By Roger Jones, Executive General Manager Technology, Auckland Transport
Like many other companies, over the last few years Auckland Transport (AT) has embarked on a digital transformation journey. The journey involves many standard activities, such as defining what digital is and does, where it fits into both the business and more traditional IT activities, and how to describe and transition to the future state.
As a result, there are a number of direct and indirect impacts to our business partners, many of whom are also on a transformation journey. In particular, “cloud” uptake and changes in operating models present many opportunities within business partnerships.
AT has several key strategic partners. Some, like Microsoft and HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise), are well-known and assist many companies with technology transformation. However, there are other, smaller, companies that are directly impacted by the way AT works, such as those in the software development and infrastructure support areas.
Software development, the digital journey and becoming customer-centric has resulted in direct impacts on our suppliers, and the need for AT to acquire additional specialist resources, such as User Interface (UI) designers, Agile specialists and research experts. AT has moved from a traditional waterfall approach to rapid 6-week development sprints based on direct customer feedback and research. The most public of these is the AT Mobile application, which was completely redesigned and rebuilt, using customer feedback in every sprint and with iterative developments tested by real customers prior to release. The impact of the change in methodology on our business partners was real. They were required to work with multiple different companies at different phases of the project as specialist resources were utilised, and to participate in real customer interactions.
Alongside the move to an Agile approach, AT has reduced reliance on testing resources, and emphasised that developers are responsible for code quality, with subsequent automated testing. These changes happened incrementally and required good leadership at the companies involved. It has taken effort and commitment to achieve the end results.
Change that involves multiple companies at the same time should not be underestimated.
There are a number of direct and indirect impacts to our business partners, many of whom are also on a transformation journey
Vendor engagement has changed, as a traditional Statement of Work (SOW), with multiple iterations to agree scope and outcomes, is no longer acceptable. AT changed the way we contract for outcomes, and proactively manages the resources and outputs for each sprint. An “Agile Panel” of providers was created so we could leverage the expertise of a range of companies, depending on the type of problem to be addressed. The process was developed from scratch and includes how to evaluate a range of similar companies for their relevant “sweet spots” of expertise. We did this by engaging vendors on various sprints, so we could all understand the best fits.
The advent of product ownership within the business, and alignment of development to products, has generated many questions around how various product groups are supported. AT, like many organisations, has not solved this issue and looks to partners for advice and guidance. The industry norm of resources dedicated to a product team works for business entities with limited products, however a public organisation like AT has a large number of customer-facing products and cannot afford dedicated resources. AT’s goal to create and run a true matrix approach, and transition staff to a multi-skilled operating style, is still a work in progress.
Questions of intellectual property (IP) also arise as we become more of a component services user and developer. Third parties are paid to write components specifically for AT and these resources are valuable. Component parts can be reused both within the AT business and by external developers, if the services are exposed via the API mechanisms. However, they are also harder to protect, as identification of IP and the development rights between the developer and the client (AT), must be clearly defined and articulated and a value proposition for both parties negotiated. Given the push to make government IP more available, AT has worked to protect its rights to use and further develop components whilst enabling local business to take the concept and resell and enhance it. To offset costs, it will become common to negotiate deals with suppliers that include support and upgrade considerations.
AT has utilised this model on several applications built in-house, retaining an interest but passing the IP to an external entity (with checks and balances). This has also enabled a value exchange in terms of release of data via open APIs and has enabled AT to allow third party developers to take our data and utilise it in their own offerings – ultimately the public benefits from this approach. AT has built several significant offerings, which are offered to other government agencies at zero cost (except for support from the vendor). This approach benefits the whole IT economy: AT benefits as more users means more investment in the longer term and cheaper support over the product lifecycle, and the development/ support partners benefit by being able to offer real solutions at reduced costs, whilst still retaining and enhancing the important parts of their business.
In summary, as AT has transformed the way it undertakes most of its digital development, the development and support partners have also adapted. We have engaged new partners with differing skills and believe that everyone wins from the relationships that have grown – and in particular, the customers we serve.