Target: Beat Murphy's Law

Target: Beat Murphy's Law

When the New Zealand Transport Agency embarked on its business transformation programme, CIO Craig Soutar took two major decisions.

First, he says he was "passionate" about the business owning the programme all the way through. Second, he was adamant it should take no longer than 18 months.

"We set a stretch target of 15 months and did it in 16 months," he says. "If you run for longer [than that], people get bored."

The project approach, he says, had plans for "Murphy", as in Murphy's Law, the old adage that says, 'anything that can go wrong will go wrong'.

There were more than 100 people working directly on the project, which was the biggest the transport agency has undertaken since new driver licences were introduced in 1989.

"We started in 2006, looking internationally at the best option to develop a new system from scratch," says Soutar of the programme, which was named Project of the Year at the recent ITEX Computerworld awards.

The global financial meltdown in 2008 brought that process to a halt, but NZTA still faced the risk that in 2014 the Unisys mainframe would become unsupported.

Related stories:

" NZ Transport Agency is number 55 in the 2012 MIS100 report on the top ICT using organisations in New Zealand.


The process was initially led by our business but three months after the business case was approved, the organisation lost all four of the staff dedicated to the project because of restructuring. It had to bring new people on board, and during that transition the project was led by IT.

Soutar says eight options to replace the mainframe were looked at.

NZTA decided to stay with Unisys. "They hadn't been doing that well [as a company] and we were confident they would support us to the hilt and use us as a reference site for the future."

The project had become increasingly complex, with changes to road user charges. "We had to develop in Linc and .NET in parallel."

NZTA handles one million transactions a day -- up there with the banks -- and connects to 680 organisations daily. The project required the migration of more than 1.7 billion driver and vehicle records -- "that takes a hell of a lot of doing" -- and they were just the second such organisation in the world to do so. The other, was the Ohio Department of Public Safety, in the US, who migrated in late 2011.

As part of the modernisation programme, Unisys migrated the department's driver licence and motor vehicle registries to a Windows-based Unisys ES7000 and ES3000 platform running Unisys Agile Business Suite. The migration effort also involved almost 350 database tables, 500 reports, 65 APIs and around 700 green screens.

NZTA used Unisys' Application Advisory Services to define a mission-critical roadmap for enhancing its software platforms. This included identifying the issues, risks, objectives, guiding principles and expectations of NZTA, as well as assessing the current business and technology capabilities and defining the ideal future state of the business and its supporting technology.

NZTA estimates it has saved more than $70 million through the modernisation effort compared to the cost of replacing the registry systems. Avoiding the mainframe upgrade alone saved $2 million, says Soutar.

The project cost will be recovered in the next two years.

"Modernising our existing systems by migrating them on to a Windows platform has reduced system complexity to aid faster response to legislative changes as well as providing the opportunity to develop new online and mobile channels to engage with customers," he says.

Several mobile applications are being developed, and these will allow drivers to pay tolls and road user charges using their mobile devices.

The Business Continuity Programme relates specifically to the migration to the Wintel platform. Longer-term plans are to continue to modernise service delivery, while optimising business processes and delivering legislative change programmes in parallel.

"We achieved our business transformation without the need to completely rip out and replace our systems, and continued to deliver services to our customers in the process," says Soutar.

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