“Transport is about connecting communities, it’s about connecting youth to employment and it’s about connecting the elderly to a lifestyle. The opportunity that this presents is what gets me to work each day.”
Now in its sixth year under its current guise, Public Transport Victoria (PTV) is the operator that coordinates and promotes the transport infrastructure in Australia’s most densely populated state. PTV has changed a lot in a short time, so it’s great that SmartRail World was able to catch up with its chief information officer, Rishi Dutta, for the latest 5 Minutes With… to get to the bottom of where that change has come and where he suspects it will come in the future. Along with those insights, Rishi talks to Dave Songer about the billions of dollars being invested, the importance of putting communities front and centre and why he believes it's the very state he lives in that hosts the best rail journey.
Dave Songer (DS): Hi Rishi, it's great to be able to see how things are done in Australia. Can you tell me a little about PTV – such as the organisation’s remit, network and any new developments?
Rishi Dutta (RD): Absolutely, PTV is the statutory authority for Victorian’s public transport network and an advocate for public transport users. We are a single contact point for customers wanting information on public transport services, fares, tickets and initiatives. PTV aims to improve public transport in Victoria by ensuring better coordination between modes, facilitating expansions to the network, auditing public transport assets, promoting public transport as an alternative to the car. To put this in perspective, we have a hand in over half a billion trips across the public transport network annually; we facilitate 1.6 million trips a day; and we move hundreds of thousands of people around the state daily.
DS: What does your position of chief information officer there entail?
RD: Leading the public transport network towards information rich and digitally aware services for its customers, operators and community. The position oversees the maintenance and renewals (M&R) investment regime on information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) for Public Transport Victoria and its franchised operators. The M&R program is expected to invest $1.4 billion on IT and OT over the next seven years.
My role plays a key leadership role in harnessing public transport data sets to enable informed decision making across the jurisdiction, and I’m also accountable for uplifting information security across PTV and its franchised operators.
DS: You worked for IBM and Telstra before joining Public Transport Victoria. What have you found are the main differences between working for the government as opposed to multinational organisations?
RD: That’s a very good question. Although both public and private sectors face similar challenges, the main difference in government organisations is the need to put the communities needs at the centre of its decisions. Financial feasibility is key but it is not the leading evaluation criteria, which is usually the case in the private sector. The other key difference is the need to ‘cast the net wide’ when collaborating or leading change within the public sector. Typically most changes or improvements require a structured consultation phase, which extends the decision making timelines but ensures a fair and equitable outcome for all involved.
DS: What is the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced?
RD: Leading cultural change. In today’s world of ‘quick wins’, ‘agility’, ‘fail fast’ buzz words, driving culture change is by far the biggest challenge all leaders face. Leading a large technology function is much more about leading people. Technology leadership is a relatively easier task.
DS: What do you like about being directly involved in the rail/transport industry?
RD: A sense of fulfilment and pride in being able to influence change that can and will provide enduring benefits to current and future passengers. Transport is about connecting communities, it’s about connecting youth to employment and it’s about connecting the elderly to a lifestyle. The opportunity that this presents is what gets me to work each day.
DS: You've been with PTV nearly since day one, what’s changed in your time there?
RD: PTV is a relatively young organisation and recently celebrated its sixth birthday. Reflecting on the last five years, PTV has matured its narrative and brand within transport and established itself as a leader in driving the public transport agenda for its staff, passengers and community. The expectation of my role continues to evolve. CIO’s are now seen as a partner jointly driving efficiencies as opposed to a cost centre/engine room for IT services. Data and information are seen as organisational assets and this has introduced a more rigorously secure cyber process.
DS: From a digital/tech perspective, what do you think will be the big changes over the next five to 10 years?
RD: Technologies such as blockchain will become mainstream and the whole cryptocurrency world will continue to gain momentum. Closer to home, the transport sector will be significantly disrupted and we will see autonomous vehicles and mobility as a service offerings becoming economically and environmentally viable. I predict that the passenger of the future will have a lot more choice when it comes to personalised and agile mobility… that's really something they can look forward to!
DS: You’re due to speak at SmartMetro in October – what do you think you’ll cover?
RD: I am looking forward to sharing my experiences on how we are harnessing public sector data sets to enable informed decision making.
DS: Finally, what’s your favourite rail journey and why?
RD: Although I have experienced metro-style rail across multiple international cities, my favourite rail journey has to be a recent trip to the town of Shepparton in northern Victoria. The V/Line coach took us through beautiful Victorian countryside but the most rewarding aspect for me was seeing the transport narrative of ‘connecting communities’ coming together.
DS: Fantastic, it’s been great meeting you Rishi. See you at SmartMetro!
For a more detailed look at what will be happening at this year's SmartMetro, and to see who will be speaking at this three-day event, visit the show website.
If you enjoyed this interview with Thomas, why not check out the last edition with Thomas Joindot, chief technical officer at SNCF Réseau