Transit NZ fights 'organisational Alzheimer’s' with ECM

It was the prospect of the organisation "getting dumber" that persuaded Transit's management to give the go-ahead

Forget increased efficiency and never mind the prospect of saving ten working days per employee per year — it was the prospect of “organisational Alzheimer’s” that galvanised Transit New Zealand’s senior management into approving an enterprise-wide content management system, according to administration manager Trudy Downes.

As the body which is responsible for maintaining the State Highway system, consisting of nearly 11,000 kilometres of major roads and 170 kilometres of motorways, Transit NZ faces a massive organisational task. Each year Transit spends $1.2 billion on building and repairing the highways, which is about half of the government’s total spend on roading.

While Transit outsources the physical work on the roads — “we don’t own the shovels” as Downes put it to an audience at the IBM Forum last week — the organisation manages all other aspects of roading projects. By the early 2000s Transit began to realise that a lot of its institutional knowledge was being lost as many long serving employees were reaching retirement age.

Then, in 2003, Transit faced a further problem when the Land Transport Management Act came into force. This placed a greater onus on Transit for consultation, as well as a new requirement to manage traffic congestion rather than simply building more roads.

“We realised that we needed a better handle on the information that was flowing through the organisation,” says Downes.

Transit began building a business case for an organisation-wide content management system that will provide a single point of access to Transit’s information repositories, including its road asset, geographical data and project management databases.

The hope was that not only would staff be able to access information they were aware was already being stored, but they would also be able to find information they didn’t know existed. Based on research by IDC, Transit’s IT department estimated that such a system would save ten working days a year per employee but, Downes says, it was the prospect of the organisation “getting dumber” that persuaded Transit’s management to give the go-ahead.

Following a selection process, Transit eventually selected IBM’s DB2 as the document database, backed up by Websphere for online content delivery and Omnifind as the search tool.

Downes says that selling the benefits of a content management system to Transit staff was sometimes like “trying to explain a bicycle to someone who hasn’t seen a wheel”.

The change management process included Downes visiting all 11 Transit offices and appointing “change leaders” at each one, to assist with the development of a classification system and agreeing document lifecycles, for example, when a document should be archived or whether it should be disposed of.

Downes says she faced some strong initial resistance to the new system from users but this had largely died away by the time a second series of meetings took place. Users were invited to give their opinion on a range of issues — for example should the system be adapted to cope will all existing document management practices or should it supercede them? While users would often come up with the “wrong” answers, Downes says this was an essential part of the engagement process.

“Once they have formed an opinion they have become engaged — it’s the best thing that can happen,” she says.

Transit began to implement the system a year ago and it is a year away from completing the first stage.

“A content management system is not a project, it’s more of a programme of work,” says Downes.

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