Transport for London (TfL) is probably the most visible public sector organisation in the capital. As Londoners commute to work daily via underground, rail or buses, it is hard to avoid the outcome of decisions made by those in senior management at the transport giant.
Steve Townsend (pictured right), chief information officer, is one of the most influential figures at TfL and is responsible for ensuring its operations run as smoothly as possible day in, day out, internally and externally. Townsend's responsibilities are varied: one minute he analyses data to see how many tube trains TfL can run per hour, the next he develops a strategy to ensure all staff are equipped with the right technology to do their job as efficiently as possible.
Eager to find out how Townsend will keep doing this in the ever-changing world of IT, V3 sat down with him to have a chat about his future plans.
Townsend began his current position in January 2012, during TfL's largest IT transformation programme to date: Project Horizon. The project completed earlier this year and was intended to save TfL 20 percent in support service costs, as well as creating billions of pounds worth of efficiency savings .
Townsend listed the project as a success but said he is not happy to stop there and has begun working to create a "persona-based technology" programme. "This is something we are moving towards – an end user computer programme, which will use different technology to support people in the organisation, according to their job function. So there are six to eight different personas within the organisation, like maintenance, revenue control inspectors and IT engineers. The IT will then fit around them," explained Townsend.
Townsend said the pilot programme for this persona-based technology is currently running and will be completed by the end of this year, with the aim of deploying it across the whole of TfL from the beginning of 2014.
As part of this new persona programme, Townsend suggested that TfL will become faster at updating systems. Currently the organisation is a Microsoft house, but this will soon change to a system of constant updates, as well as an environment that includes Apple products. He said the move is essential as Windows XP is no longer suitable for business use.
"We used to do desktop refreshes every five years, hence why we are now in an XP environment, but we need to move to a constant wave of refreshes. The IT industry is moving so fast and the latest browser editions don't really sit well with Windows XP," said Townsend.
Townsend's comments come just months before Microsoft is due to officially cut support for its decade-old Windows XP operating system, on 8 April 2014.
Looking to the future, Townsend said while Windows 8 is on the cards, it won't be any time soon. "Windows 8 is in our sights but it is relatively new. We are not a bleeding-edge test bed for technology and want to see Windows 8 deployed across the industry first so we can learn from mistakes."
"[Early on] those staff who are being given access to new Windows desktops will be moved to Windows 7."
Under the persona programme, Apple devices will be given to staff if there is a business case for use. Currently TfL does not support Apple products. "Personally I have always been an Apple man. I've owned Macs for 10 years or more, not just since it's got trendy," added Townsend.
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