Modernization drives cultural transformation for the Department for Transport
The National Public Transport Access Node (NaPTAN) dataset is the foundation of the UK’s public transport network. Across the country, local authorities upload data about the physical locations of their access nodes — such as bus stops and train stations — so that it can be downloaded by other stakeholders and used to power essential use cases like route planning and consumer apps such as Google and Apple Maps.
In the 20 years since the dataset was built, it had been modified to accommodate a wide range of new data types and work around restrictions, limiting what could be published and how the dataset had to be maintained. However, issues with the current schema led to accessibility and performance challenges for the system’s stakeholders. And as a result, NaPTAN was rapidly becoming unfit for purpose.
When the Department for Transport (DfT) retook responsibility for hosting NaPTAN in 2016, it knew that modernization was overdue. Shortly after, the team began exploring options to accelerate and optimize NaPTAN and bring it in line with modern standards — ensuring it was ready to deliver accessible and seamless user experiences for many years to come.
Bringing transport stakeholders together like never before
To plan and execute the NaPTAN modernization project, the DfT needed the right combination of public sector modernization expertise and experience aligning diverse and dispersed stakeholder teams — leading it to partner with Thoughtworks.
NaPTAN is used by a large ecosystem of stakeholders, including local authorities, bus operators, and even major tech companies. As a result, it had previously proven difficult to get everyone to engage with change and reach a consensus on exactly how the system should evolve. But early on in our engagement, the pandemic created a unique opportunity to get those groups to collaborate remotely, helping us:
Identify key value cases that the modernization project needed to deliver
Prioritize our work and solve the biggest and most pressing challenges first
Ensure that NaPTAN is set up to support and enable the goals of as many stakeholder groups as possible
Shifting to a future-ready foundation
While one team of Thoughtworkers focused on understanding stakeholder needs, another worked in tandem, building a technical proof of concept to help everyone reimagine how NaPTAN could look and operate.
After experimenting with several technical approaches, the core of the modernization project was scoped. NaPTAN would be migrated from its legacy database solution, into a flexible and future-ready cloud platform.
With public sector data to safeguard, security and compliance were also major areas of focus for the design team. The new NaPTAN infrastructure was built to deliver maximum availability, uptime and security, going through multiple rounds of GDS assessments to ensure it was ready and suitable for government use, and compliant with modern regulations.
Through close collaboration and regular stakeholder interviews, we were able to slowly increase appetite for change across the NaPTAN ecosystem — enabling rapid feedback-driven transformation.
Bringing new skills and practices to the DfT
At every stage of our journey together, Thoughtworkers collaborated closely with DfT, helping them build new teams to maintain the NaPTAN infrastructure, upskill those teams and build workflows around the modernized system.
By embedding agile ways of working across the organization, we helped ensure that as the needs of NaPTAN stakeholders continue to evolve, the NaPTAN system and teams will easily evolve and adapt alongside them. Now, the DfT team has all of the skills, capabilities and processes in place to prevent the system from reaching the state of complexity that it was in before the modernization.
Faster uploads, greater availability and more engaged stakeholders
For the DfT, the biggest milestone in their modernization journey was the moment we were able to turn off the old NaPTAN infrastructure, signifying the beginning of a new chapter for the service, and the UK’s public transport network. Today, they have a more stable, secure and flexible foundation in place — and it’s already delivering significant results for stakeholders.
Accelerated uploads also mean that data is more readily available for downloaders, improving the accessibility of data for teams across the public transport network and beyond.
But, across the entire project, one of the greatest results was that through a single modernization programme, the DfT has been able to completely transform the culture surrounding NaPTAN.
In the past, the system was poorly optimized and didn’t meet the needs of its key stakeholders. Today, we’ve helped create a new collaborative culture around the dataset. That culture is transforming NaPTAN into a truly user-focused system that’s aligned with today’s user and government needs, and will be able to evolve long into the future.