With 14,000 miles of infrastructure across Canada and the United States, CP Rail relies heavily on IT to keep its trains running on time. The rail operator recently completed a four-year, $50-million project that saw the company tear out its old management application and replace it with a completely new one.
Based in Calgary, CP Rail provides freight transportation services across Canada and the U.S., and as the sixth-largest rail operator in North America, generates annual revenues in excess of $3.6 billion.
Linda Hunter, a project manager with CP, said that in 1998 the company decided to retire its main management application, Common Yards. In place for about 15 years, it was used to manage the inventory in all of CP’s rail yards, tracking all cars coming in and out.
Rather than trying to upgrade Common Yards, which was a mainframe-based, Cobol application that was showing its age, Hunter said CP decided to put in a completely new system. Because the rail market is relatively small, no packaged applications are available, so CP purchased another system, called TYES, and modified it for its own business requirements. While the decision to go with TYES was made in 1998, it only fully replaced Common Yards last June.
CP is hoping for big things from TYES, including a reduction in the time a car remains in the rail yard, called dwell time, by more than 10 per cent.
Although it has taken this long to be fully implemented, Hunter said a lot of up-front work was done before the plug was pulled on the old system, including a substantial amount of time spent defining requirements up front. Once TYES was modified to meet CP’s requirements, the rollout to the company’s yards across North America took one year.
“During that time we were essentially operating with two systems,” said Hunter. “There was a lot of planning and work required just to manage running both systems at the same time, collecting the data across both systems and consolidating it.”
CP has an outsourcing relationship with RIS, a Calgary-based applications support and maintenance company. RIS provides support for CP’s legacy applications, and participated in the planning and execution of the move from Common Yards to TYES.
Roger Couvillon, a systems consultant with RIS who worked closely with CP on the project, said the transition was a challenging one. “It was a mission-critical application, so that made it touchy, and it interfaced to a number of other mission-critical applications,” said Couvillon.
When implementing a new application or retiring an old one, Couvillon said companies must recognize that every application has a fixed lifecycle. “Companies are now starting to view applications as assets,” said Couvillon. “Every application has a lifecycle and you have to plan for the eventual retirement.”
In the commissioning phase, Couvillon said you want to identify the metrics that are going to help you decide when it will be time to retire the application. You also want to identify anyone who will need to sign off on any changes to the application throughout its life.
Couvillon said that during the actual lifecycle itself, as part of an annual maintenance program, companies should regularly analyze those metrics to see if any of them are indicating that it is time to retire the application.
“It gives you some solid statistics on when it might be time to retire,” said Couvillon. “A lot of it is common sense.”
While application lifecycle management wasn’t top of mind when Common Yards was implemented 15 years ago, CP’s Hunter said it is part of the company’s thinking with TYES, out of which CP is hoping to get about 10 years of use.
“But there’s also (a) recognition (that) technology will in many cases push us somewhere different,” said Hunter.
She added that CP, working with RIS, did a good job of targeting to retire older applications as part of the project, and then making sure it actually happened. “We’ve had a lot of other recent history where we haven’t taken that approach, and our business users tend to hang on to the old application,” said Hunter. “We end up having the new application for most of the stuff, and then the older application is still around supporting little bits and pieces of a business process.”