ARC's winning habit

Tony Darby says he uses industry awards as part of his project review - a handy IT management technique, given that he is on the receiving end of a second Computerworld Excellence award in as many years.

Tony Darby says he uses industry awards as part of his project review — a handy IT management technique, given that he is on the receiving end of a second Computerworld Excellence award in as many years.

In 2001, the Auckland Regional Council IT boss was named CIO of the year, and at Friday night’s awards the ARC took the prize for overall excellence in the use of IT for its Virtually thr project.

As well as responses from users, Darby says he looks to his peers and what awards say about IT projects to gauge their effectiveness. Certainly his peers appear interested. A 40-minute talk on Virtually thr to a group of about 50 IT executives at last Wednesday’s regular lunch held by CIO magazine (a fellow IDG publication to Computerworld) was followed by at least a dozen questions. The queries ranged from the surprised (one attendee hadn’t heard of the scheme; she was told it had targeted young users to date) to the impressed (Have you thought of selling the implementation as a standalone package? The answer: can’t really, as city-specific data is the real asset) to the bottom-line (How will you get payback from the project?).

But why was Darby talking about the project two days before the Excellence Awards? We can easily put paid to any ideas that he was in the know. He himself might also reject any particular prescience. But he is doubtless not unaware of the promotional aspect to his role, and the project, judging from results, appears a success of both approach and technology.

The reasoning behind ARC’s plan was multipronged: increase public transport use by 5% a year; reduce the costs in doing so; give information to customers in the way they want it; change attitudes to public transport; and pay heed to the environmental outcome of taking thousands of cars off the roads.

The results: public transport use is rising rapidly, the $70,000-a-year web/WAP/SMS site is handling 600,000 queries; a satisfaction survey clocked approval ratings in several categories above 80%; and the council receives valuable feedback through the site’s forums.

The three or four people-years and $200,000 development costs (public transport operators and Transfund chipped in) have paid off.

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