Interview: TfL CIO Ian Campbell shares his passion for IT as an enabler

Change is the motto of Transport for London's (TfL) new chief information officer Ian Campbell as he prepares his team in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games.

Change is the motto of Transport for London's (TfL) new chief information officer Ian Campbell as he prepares his team in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games.

In his first interview since joining TfL, Campbell tells Computer Weekly about his vision for TfL's 500-strong IT department, which is supported by a service budget of about £100m for 2010-11.

Since leaving a senior role with Royal Mail earlier this year (see CV box), Campbell has been "taking stock" of his division, run until recently by Phil Pavitt, now CIO at HMRC.

Pavitt was quoted in the past as saying that he brought "ego and passion" to the role, but Campbell wants to steer away from that management style. "I have left the ego at the door and doubled up the passion. I also bring a strong commitment to customer service - people rely on our services and everything I do has to support that," he says.

"You must not lose that focus on the service. If IT becomes a justification in its own right, then we have lost the plot. We have to always ensure that technology is an enabler."

CV: Ian Campbell 

Having studied economics with emphasis on systems analysis at the London School of Economics, Ian Campbell started his career in IT at Logica in the early 1980s as a graduate.

He had a stint at PA Consulting, working in large utilities privatisation projects. Then came telecoms firm Energis (now part of Cable & Wireless) before Campbell moved on to Citigroup, where he worked as chief operating officer.

He spent three years at British Energy, where he was strongly focused on customer services and steered away from the one-size-fits-all approach.

Royal Mail was Campbell's latest employer before he joined TfL earlier this year. At the postal service, he led the activities supporting a multimillion-pound IT transformation project alongside chief information officer Robin Dargue and former Transport for London IT chief Yvonne Ferguson.

Campbell says he is endorsing certain aspects of IT that he has inherited - such as a thin-client roll-out based on Neoware technology, now nearing completion - but he is ensuring that the organisation does not rush to centralise everything.

Similarly, he is not looking to make drastic changes to the organisation's systems portfolio, which TfL has customised over time.

"If I adopt the one-size-fits-all approach I will be very unsuccessful here. The front-end customisation we have added to our systems has to be there, or else there is a risk that the overall service will be compromised, though it might look cheaper on a budget line," he says.

Customer focus

Campbell describes TfL's new IT strategy as highly customer focused. He plans a string of customer-facing projects, such as the revamp of TfL's journey planner online tool. TfL is now redeveloping it at the Olympic committee's request to allow users to customise it, and access services through mobile phone apps (see innovation box).

"Mobile will play an important role in 2012 and we are already talking about 4G potential, so now is the time to start investing in those and come up with useful solutions for the public," says Campbell.

"And I will give you a hint that I am about to ban the old excuse 'I am sorry I can't speak to you [on the mobile] because I am going into a tunnel'. This will be a several-year programme led by our London Underground team."

The programme will be accompanied by a huge expansion in wireless access points across London.

"From an Olympics perspective, all the Greater London Authority (GLA) bodies are also looking at things such as linked-up networks that people can tap into at underground stations, bus shelters, anywhere - the idea of 'wireless London' is going to be huge for the games."

On the back-end, a recent success for TfL's IT was its implementation of SAP to underpin the operations of Crossrail, which will link Heathrow Airport, the West End, the City of London and Canary Wharf by 2017.

The project was hailed by the supplier as one of its "fastest and most effective implementations ever".

Shared services

Campbell also has big plans for TfL's strategic datacentre, a 1,500m2 facility based outside London and active since October 2009.

Transport for London IT strategy  
  • Strong customer-focused drive, with improvements planned for online tools and introduction of mobile applications and user networks.
  • Further development of the shared services approach, to be replicated in areas such as SAP expertise.
  • Supplier rationalisation and tighter service level agreements.
  • Ongoing expansion of in-house team prompted by a sharper insourcing focus.
  • Skills review currently taking place.
  • Realignment and empowerment of senior IT leadership.

The datacentre allows other organisations that are part of the GLA to run shared services and it will also be instrumental to TfL's plans to reduce its current number of datacentres from around 30 to two.

"As we move from local datacentres to the main facility we will be rationalising, virtualising and using internal cloud types of services," says Campbell. "There is no rush to do that, but they are in some buildings that we need, so there is a natural reason to come out of those. Also, disaster recovery needs to be in place and by moving [to the new datacentre] we can scale it up for ourselves and other people within the GLA."

The approach of sharing resources will continue under the new strategy, and TfL is looking at ways to let other agencies use some of its IT resource, such as its SAP centre of excellence.

Staff empowerment

Campbell says he is looking to rationalise its supplier base and do increasingly more in-house, though the move has caused some mixed reactions.

"There was a period of time when a lot of external people came in to do the change at TfL, apparently above our internal IT people. So when I said to my leadership team that we will change this, they waited for me to say who I planned to bring in to do it, but I said, 'the people sitting around this table are going to do it'," he says.

"They got nervous, but I said that these are the skills TfL has asked me to bring in and I will help them to do that. We have a learning and development team here and very good programmes for senior management. We will not incur the same classic error and cut those. Instead we will invest in our capability."

Campbell says he is in the process of looking at TfL's intellectual property and carrying out a "talent inventory" to define the skills needed. TfL has "more work than it can cope with", so the IT team will need to grow.

"For example, SAP expertise is paramount. We will be investing in upskilling people and I want all of that to be in-house. If the service is commoditised and there are providers which can supply it in a utility way, then why not do that?" he says.

Reskilling programme

Succession planning for TfL's IT leadership team is also part of Campbell's strategy to build on his internal capability. "Within my leadership team and the next layer down, they all need to be on a development plan that gives them the opportunity to progress. If not, they will go elsewhere, which would be a regrettable loss," he says.

Campbell says that the previous 24-month strategy to sort out the organisation's IT resulted in a lot of firefighting. "You reward people who have been working hard, but that is not sustainable, so I have to find out who is creating these fires," he says. "In a generic sense, poor system design causes firefighting, and poor project management rushed into the date is an arsonist."

The new IT operating model is about clarity and overall strategic objectives, and all staff will have smarter objectives, says Campbell.

"I am totally aligned [with the overall goals] and the only way I can achieve success is if the objectives of my team all the way down are met," he says.

Part of the reskilling programme will see TFL deploying standard techniques such as Cobit, Prince II and Itil, so TfL's project management is "as good and effective as anywhere else".

Campbell hopes that the staff empowerment he is trying to introduce will drive more accountability for outcomes, as well as improved focus and proactivity.

"At the same time, they never had that level of responsibility, because outside consultants have done it all for them," he says. "I have plenty of technologies to use, but my main worry is to get people in the right frame of mind to make that happen."

Budget retention

Despite increased pressure to reduce public sector IT spending, Campbell maintains that a budget reduction is not a real possibility.

"If CIOs are having their budgets cut, it is because they are not being forward-thinking enough and are reactive, because they think it is the right thing to do," he says. "During tough times you have to come up with the right initiatives, put your DNA on them and go for it."


Driving innovation 

Transport for London (TfL) CIO Ian Campbell is a keen supporter of using customer knowledge to drive innovation, particularly with mobile applications.

TfL is one of the organisations making public data available though the London Datastore, which was unveiled earlier this year as a repository of data that had been languishing in the deepest recesses of City Hall.

The move is already paying off. Mobile application developers are using the data to bring useful resources to the public, which include an application that shows the nearest pick-up and drop-off points for the cycle hire scheme that will be launched this summer, says Campbell.

"We did not spend anything on developing this app and therefore saved taxpayer money," he says, adding that TfL might have its own app store in future. "We have to run the services and I would also love to innovate - but why not tap into this [expertise]?"

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