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How IT Fixed London's Traffic Woes

How IT Fixed London's Traffic Woes

Getting It Done

The project plan showed that some 300 years of effort would be required - effort that would have to be done in little over a year, if the project was to go live as planned. From the outset, Transport for London, advised by Deloitte, was determined that milestones would be rigorously monitored. "We had a statement of requirements that said: 'This will happen at this point in the process - now demonstrate it'," says Murray-Clark. "We'd decided early on that testing wasn't something that could be skimped - as problems were identified, they were ranked in order of priority, and fixed."

Capita had bid for three packages (image management, customer payments and the links to retailers), and it won them all. Transport for London, however, preferred to deal with one prime contractor, and so it awarded the company the task of managing the camera and communications parts of the project as well.

Far from complicating the task, selecting one company probably made it easier: Capita had decided at the outset that all the people working on the project - Capita personnel and subcontractors - would be physically located together in a single building in Coventry, in central England. "If you want a project to work well, it makes sense to bring all your team together - putting everybody together cuts out a lot of bureaucracy, time wasted through travelling, and means that the only videoconferencing we were doing was with the client, back in London," Pilling says.

The views of the subcontractors are hard to elicit. Essentially, Transport for London has banned them from speaking publicly about the charging scheme, a decision that insiders say is unlikely to ever be reversed. "It was a contractual decision that we made early on in the process," says Murray-Clark. "This was an extremely newsworthy project, and we needed to speak clearly and with a single voice."

But the subtext is also clear. Prime Minister Tony Blair has shown a mastery of public relations far ahead of his opponents. Livingstone wanted his administration controlling the spin on this project.

Delivery

As the days after February 17 showed, the news was of course good. In fact, it's hard to find a negative aspect to report - with the sole exception that because so many drivers have been deterred from entering central London, revenue may be below expectations. But for a project with the primary objective of reducing traffic rather than raising revenue, that hardly counts as a major failure.

Why did it work out so well? In addition to the attention paid to procurement and project management, Murray-Clark and Pilling point to a few other factors. First, scope creep was vigorously guarded against - with one of the few add-ons, in fact, being the option for motorists to pay tolls through the popular SMS text messaging format. Second, Capita's deliverables were spread out over a manageable time-scale, rather than concentrated toward the project's end. And third, notes Turner: "It simply wouldn't have happened without a strong political leadership and will."

Finally, adds Murray-Clark, "The trick was to not use any new technology - all the technology was proven. What had never been done before was to integrate it - and to do it on time and on budget."

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