by Divina Paredes

CIO50 2019 #5: Roger Jones, Auckland Transport

Mar 28, 2019
APIsArtificial IntelligenceAugmented Reality

The Business Technology (BT) team launched the Customer Central (CC) programme in 2016, to define the structures, processes and resources required for digital success at Auckland Transport.

At the same time, says Roger Jones, executive general manager technology at Auckland Transport, the BT team wants to ensure that they are engaging with customers on any of the changes ahead.

“We wanted to test if AT could change our way of working and take advantage of the rewards that leading experts had suggested come with digital transformation and adopting agile processes,” says Jones.

“We wanted to improve AT’s operational efficiency and increase cross-functional collaboration, by disrupting and changing our traditional way of working.”

Over the past two years, BT, through Customer Central, has delivered a raft of innovative solutions using cloud and other disruptive technologies following a more agile way of working.

Jones says today, their approach to deliver fit-for-use and fit-for-purpose solutions has become the norm at Auckland Transport, and is now used in over 30 per cent of their projects.

Thus, he supported the transition of the Customer Central unit back into the business.

“CC is now part of our new Customer Experience division, rather than remaining in BT,” says Jones.

He explains the business technology team continues to partner with and deliver tech-enabled solutions for and with CC.

But pushing this function back to the organisation sends a clear message, says Jones. “We want to avoid any misconception that AT is technology-driven rather than customer driven.”

Today, says Jones, changes in technology-based programmes across the agency are rapid and constant.

“Our biggest challenges are, therefore, to stay mindful of and maintain our current status quo of being ‘enablers’ to the business whilst facing and evolving through ongoing changehellip; a challenge that both I welcome and embrace.”

Tech and the city

Jones shares a ready list of projects they have implemented over the past two years that are testament to the impact of their new way of working.

The Whangaparaoa Dynamic Lanes project implements an innovative ‘tidal-flow-system’ which uses technology to dynamically turn the flush median between two traffics lanes into a third lane, to double the capacity in one direction when needed. Travel times have been reduced. AT has identified six other sites that could benefit from this solution.

He says BT’s CCTV and Video Analytics programme assists network management by providing real-time congestion alerts, monitoring special vehicle lanes, detecting pedestrian and cyclist demands, and enabling faster incident detection.

He says another project called ‘Things That Move’ developed a machine learning model that assists with ferry and bus disruption management. It predicts ferry service estimated arrival times, and makes downstream decisions such as whether to hold a connecting bus when a ferry service is delayed.

Real-Time Information, meanwhile, shares with customers via a range of channels, including AT’s Real-Time board, and mobile applications such as AT Mobile and AT Park. The AT mobile app has been downloaded nearly 400,000 times, more than double from the previous year.

Jones says the revised AT Mobile application makes it easier to move around Auckland as it allows customers to plan and track passenger journeys using a smartphone.

AT’s Command Centre now makes real-time passenger transport information available to the contact centre operators. This allows them to answer customer queries as they arise, rather than providing delayed responses.

He explains how they are using data for behavioural change.

A trial was run last year on Onewa Road in the North Shore to promote the use of bus services and ridesharing or shift commuters to travel off peak.

AT provided real-time information on how long it will take them to reach the city, by car or by bus. The road signs also indicated how long it will take them if they had left an hour later, and if they leave an hour later.

At the end of the Onewa Road trial, 10 per cent of commuters who saw the signs altered their journeys, he says. Bus patronage rose by 3.5 per cent and journeys on the Peak T1 was reduced by four per cent.

He estimates the AT digital initiatives, including the AT mobile, bring in $14 to $24 million dollars in benefit per year.

These figures are based on customers optimising their journey, lower call volumes with the contact centre while increasing customer satisfaction, and reducing waste across the system.

Jones says all these changes have created a culture where change is ongoing and positive acceptance of the change is widespread.

“Staff are encouraged to be innovative and courageous, without fear of getting things wrong,” he says. “We like to trial new solutions quickly to understand if the intended benefits can be realised. If not, we learn from our failures fast.”

Jones says this attitude, combined with BT communicating the ongoing success of the new approach (they share metrics on service improvements, higher customer satisfaction, and more timely delivery) has led to internal customers embracing these changes, and joining in this new way of working.

Iterative, continual learning

BT now creates technology solutions using an iterative approach in close consultation with our customers, he says.

Minimum viable products are developed and evolved collaboratively. Project delivery teams have adapted well to the changes, as have management.

“Changing to a ‘Culture of Value’ has helped drive a sense of ownership for product owners and teams, and given them freedom to be creative in how they deliver value. As expected, there have been some failures, but we actively promote these as learning opportunities,” says Jones.

Staff continue to be on a learning curve because of the way that the BT Team operates and delivers. The use of new digital methods has given team members a new perspective on working more efficiently and effectively.

It has also helped break down multiple silos within AT’s structure and promoted cross-functional teams.

Working this way has seen a decrease in traditional project delivery methods from 70 per cent to 30 per cent with a corresponding increase using agile from 5 per cent to 50 per cent.

Jones says AT provides opportunities for full-time staff to boost their knowledge and skills.

AT also supports employees undertaking tertiary study, and funds industry specific certifications such as Prince2, Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) and Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).

The organisation started over a year ago an early career programme that aimed to grow talent internally.

The programme has takes in over 20 graduates from a different cultures and backgrounds each year, and provides them with opportunities to develop skills and capabilities. Jones says five of these graduates are now working in his team.

BT has developed a learning management system, which allows staff to register for internal courses that cover a range of relevant and useful topics such as leadership, technology, and customer service.

Any AT employee can request a flexible work arrangement as there are numerous benefits, including increasing a sense of wellbeing, reducing commute times, and increasing loyalty to the organisation, says Jones.

The organisation has been Rainbow Tick (RT) certified, an impetus to ensure the organisations are safe and welcoming for all employees. Jones says at least half a dozen BT staff participated in the focus groups that were involved in AT’s Rainbow Tick evaluation and subsequent certification.

Last year, his team ran two IT expos, attended by more than 600 AT staff. The exhibits demonstrated innovative and interactive technology solutions that BT has been implementing, with a special focus on safety initiatives.

In the months ahead, Jones says AT will continue to evolve as it forges a “culture of value” where staff are given the freedom to be creative in how they deliver value.

“There will be increased focus on collaboration, and putting the customer first, an ethos first demonstrated by Customer Central.”