Transport for London CIO says travellers are top priority

To write a successful book you need a central theme. A theme runs from beginning to end clearly communicating a set of ideas to the reader. As long as you have one the reader is constantly engaged.

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Phil Pavitt, CIO of Transport for London (TfL), has a central theme and he doesn't want you to forget it. That theme is the customer. One year into the role, Pavitt believes he and his team have made significant improvements to TfL and he has a vision of what a CIO and their team can achieve that goes beyond what most people believe a public organization is capable of.

"Everything we do here is about the customer," Pavitt states. It is not a quick appeasement for marketing or PR types, customer focus is the Pavitt model to being a CIO and he has used it to great effect at every organization he has been with. The reason being? "Customer-centricity answers most questions posed."

Since joining TfL Pavitt has focused on customer group number one, the TfL employee. "Once that is right the focus is on the real Londoner experience, which will coincide with [the Olympics in] 2012," he says of part two of his customer focus. Since joining he has remodelled his team to be customer-centric in their thinking and drastically reduced the number of consultants working at TfL, who he points out are not customer-oriented people.

To achieve customer satisfaction for both employees and travellers, he intends to use the same technology, for example tracking systems that alert TfL staff where a bus is on its route will also be used to alert passengers.

Team effort

Pavitt talks of his team constantly and not only those who followed him to TfL's Victoria Street HQ from the private sector. He is just as enthusiastic about the talent pool he inherited. "I rely on the people around me," he says.

Talking with Pavitt, you sense he relishes not just a challenge, but challenging people. Orthodox views are few and far between and no one is spared the challenge. Vendors have had their "green IT" marketing messages and enterprise pricing models questioned. CIOs as a group of people are certainly not placed on a dais, nor is typical management speak of sporting analogies sprayed about like winners' champagne. "I find them insulting, and I'm football mad," he says in his rapid-fire conversation.

The role of a CIO to Pavitt is not about being a leading striker, it is about people and leadership. "There was decision constipation here," he says of his arrival and how his methods are about empowering people to make decisions based on what the customer needs and a clear strategy. He says he brings "ego and passion to the role", and then finds advocates for what he believes in and people who will support his theme - the customer.

It is easy to see how he builds loyal and successful teams up. At first his abrasive focused attitude takes you back, but as conversation unfolds you realize that he knows his own mind and much of what he stresses makes sense. He is also old and wise enough to have tried and tested what he says. There is also considerable self-belief, something he says he got from his first job as a BT debt collector in London.

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