TTC overhaul overcomes staff shortage, bureaucracy

When John Davies returned to the TTC in August as the CIO, he was faced with an IT department cluttered with aging technologies of all flavours, a turnover rate of about 20 per cent and a Y2K project that was months behind where it ideally should have been.

Davies decided that the Toronto Transit Commission’s IT department was in serious need of a major IT overhaul and he began, with the help of systems integrator QLogitek, to upgrade and standardize the TTC’s technology. More importantly, Davies wanted to establish a set of guidelines and methodologies with which the IT department would address all future projects.

The plan is that by following a set of procedures and best practices in the future, the TTC can cut down the amount of time it takes to complete projects, and also to make wiser decisions about technology.

But there were some significant hurdles to cross along the way. First was Y2K, which Davies said was both a blessing and a curse. Y2K took up a lot of time, meaning that some projects had to be put off, but some of the methodologies that Davies wanted to put in place were designed while addressing the year 2000 problem.

Davies also faced a serious staff shortage, so he established a Y2K retention bonus and began working at creating a sense of team spirit by taking his staff on boat cruises, picnics and parties. The new technology with which Davies was replacing some of the antiquated systems at the TTC ensured that his staff would have up-to-date material to work with, an important factor in staff retention.

It worked. The turnover rate dropped from about 20 per cent to three to five per cent.

“And in this business, that’s about as close to zero as you can get. So the fact is that I’ve pretty much, for all intents and purposes, eliminated any significant turnover,” Davies said.

But he’s a little worried about what will happen when the Y2K bonus comes to an end sometime this year. Davies has started working on a human resources strategy so that he can use career management and job design techniques to hang on to his employees.

Davies also had to face the challenges of working with a large bureaucracy, and had occasionally to ask them to make exceptions to their rules. Sometimes it worked, at other times it didn’t.

In trying to address his worker shortage, Davies ran up against the bureaucracy. As a public employer, the TTC has a very carefully ordered set of procedures that had to be followed when hiring employees. That meant even when Davies needed somebody right away to fill an opening, he had to go through a six to 10 week hiring procedure.

But now, at about a year into the overhaul, the TTC has managed to replace the hodgepodge of desktops with standardized Microsoft Word and provide everyone with Outlook.

The network and the domains were a mess, Davies said. The TTC consolidated all of the domains into a single domain across the organization. Fibre was installed and fast Ethernet put into place. The TTC plans to create a business-to-business portal as well as a business-to-consumer portal for Metropass users, said systems integrator QLogitek’s CEO Latiq Qureshi in Toronto.

The TTC management decided a lot of the benefits would not be tangible right away. They are giving Davies two years to get everything in order before they ask him to demonstrate the value of the overhaul.

“I would discount the use of technology in providing any efficiencies to an organization. The trick, I believe, is in providing best practices, very good project management principles and delivery principle in order to achieve some of the business goals effectively through better management, better quality and in the better use of technology that you have,” Qureshi said. “All of that can substantially help the business unit by delivering applications to them quicker.”

Davies is confident the overhaul will be worth the time and effort he and his staff put into it.

“I believe that in the end the benefits will be huge. We’re going to make fewer very costly mistakes, the systems are going to add much more value to our organization,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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