Auckland Transport (AT) is responsible for all of the region’s transport services excluding state highways.
Its daily activities include keeping Auckland’s transport systems moving; planning and funding the public transport network, promoting alternative ways to get around and operating the local roading network.
AT’s business is a complex one, and on average it receives more than 850 customer enquiries daily, seven days a week, says its CTO Roger Jones.
“Not only is our business complex, we are also working on projects that will have a huge impact on the future of Auckland and Aucklanders,” says Jones.
Jones was IT manager at Auckland Regional Transport Authority when he moved to Auckland Transport as manager IT and business systems in late 2010. He then became GM business technology group prior to becoming chief technology officer more than two years ago.
Given the recent movement towards Digital and Intelligent Transport for autonomous vehicles, Jones explains AT has had to consider the significance, potential and impact of these technologies.
An organisation-wide strategic document was prepared in 2016, drawing on learnings from different companies’ approaches, and articulating what ITS, digital and traditional IT means for AT, the crossovers and linkage to the customer.
The AT technology strategy is part of the organisational plan to improve the integration of the transport network using a single-system approach, encompassing public transport, roads, footpaths, other modes of transport and cycle ways.
This will effect a transformational shift to double the number of public transport trips from 70 million per year in 2012 to 140 million in 2022, while enabling all other transport modes, such as commercial, to become more efficient.
“Technology is a key enabler for this to happen,” the report states. “A modern transport system requires technological ‘glue’ to collect, process and utilise data to provide operational effectiveness, efficiency, safety and resilience across all transportation modes and services. Future modes such as semi or fully autonomous vehicles (‘driverless cars’), freight drones, and mobility as a service (such as carpooling or car/bike sharing), will be totally reliant on digital technology.”
It notes popular digital businesses are changing customer expectations and have conditioned people to expect dramatically improved levels of service, rolled out quickly, with a greater availability of information and personalised experiences via digital channels – not just from Internet-based organisations like Apple and Amazon, but from all businesses and all branches of government.
Jones says a key concept that emerged from this strategy was the establishment of ‘Customer Central’.
“Customer Central is a customer-focused innovation and agile methodology centre that is leading to further opportunities for fast innovation across AT and creating a new way of working,” says Jones.
It has changed the way AT tackles problems and issues, involving real customers from the beginning to better understand the problem and devise quick innovative initiatives in sprints of weeks duration as opposed to the traditional months.
“This mindset is now pervading AT, with other divisions choosing to adopt the methodology. This has also involved changing the way projects are solutioned as well as the way they are resourced.”
Another AT division, meanwhile, has started training and obtaining resources to be able to utilise this methodology for their own daily tasks.
“Staff feedback has been positive, and requests for more things to be solved by Customer Central by various business units has ensured that this initiative has been successful,” says Jones.
The business technology (BT) culture had to evolve accordingly, including shifting from a traditional delivery approach to a bi-modal approach which enables both traditional and the new agile/innovation approach of customer-centric, deliver fast or fail fast, he says.
“We have implemented a DevOps approach, which involved restructuring the technology area, shifting accountability for some functions to third parties in order to free up resource and focus on innovation and new things,” says Jones.
“We have restructured our IT department to align with delivering new products and services. This has been achieved by creating a ‘DevOps’ team that combines network, server and support services into a single unit targeting new initiatives.”
“Existing systems are now run completely as an outsourced model via a third party, thus achieving bi-modal IT,” says Jones.
This has proved cost neutral and a business case was prepared for this. It has meant a reduction in AT staff, with a focus also to ensure that the third party support companies perform the tasks they are contracted to.
Microsoft has assisted with training on how to implement DevOps, and with resource and knowledge to assist the team to commence the new structure in the new Microsoft Azure cloud environment. This training has been provided out of training days provided as part of the existing contracts.
A costing model is being maintained by ensuring that as solutions are migrated to the cloud, the corresponding on-site cost diminishes.
DevOps have also been able to bring management of the network and firewalls in house resulting in savings of up to $100,000 by removing complexity from the environment whilst making it more stable.
Jones worked with Machine Zone, the largest online gaming company, to develop an ultra-fast cloud-based platform for developers to use.
A real-time system for bus, enabling tracking of the entire bus fleet every nine seconds with information on bus timings, occupancy, deviations from route and other driver errors was built from this, he says. The system was launched worldwide and is now being funded and implemented at a national level.
Jones says artificial intelligence has been implemented in two places.
In the network space, the HPE Vertica toolset collects, collates and then learns the network traffic (SDN) to understand the different type of alarms, anomalies and errors detected across the network including end points. This has involved changing the way security is seen across AT, with specialist training and staff awareness programs required, he says.
AT is also rolling out a CRM cloud solution, which consolidates all customer information and makes it accessible to staff.
CRM has been a top priority for Business Technology (BT) and we are currently undertaking a major programme of work to migrate and transform the capabilities of on premise solution into Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016 in the cloud, explains Jones.
“The goal is to ensure that our 1,500 employees all know how we are interacting with each customer to ensure we act as a coordinated team.”
“As we transform Auckland, our customers tell us that they want to be told useful and personalised information in a proactive manner.
“For example, will a road accident affect my trip home from work tonight? What are my alternatives? You may want to let a neighbourhood know that roadworks will be starting tomorrow. Our challenge is to ensure that we understand what our customers truly want and action this in a way that meets or exceeds their expectations.”
Having all information related to each customer in one place and accessible to all, is an absolute imperative and for AT, and that one place is CRM, he states.
Jones says another major project is the CCTV Integration and rollout of analytics to support transport management.
He explains AT inherited five different CCTV legacy systems from former councils in the Auckland region which made the day-to-day operation and maintenance of CCTV a challenge.
A programme of work within Business Technology (BT) that focused on CCTV commenced two years ago with a goal to converge these environments.
To achieve this, AT invested in an Enterprise Video Management Solution (VMS) along with HP analytics that provides the ability to better gather and process data for transport planning and responding to transport-related issues.
Aside from the traditional (time, budget and quality) metrics used to determine project success or failure, a key measure of success is our ability to realise benefits such as the efficiency of operations, alignment to incident management systems, converged storage, improved inter-agency integration, says Jones.
The Video Analytics system, in combination with the 1,800 CCTV cameras currently deployed throughout the transport network, provide AT the ability to monitor the network more efficiently than ever before, he says.
The Video Analytics help provide better and more intelligent methods to operate traffic lights based upon real-time analysis of queue lengths, and also the ability to change lights for bicycles and motorcyclists, which are currently not detected automatically.
Analytics is also being used for cases such as public safety, facilities protection, queue length monitoring, journey times and counting vehicles.
He notes how ongoing and planned construction projects in the Auckland CBD, including the City Rail Link Projects, can cause disruption to traffic.
However, the CCTV solution helps ensure continuous, dynamic optimisation of traffic flow through and across the city to reduce congestion, lower driver stress and improve travel experiences and help drive commercial productivity for businesses will be a priority, he says.
“The CCTV and video analytics programme assists AT to do this by monitoring intersection queue lengths, the level of demand of pedestrians and cyclists, as well as fast detection of incidents, allowing road crews to be deployed quickly, and customer facing updates to be disseminated in a timely manner.”