60-Second Interview: Nick Illsley, Chief Executive, Transport Direct
eGov monitor speaks to Nick Illsley about his experiences of heading one of the UK's most challenging and ambitious online government services, as well as future developments for the Transport Direct portal.
What were the main challenges in delivering Transport Direct and how did you manage them?
In order to offer all modes and all combinations of modes of transport, we needed to receive and process data from over one hundred sources. Each of these sources needed to agree to provide their data and also to make it available in common standards and formats. Failure to secure any major data feed would result in Transport Direct losing much of its unique proposition.
To meet this challenge and to secure buy-in from all the data suppliers, we embarked initially on a 'hearts and minds' exercise to ensure that the concept was understood and supported.
Transport Direct is, in reality, an enormous virtual team incorporating hundreds of organisations and individuals
Following this, detailed agreements were drawn up so that each party could plainly see what was expected and what could be expected from Transport Direct. This process will continue as new data sources are brought on board and new functionality is delivered by the portal.
What do you think was the most important factor that contributed to the project’s successful delivery – that is, what made it possible?
Building on the relationships we developed in securing buy-in to the concept, we set up a comprehensive governance structure that includes industry colleagues, local authorities, the devolved administrations and other interested parties. This has maintained their interest and commitment throughout the development, testing and launch phases and has enabled difficult issues to be tackled and resolved.
As a result, Transport Direct is, in reality, an enormous virtual team incorporating hundreds of organisations and individuals. This of course also includes the consortium, led by Atos Origin, who designed, built and operate the portal and all the technical suppliers to the individual data suppliers.
Delivery has only been possible due to the efforts of all the members of this virtual team, working together to deliver their individual contributions to the total team effort.
How will you measure the success of Transport Direct?
Primarily, the success of the service will be measured by the number of users and their satisfaction with the results that they obtain. We aim to have at least one million user sessions in the first year of operation, rising to 10 million by the end of next year. The initial signs are encouraging, with almost half a million sessions since the formal launch at the end of December.
We will also be trying to measure the effect that the information provided by the portal has on travel decisions, modal choice and awareness of real-time changes to plans. Ideally, the portal should encourage users to consider alternative modes of transport for certain journeys and also to raise the awareness of the effects of congestion on driving times.
Since launching at the beginning of the year, Transport Direct has received something of a mixed reception from the media. What’s your response to this?
Transport Direct has multiple data sources and is able to provide information for an almost infinite number of potential journey options. With this vast amount of data, a certain number of teething problems when the site first went live were inevitable.
It is impossible to check journey options between 30 million potential origins and destinations, so we need users of the portal to flag up any problems they may experience. We can then put these things right.
Our own analysis of user feedback shows positive reactions outweighing negative ones by 3:1. In my experience, it is rare to receive positive feedback and this trend gives us some confidence that the user perception is at odds with the media's.
We aim to have 10 million visitors by the end of next year
We are also encouraged by the rising trend of usage and by the results of our own testing, that shows relatively high levels of accuracy.
How do you intend to encourage more people to use Transport Direct?
We have just had a short burst of advertising support, mostly using on-line media, which has proved to be very successful.
We would envisage repeating this activity at reasonably regular intervals, and also linking with the marketing activity of our stakeholders and partners. In addition we are establishing links from key sites that are of mutual interest or that are used by our likely early adopters.
Over time we would also like the service to be available via complementary sites, such as Visit Britain, the NHS booking service and Directgov. If we can take transport information out of how to travel, and to link it with why people are travelling, we should be able to increase usage and user benefit significantly.
Finally, how do you see Transport Direct developing in the future?
In addition to the embedding of the service in complementary sites, we are currently working on the ability to access the information via other channels, initially PDAs and mobile devices, and also the ability to search by price. Further developments are planned to fully integrate car and public transport in a single journey, and to provide data on car parking, walking, cycling and to make mobility easier for travellers with disabilities.
Beyond this, I would like the future direction of development to be driven by users of the service, however possibilities could include geographical spread to Ireland and Europe, additional language support and further integration with real-time information.