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Lessons in transformation

Lessons in transformation

Roger Jones of the recently-formed Auckland Transport discusses the successful melding of existing systems with new services.

As Auckland Council is defending its decision to spend $54 million on a new SAP ERP system, one of its constituent council-controlled organisations, Auckland Transport, has achieved significant cost savings by reconfiguring systems from the existing councils to meet the IT needs of the ‘supercity’. “We took bits from everything. We tried to draw as much of the technology and IP out of the old councils as we could,” says IT and business systems manager Roger Jones.

Auckland Transport was formed on the same date as Auckland Council by the merger of the transport functions of seven legacy councils, Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) and Auckland Regional Council (ARC).

“It’s the amalgamation of the people, processes and systems, that were involved in supporting transport activities; roads, public transport, transport planning and community transport initiatives such as walking school buses and cycling,” says Jones.

“Approximately 12 months prior to 1 November we were tasked to come up with some plans about how we would establish a new transport agency and what the technology landscape might look like. In essence that was a minimum set of requirements for day one that would allow users to work; including email, file servers, a financial system that would manage accounts payable and receivable and the human resources functions.”

Auckland Transport used an existing SAP ERP system operated by ARC/ARTA as the basis of its financial system, which was copied and reconfigured by a specialist SAP team in New Delhi.

“SAP has a Mergers and Acquisitions team that operates on a worldwide level, so we used that team’s expertise to figure out how we could take the ARC/ARTA instance and create a new company instance,” says Jones. “The main change was the GL [general ledger] code structure, which they are quite familiar with doing. By using Mergers and Acquisitions we lowered the risk to the project and to SAP.”

Meanwhile, Auckland Transport’s websites, both internet and intranet, were based on the North Shore City Council websites, while a new parking back-end system was based on an existing application running at Auckland City Council.

Auckland Transport needed a single, whole-of-council parking system due to a legislative requirement. “From 1 November, tickets could only be issued by Auckland Transport and the courts could only accept a file from one agency,” says Jones.

The migration to the new parking system, dubbed Project Arizona, was complicated by the fact three of the eight legacy councils shared a common system, though with different data structures, while the others were completely disparate.

“This meant we had to do a lot of data cleansing and testing before the system would work,” says Jones.

Eight months after its formation, Jones says Auckland Transport has rationalised more than 100 applications that are running on a single TelstraClear datacentre in Albany. But there is still some consolidation work to do in the areas of planning tools, road maintenance and public request for service systems.

“We started with 600 applications on the ‘landscape list’ but many of these were duplicates, from Visio right through to SAP. We are now down to 18 applications that we have yet to migrate, mainly because they won’t run on Windows 7.”

Auckland Transport’s IT staff consists of 74 full-time employees, backed up with 24 contractors, of which half are engaged on project work, while the rest are providing skill sets in areas where full time employees have yet to be recruited.

During the transition period Auckland Transport’s IT department has also had to accommodate several “business as usual” projects, including an ongoing integrated bus-rail ticketing roll out, and providing support for the Rugby World Cup later this year.

One of the lessons Jones has learned during the transition period has been not to underestimate the skills and training demands that new systems can incur. This became evident when Auckland Transport decided to standardise on SharePoint as a document management system, rather than continue with the various systems in use at each council.

While the document management system is now up and running, with around 300 document libraries, Jones admits that a lack of staff skilled in SharePoint “caused some problems to the business” in the early stages.

“We decided to take the hit, but we were never going to get a full complement of staff from day one, we were missing some key skill-sets which for any IT organisation are sometimes hard to fill.”

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