A Breath of Fresh Air

Tight IT budgets don't mean you can't think strategically.

Ask a group of CIOs these days about what hot new technology they'll be implementing in their organisations and the silence is deafening. CIOs everywhere are under intense financial pressure and it's creating an introspective and operational focus to their activities. Re-engineering the enterprise is not on many agendas.

That is why it was such a breath of fresh air to meet Tony Darby who was recently named CIO of the Year by Computerworld New Zealand. Tony works for Auckland Regional Council, a statutory authority focusing on regional development and infrastructure including public transport. Currently, one of the hottest discussion topics in Auckland - as it is in many cities - is balancing the needs of private car users with public transport.

It would be easy for a CIO to see this as an operational challenge: how can IT keep the buses and trains running? However, Tony has thought laterally about this task. He believes people use cars instead of buses because they don't like wasting time at a bus stop. If consumers are to increase their patronage of public transport they must believe it offers a similar, if not greater, level of convenience.

Tony believes that technology could well provide this answer. He has under development a major project initiative to exploit WAP and SMS functionality on mobile phones for this very purpose. The consumer can dial a number to get text messages and WAP details of public transport options available in the next hour or so to get from point A to point B. There could be some nice wins all around: for the Authority reduced printing costs (bus timetables) and less traffic through its busy call centre, while consumers find it easier to schedule a ride. Tony is also planning a component of the service where an SMS message will be sent to the consumer as soon as the bus is in their vicinity.

He's thought hard on how to promote this technology and is using 10- to 16-year-olds as his guinea pigs. He believes this age group really knows how to exploit SMS messages on mobile phones. He also wants to influence this age group before they become drivers. If it's easy to catch a bus by using their phone today, they are likely to continue doing so as adults.

This system is not yet operational. Tony would be the first to admit that many things may bring it undone, not least technological performance. Yet I do feel that if IT never tries it will never win. Here is a CIO and his team responding to a pressing business challenge with a creative technology solution for their organisation. I have a strong hunch that this solution could well be a winner. If so, I hope that it encourages other CIOs to elevate themselves from their current operational quagmires.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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