I was finishing my postgraduate degree at the Harvard Kennedy School and was intrigued by a chance to work in London for the then newly-created Transport for London (TfL). I joined as a senior business planner helping to put together TfL’s first-ever business plan. I have since worked in a range of roles, including acting head of finance for London’s Transport Museum, chief of staff to the managing director of finance and planning, head of Oyster development, and head of analytics. These roles have allowed me to work on an amazing variety of projects, such as the launch of the contactless payment system across London’s transport network. Since working at TfL, I’ve seen how the use of data can improve the way we live our lives and it’s been exciting to be at the forefront of this with the transport network in London. From the early days of our Oyster card, I looked at how we could use data to answer questions about travel patterns that were previously unknowable. Over the past seven years, I’ve worked to grow a data team that can use analytical and software skills to take a range of data sources from our transport network to provide insight and services back to our customers and our operational teams. It’s been a phenomenal journey.
At the start of 2012, I became the head of analytics at TfL when we were preparing for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London. Heading up our analysis of travel patterns during the excitement of the Games was fantastic! We were able to identify patterns of travel during the Games, which guided our advice to customers so we could provide the best experience for all users. Despite what many naysayers expected, we provided stellar transport services during the Games that were widely complimented and were integral to the smooth running of the events. It was amazing to think we’d played our part in that.
Be bold in thinking about the opportunities for data. I had no idea how big the data field could be and how many types of challenges we could address with data when I started out. So, “don’t miss the opportunity to be visionary with data!” would be my advice.
All of us in the data world were, of course, preparing for the implementation of GDPR and so, in that respect, much of our attention was focused on this as we expected. The spirit behind this legislation - data privacy and transparency - is something that as a public authority we have always considered as fundamental. What I think all of us may have been surprised by was the way that these important issues and debates were brought to the forefront and covered on the front pages of news publications. Public scrutiny and conversations about data ethics are really important. We must, as an industry, uphold the trust our customers place in us and ensure that we all are taking our responsibilities seriously.
I expect that data is going to be even more embedded into new technology solutions and that this is going to accelerate rapidly with the development of further artificial intelligence tools. The challenge for us as an industry is to figure out how to apply this new technology to solve important societal problems and provide new services for people. As an industry, we must do this in a responsible way, focusing on ethics as we approach these new opportunities.
We are always looking at the best ways to attract and grow talent. We need people who are curious, creative, driven and have the desire to constantly learn, who also have and appreciate the importance of soft skills like communication. Having teams with a range of strengths is vital as the data industry and TfL need that in order to succeed. We are also encouraging people from different industry areas to join the sector and bring with them new thinking and fresh perspectives. It’s also important for us in the data world to highlight the challenges that there are to work on. We’re in such an exciting industry!
I’m optimistic about the potential for data to be presented in new ways to answer questions and tell evidenced-based stories about the world, so that people can better live their lives and understand how the world works. I’m excited to learn about how new developments in data science toolsets can be useful for us and to see how others are using new visualisation techniques in this ever-evolving industry.