely reactive. Vehicles would be brought in once a week and serviced, regardless of whether they needed it. Not only was this a drain on resources, it was also costing us more than it should. By using conditional monitoring data, we're able to analyse the data to ensure that we are maximising maintenance schedules, making it cheaper and more reliable, to the benefit of our customers and the bottom line.
In 2015, I oversaw the deployment of SAP Hana to help process the multimillion transactions that are made daily across the streets of the capital. This further enhances road space management, by enabling us to make decisions in real-time.
Staff on London Underground are now 52% more visible to customers thanks to our rollout of iPad minis to all staff, which they use to answer customer queries and to undertake operational tasks, via a suite of bespoke apps (rollout of the latter is ongoing, and is due to be completed by April 2016).
You only have to spend a day in London to notice that we're running out of tarmac. We're now using data to look at road space management to see how we can amend traffic flows across the capital. For example, we are using data modelling to advise on traffic light configuration in traffic cells right across London. In the future we aim to provide this information to the travelling public through real-time monitoring, giving advice on the best times/places to travel.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
We have struck the following deals, which provide the following business benefits:
- New service desk with Atos: a £1.5m saving in year one alone, which will be reinvested back into the business; improved, more efficient service; increased insight in terms of internal customer disruption; next-generation service management enabler.
- New deskside support with Computer Centre: £1.2m saving in 2015-16; provides us with greater scope to scale (for example, through operational demand); ongoing resource pool for project delivery in end-user computer space.
- New mobile deal with O2: £5m saving over the life of the contract; moved all TfL mobile estate to a fixed cost per phone; simplified billing and administration, allowing administration staff to focus on higher value work.
- New strategic frameworks: three strategic frameworks for reseller, integration and IT solution provide greater flexibility and efficiency; allow us to continue to select vendors competitively, as well as being able to get a good price but without the cost of going to a full tender each time; access to skills and capacity that we couldn't afford to keep in-house, both logistically and economically.
Rate how important your sources of innovative technology suppliers are
- Often use: analyst houses, CIO peers.
- Occasionally use: consultants, industry body.
- Of little importance: media.
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
How is cyber security led and discussed by senior management?
As part of my regular leadership team meetings.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What is the annual IT budget?
How much of your IT budget is capital and how much revenue?
60:40 opex to capex.
What is your budget's operational/development split?
How many users does your department supply services to?
More than 40,000.
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
How many employees are there in your IT team?
Are you increasing your headcount to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
Our outsourced services are not based on headcount; they are outcome-driven.