Phil Pavitt is the chief information officer for Transport for London (TfL), managing the IT that supports London buses, the Underground, the Docklands Light Railway, Congestion Charge, London River Services, Victoria Coach Station and the London Transport Museum. In September, Pavitt will take on a new CIO role at HM Revenue and Customs.
Rosalie Marshall caught up with Pavitt at Gartner's recent Outsourcing and Services Summit to discuss his approach as a CIO.
V3.co.uk: How do you align IT to the business?
Phil Pavitt: I tend to feel my way through an organisation and try and get an idea of its history. In the first few weeks and months after I join, I spend my time understanding the key elements rather than creating numerous 20-page strategies. I have to get to the heartbeat of what an organisation thinks about. When I started at Transport for London (TfL) and the services were really broken, I could have talked about strategies like service-oriented architecture, but what the average user cares about is the time it takes to log on. You have to have the conversation where the business user is at.
So what was your understanding of TfL after being there a few
That most people were resigned to an OK IT system, and that a problem had to be pretty big to complain about it. But I had this tremendous desire to be successful. I told the customers that this system is not great, and I told my team that we had to be more customer-centric.
There were lots of problems that I don't think will surprise anyone, particularly in a public sector organisation. There were very little central processes with everyone building their own. The good news was that we had one of every single application in the world, while the bad news was that we didn't know this and we couldn't figure out what to do with them all.
How did you approach resolving these issues?
The problem was that all the processes worked independently but not very well. When you have 40 datacentres, 40 networks, 11,000 applications and 41 asset management systems, you begin to realise that no-one had figured out the horizontal bit. And, like quite a few organisations, all the verticals were task objective into their own vertical. This creates problems when you try and set the priority between saving a bus application from going down and an underground application going down.
About 52 per cent of TfL's IT spend did not go through central IT two years ago, and that was the degree of challenge we were facing. We also had an interesting support model. We were not an intelligent buyer. In fact, we outsourced most of our intelligence. We were heavily dominated by third-party players, particularly those from IT consultancies and those who had a vested interest. All these people were not sure of their long-term view of us as an organisation.
Now we are in the middle of a 24-month efficiency strategy that requires vision and confidence about where we are going. Before we started the strategy we focused on the main priority, which was the average customer just wanting the damn IT to work and that's it. Once you have earned the right to strategise, because it works, then go for it.
What kind of precautions did you take when centralising IT at
I don't like the term 'centralisation'. We build true shared services. In the old days IT departments centralised, de-centralised or federalised. Shared services are different; they are run through a central function and delivered locally. It's like the iPhone. Around 80 per cent of our applications are common, and the last 20 per cent is up to individual departments to personalise.
What I did find when I started at TfL was that there were quite a few unusual applications run on critical servers, but that were not treated as critical. Th ere tended to be only one version of each application, and the person who had designed it had left the business but staff did not want to see these applications taken away. I see it as evidence that, culturally, people do like IT more than they realise. It just means that as an IT manager you need to work harder and harder so that people come over to your side. Now 65 per cent of platforms across the organisation are common, and that is close to a miracle in a public sector organisation.
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