Three years on, RailCorp may get CIO



news More than three years after it lost its last chief information officer, NSW State Government agency Railcorp has finally flagged plans to overhaul its IT executive management structure, in moves associated with the split into two separate divisions, Sydney Trains and NSW Trains.

The organisation’s last chief information officer, Vicki Coleman, resigned in October 2009, following an investigation into the group’s IT operations. The results of that investigation are not known to have been released publicly, but RailCorp has not appointed a new chief information officer since that time, with the ascension of the Coalition to run the State Government and the pending split of RailCorp into two separate divisions causing upheaval within the organisation.

However, as first reported by iTNews yesterday and also reported by ZDNet, the two organisations have recently advertised for a bevy of new IT management positions created as part of a swathe of management positions generally as part of the “Fixing the Trains” initiative announced in May 2012.

The first position will be in Sydney Trains and is for a chief information officer role. The primary purpose of the role, as described in its position description, is to “Drive the development and implementation of Information Technology (IT) strategies, plans and standards for Sydney Trains and its business units in alignment with Finance, IT and Procurement objectives and in line with TfNSW’s architecture  to meet the long term strategic IT objectives of the organisation.” Secondly, the selected executive will need to “lead and manage the IT Division, its services and operations to meet the required aims and objectives of the Directorate”.

The second position, Head of IT, relates to NSW Trains, and contains a similar position description. In addition, a number of other senior IT positions have been advertised by Transport for NSW as part of the RailCorp split, including a Manager of Application Support role, a Program Manager to lead IT project management, an Operational Technology Manager and other similar roles.

When RailCorp advertised its CIO role several years ago, the job description stated the new CIO at that time would oversee 360 staff in total, as well as a capital budget of over $100 million and an operating budget of $105 million. It is not known precisely how the current IT operations of Sydney Trains and NSW Trains are constituted.

Keeping the IT systems for the organisations formerly known as RailCorp on track may not be easy, with the group being believed to have substantial problems with IT service delivery and project management. An audit published into RailCorp’s IT operations in December 2010, for example, found extensive delays in the delivery of IT projects and cost overruns amounting to $41.4 million.

“IT system implementation issues in transport agencies are a concern,” the office of the State Auditor-General Peter Achterstraat wrote in a statement associated with a financial audit of RailCorp. In the report, Achterstraat detailed a raft of delays and cost overruns within RailCorp projects.

The biggest cost blowout at the time related to a transformation of RailCorp’s procurement systems, which was initially budgeted at $20.4 million but ended up costing $35.1 million when it was completed in January 2010 — six months after its scheduled end data of July 2009. Its problems also resulted in a flow-on effect. “Over a 5-month period, RailCorp’s $35 million new procurement system resulted in over $100 million in late supplier payments and more than $4 million in double payments,” the report stated.

However two other projects saw large cost overruns — a station passenger information system was rolled out at a cost of $18.4 million (budgeted at $8.7 million) and an upgrade to RailCorp’s finance systems ended up costing $19.4 million (up from $9.7 million). Both projects are also subject to delays — the first was scheduled to be completed in June 2010 but had been postponed to June 2012, and the second had been pushed out from April 2011 to June 2011. Several projects came in under budget by amounts in the low millions, but there were another handful in the red and one project was terminated.

RailCorp also has extensive outsourcing relationships, notably with Japanese IT services giant Fujitsu. In January 2010 it renewed its then-three-year-old IT outsourcing deal with Fujitsu for another two years. It’s not clear quite what the status of that relationship is at present, with the split into Sydney Trains and NSW Trains.

As I’ve previously written several times, I have a great deal of confidence in the new NSW State Government’s ability to reform its technology operations. These new CIO/Head of IT roles at the former RailCorp organisation are a great opportunity for those IT executives who love a “fixer upper” to get on board and drive some real positive change in a period of rapid change and executive-level support for technology initiatives (including in cloud computing).

But let’s not pretend it’s going to be easy. All the signs are that the IT organisation, IT systems and IT project management at the agencies formerly known as RailCorp are a total mess. It will be years before all of this is back on track. It’s going to be a very hard job.

Image credit: David Ansen, Creative Commons