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On solid ground

Divina Paredes | Aug. 13, 2013
Craig Soutar of the New Zealand Transport Agency talks about the CIO’s 'balancing act' of simultaneously leading through a growing ICT portfolio and delivering core services.

The process started in 2008, when the only way to address the end of life registers on the Unisys mainframe was to start from scratch. A business case was drawn up for $70 million dollars. However with the global financial crisis, a new incoming government and a lowered risk appetite for projects of that size, NZTA had to go back to the drawing board.

"We looked at eight options and did further due diligence including a detailed discovery and analysis," says Soutar on one particular option. The assessment became a "dynamic process of being able to look into the future and what we needed our systems to look like".

Once they chose the option, "We backed ourselves to do it including choosing the best partners to do it with."

The team also researched which agencies around the world had completed a similar migration. They found none, just agencies that had started and were unsuccessful, and those who had not yet completed the project.

Soutar and the IS management team talked to the leaders of these agencies and asked what they would have done differently. "We learned a lot."

Such openness among peers is one of the good things in government, he states. "In the state and public sector, I have many wonderful peers to learn from and share with. When I was in the bank, all I had was a peer in Australia and two in New Zealand. Whereas at NZTA, I have got at least 70 peers in New Zealand."

He says he can also talk to government CIOs in other parts of the world to discuss opportunities, issues, and problems. "You don't feel alone."

There were other major challenges they faced as they rolled out the project: a change in business leadership and significant scope change.

"Many of us stepped up into our roles in the interim to drive the programme, not only from an IT perspective, but also from a business perspective, when four top roles in the organisation were changed. That just goes to show if you understand the business well or you want to understand the business well, that is possible."

Another lesson from the migration is scope management. Scope change is inevitable in large projects, he says. The ICT team may lose the faith and feel the frustration of the business if they "freeze the scope" or lock down systems for an extended period.

This is true across sectors, whether it is a legislative driven business or a customer driven business. "Business can't stand still these days," says Soutar. "If we were going to put a change freeze, we would lose the support of our business. We have to provision for the opportunity to be responsive with mutual understanding there will be risks."


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