Jim Burke knows from experience that multi-vendor collaboration – while difficult – can be accomplished…given the right conditions.

The CIO of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) believes if you give people a project that stretches and inspires them they will work together effectively, even when they represent different companies.

He took that message to the highest levels possible at his selected vendors and won their support, ensuring all parties had a stake in the project’s success. One thing that clearly emerged from the GTAA’s lengthy and careful design process was that no single vendor could be expected to build the entire infrastructure on its own. The scale of the project was too vast. Text

And the project Burke gave them? Building IT infrastructure to support operations for two massive new terminals at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, along with a multitude of upgrades and extensions to existing terminals.

The Airport has a vision of being a technologically friendly facility for travelers, tenants, and airlines. It is now Canada’s biggest construction project.

Given the tight timelines, and the huge number of vendors required to get the job done, Burke realized he couldn’t just sit back and expect things to unfold according to plan, even though expectations were clearly stated in the contracts awarded. An active hand on the tiller was the only way to ensure that the crew worked together and the project stayed on course.

One thing that clearly emerged from the GTAA’s lengthy and careful design process was that no single vendor could be expected to build the entire infrastructure on its own. The scale of the project was too vast.

Besides the core IT infrastructure build, it included innovations aimed to ensure the airport kept up with advancing technology. Meeting the demand for new services from tenants, airlines and the traveling public only added to the plan’s complexity. For example, Pearson now has a totally IP optical campus area network that carries voice, video and data over the same lines.

Proactive vendor management

Burke’s proactive approach to vendor management actually began before any contracts were awarded.

The GTAA encouraged bidders to develop partnerships that would work together to complete the given project phase. Vendors were selected on the merits of their proposals as well as their potential to form stable and productive partnerships with each other and with the GTAA. As far as Jim Burke is concerned, if you find people that fit and can work together, you have a much easier and better-implemented project.

The project entered its implementation phase with an enormous number of vendors — well over a hundred — divided into different projects. For example, it took twenty separate suppliers to develop and install a relatively simple item like a check-in kiosk.

As it turned out, the GTAA went with many of the bigger players in the IT marketplace because of their ability to take them through several years with a shared vision.

One of the first vendor management initiatives undertaken was the establishment of a Project Management Office (PMO) whose function was to coordinate the various projects while keeping things open and transparent.

The key word was communication. The GTAA was very open about goals, but not prescriptive about how they were achieved. Vendors were encouraged to contribute their best ideas for the success of the project, but mere product pitches were discouraged.

Focus on functionality

Burke insisted on what he called “co-location”, which is having many in the vendor’s project team working at the GTAA site. He believes it was a great way to break down barriers, especially at the beginning of the project. This idea met with some resistance at first, and was not without its challenges, but it did succeed in creating a true team spirit. Burke reminisces that it was sometimes difficult to distinguish between GTAA and vendor staff. You have to start bringing them together in a way that someone is managing a [function].Text

Rather than creating a separate vendor management office, the GTAA elected to give line managers responsibility for managing vendor relations within their respective area. This helped focus teams on their project mandate. As Burke puts it, “You have to start bringing them together in a way that someone is managing a [function].” In other words, the focus is on functionality, not on organizational structure. There is now an operational element, a communications element and a projects group, all run on a matrix management approach.

The other reason for leaving vendor management with line managers is the opportunity it gives them to develop skills that are strategic for the organization as well as for individual managers.

Although within the purview of separate line mangers, the various projects were brought together in the change management process. Rigid change management rules were established and enforced to ensure that the nothing fell through the cracks. Project teams met weekly, and upcoming changes were published daily.

Such overall control was considered to be of strategic importance, and according to Burke, the GTAA would never outsource strategy or security. Although a PMO filled this role in the initial project phases, the organization has embraced the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) standard, and is now applying it to operational areas, as well as new projects.

Burke sees a great advantage in working with vendors who are also ITIL based as it provides a solid policy-based standard for management of IT services that all can subscribe to. He feels that ITIL has opened up communication within the company and with major vendors who are also ITIL based. He cites common documentation standards as an example.

Besides the sense of shared vision ITIL offers, it is also what Burke bluntly calls “a cogent force for discipline.”

Conversely, those vendors who have not adopted ITIL may be at some risk, as the GTAA pushes to streamline processes and cut back on the number of vendors that it has to work with. This is primarily a concern for smaller vendors, as well as some established airline industry specialists. But Burke insists their goal is to create an environment where every vendor can succeed and contribute to the success of the larger project. You have to regard yourself as one team whose success is [achieving] the project goal, and then make sure everybody benefits from a successful project.Text

The key elements of the GTAA’s successful vendor management strategy are to communicate goals, priorities, roles and responsibilities to each vendor; to set up mechanisms for handling overlaps and gaps; to establish appropriate management controls; and to let vendors know their success is one of the goals. As Burke puts it, “You have to regard yourself as one team whose success is [achieving] the project goal, and then make sure everybody benefits from a successful project.”

The GTAA executive says at the new Pearson International Airport there will be many more opportunities for vendors to succeed, and for the GTAA to hone its vendor management strategy. Now that the infrastructure project is unfolding according to plan, Burke is looking at requirements for specific applications. New terminals and facilities are on the horizon too.

The ultimate project goals remain the same though — to make the airport easier for airlines and passengers to use, and to enable people move through the terminals as quickly as possible.

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