TFL’s CIO on IoT and Big Data

Thinking Highways
By Thinking Highways March 17, 2016 11:38

TFL’s CIO on IoT and Big Data


Townsend explains how ‘customer experience’ has meant he has had to change his reporting line and investigate the use of IoT

 ‘Customer experience’ is the main theme mentioned time and again by Transport for London CIO Steve Townsend throughout an interview at TfL’s offices in Victoria, London.

So important is customer experience, in fact, that TfL has restructured the way it works.

“Believe it or not, in the last 12 months through me speaking to our commissioner [Mike Brown], we’ve moved from reporting to the CFO [Ian Nunn] to reporting to the MD of customer experience, marketing and communications [Vernon Everitt],” he said.

Townsend claims that the move has come about because of a general change in the role of marketeers, stating that they have become more focused on controlling customer experience.

“I think they are changing into customer interface people; they control customer experience and I think IT departments would be unwise not to align themselves to that way of thinking,” he says.

“It has always been about the customer; traditional IT teams have [reported] into finance because they’re controlling the numbers and you have to be able to retain [some of] that, but the focus should be on the number one thing and that is people,” he adds.

Though Townsend suggests that the move to report to the marketing chief was already well on its way before it was made official in November last year, he still said it was a “huge shift”.

“It allows us to completely rethink where we’re serving technology, how it’s utilised and what it means – the way we talk about technology has completely changed,” he says.

By this, Townsend says organisation has taken steps to better empower its employees to use technology as well as raising awareness of the customer-employee relationship – areas which he feels are better suited to marketing than to finance.

“I’m not saying IT departments that are in financial teams can’t do that, I just think it’s slightly easier to think about the customer when you actually live in the department that is the heartbeat of the organisation,” he says.

“So there are no barriers of understanding who you are, which enables you to get on with the job of solving problems for your organisation.”

And Townsend believes the shift shows that TfL recognises a need to continue to reinvent itself in order to meet London’s demands.

So does part of that shift include the introduction of a Chief Digital Officer?

Not necessarily, according to Townsend, as he believes it is up to the CIO and organisation to change the way IT projects operate.

“I don’t think you necessarily need a CDO. I think you need a different and alternative way of thinking,” he says.

He explains that this doesn’t mean that CIOs should completely throw out the expert knowledge they have on delivering change through waterfall methods of high-level design and low-level design – particularly when it comes to controlling financial and security processes, but they shouldn’t stick to their laurels either; they need to do more to ensure they aren’t replaced by CDOs.

“Organisations require more agility – waterfall just doesn’t work in the fast-moving technology world,” he says.

This is why he believes people are tempted to use new job titles and roles such as ‘CDO’ or ‘digital transformation expert’, just to ensure that the people in those roles are thinking differently to those that may have preceded them.

Thinking Highways
By Thinking Highways March 17, 2016 11:38