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How Transport Systems Catapult IT Director Alex Farr and his team add value, helping businesses transform and grow

Matt Egan | March 10, 2017
We find out about the ups and downs of Alex Farr's career in IT.

Farr has 25 staff in total, in an organisation of around 160. He is keenly focused on creating an optimal business structure so that his department adds value, as well as keeping the lights on.

"The dev ops team is something that I developed recently," he says. "The way the business used to work was that we had this resource pool, so when we worked with SMEs on certain projects we could pull people from this pool to help on that project whether that be technical people, project people, whatever it may be there was a pool.

"They decided to separate it into business units, and to look at specific areas within in terms of mobility, so we had an M&V team that looked at modelling and visualisation, and VR, AR, all that type of stuff.

"We have a customer experience team, a data team, which we call information exportation which is looking at modelling data and using it in clever ways, and then our autonomous team that are looking at the driverless cars, and stuff like that.

"Each of those units has a mixture of project people, and technical people, and there was no consistency. We weren't sharing knowledge or insight. We wanted to stop working in siloes, fighting fires, and start making things better. So we developed a virtual devops team.

"The developers report to their business unit leaders with dotted lines into IT, and we get a certain amount of time each month to get together, and really decide how we code, how we store, and how can we work closer together across the business units.

"It helps me to understand each business unit's agenda. Where their pinch points are, where their pain points are, what's on the horizon."

This is beginning to bear fruit, as Farr's department is now becoming a contributing business unit all of its own. "We're working on something we've named Value Through Data," he says.

"There's loads of data silos in transport. We all get on a train, and then a tube, and then in a taxi, and none of it's joined up. You have a separate ticket for everything and the behaviours and everything that goes in between is disjointed.

"We want to develop a platform which pulls in all these data sets and gives people the tools to be able to manipulate that data, join it up, and model that data in a way that suits their organisation. And we're going to commercialise this. We'll build this platform, open it up for universities and small organisations that have the knowledge to be able to use the data."

The project is fascinating. The motivation behind it will be familiar to any aspiring digital leader.


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