Ian Campbell, chief information officer (CIO) at Transport for London (TfL), has had a long and distinguished career in IT that included spells in finance, education and energy before entering the public sector.
Campbell traces his passion for technology back to his time studying for an economics degree at the London School of Economics. It was, he says, a module on systems analysis that inspired him to enter the world of IT.
“It struck me that you could do a lot of problem solving through systems analysis in a very structured way. Suddenly this term ‘IT’ came up, and after considering and then rejecting a career in financial services, I took a job with Logica. I joined as a graduate and never looked back,” he says.
At Logica, Campbell worked on various projects, which he says gave him an understanding of what it means to be an IT leader. After his eight-year stint at the IT firm, Campbell moved to the City for a couple of years and worked as a trader, before moving over to PA Consulting Group, where he worked as a management consultant for a further eight years.
He says his time at PA Consulting gave him the management skills he needed for his first CIO role, at Citibank.
Keen to crack other sectors, he was CIO for a nuclear power station at British Energy before moving on to become a CIO at Royal Mail, and later for exam assessment organisation Cambridge Assessment, a part of Cambridge University.
With all this experience under his belt, he took on the role at TfL in March 2010.
“When I first joined, they said: ‘Ian, great to have you on board. What do you know about transport?’, and I said: ‘Nothing’. Their reaction wasn’t good, but I said: ‘That’s an advantage, isn’t it?’. And they thought about it and said: ‘Yes, actually it is; you’ve got no baggage and you look at it from a fresh perspective’.”
Being a complete novice was not new to Campbell. “I knew nothing about nuclear, nothing about Royal Mail and look at what we did with the changes there,” he says.
At Royal Mail, Campbell says his team improved IT processes and productivity, while at British Energy, the IT department implemented technology-enabling fail-proof testing procedures – imperative given the high-risk nature of running a nuclear power plant.
Campbell’s biggest priority is preparing London’s transport system for the 2012 Olympics. The event is expected to see a huge influx of tourists, with most relying on public transport to get them to their destination. This poses a big challenge for TfL’s IT department, which must prove to the rest of the world that London’s transport infrastructure can cope.
“London 2012 is undoubtedly huge and TfL has a big part to play in it running smoothly. As you can imagine, we’re expecting millions of people to come into London, so it will be vital to have TfL’s Journey Planner online tool available.”
He says smartphone apps will play a major role in keeping the public updated on transport issues. Thanks to the mayor Boris Johnson’s enthusiam for open data, TfL does not have to worry about developing apps in-house.
“There are lots of up-and-coming developers who are writing apps in no time at all. Why spend millions of pounds writing and maintaining them, when we can let these youngsters do that?” he asks.
Campbell reveals that TfL is also working with international firms, and giving them data to produce even more smartphone apps to make London accessible.
“These young developers and these international firms all want this data and they want to develop these apps, so Michael Gilbert, CTO at TfL, and I are interacting and collaborating with them. I have no doubt that over the coming years we will be providing more and more of such information, both static and real time.”
Another high-priority project at TfL is its shift to thin clients, which is nearing completion. TfL committed to moving the vast majority of its 28,000 workforce to thin-client terminals, away from standard desktops, long before Campbell’s arrival.
These thin-client terminals are supported by TfL’s own datacentre, which also supports shared services with other bodies, such as the police, fire service and the Greater London Authority (GLA).
“We can’t sell [datacentre resources] to commercial organisations, but in the GLA family we can do it on a cost basis, so they get total transparency and we’re not trying to make a return on it,” he says.