Tuesday, 12 July 2016

NZ Transport Agency

In 2008  LTNZ merged with Transit - the State Highway builders and formed the NZ Transport Agency - NZTA.

Things bumped along for a time before the inevitable 'restructure" in which Doug Miller our manager was "positioned out" that is, nothing for him at NZTA. Doug wasn't afraid to speak up and pull chains that needed pulling and I did hear him say a few controversial things that might not have been popular but I did know he was well very respected around the regions. Whatever the reason the CAS team was once again a tiny piece of flotsam bobbing about looking for a new home.

The CAS group, sixteen of us, found ourselves placed in the Investment team a logical home as most of the Investments teams clients are one and the same as CAS end users - that is local bodies or their network managers - the consulting fraternity.

Not long before then the MoT had initiated a review of the CAS system as they had concerns about the split management, that so much knowledge rested in one head - Stuart Badger  (which despite a few attempts they had never been able to clone) as well as concerns about the ageing CAS platform, by that stage 12 years old. This work was commissioned to an external company (Maven) and their report set out a way forward with the end game being a CAS Replacement (CASR) product being in place in five years - 2015.  Along with a whole raft of other improvements like a user forum, distributed system knowledge, self reporting, less exposed to risk and an easy to use public facing interface for casual users along with all the innovation you could have expected to see in the preceding decade.

In early 2011 the then only newly appointed CAS Manager (tasked with bringing the CAS replacement to fruition as well as managing the existing team) completed a restructure that saw the Wellington team shrink by one with the loss of James King.
The team was rearranged into a "ProcessingTeam" managed by Geoff Holland from the Christchurch Office and an "Analysis" team of five, two in Wellington Colin Morrison and Narad Kunwar and three in Auckland Lynette Billings, Karyn Van Dam and Marina Palalagi being managed from Wellington by an external appointee who did not, as it worked out, stay long in the position.
I was made the teams Principal Advisor, without staff with the job of keeping an eye on the existing system, taking over the CAS user management and a stricter privacy based  "need to see" approach to the scanned original Police forms and helping the replacement team with my institutional CAS knowledge.

My full crew prior to the restructure - at one of our team days on the farm
Karyn, Jo , Lynette, Warwick, Me,  Marina and Sofia. 

The  real change however was the decision that the regional CAS teams, upon the delivery of the replacement product would be expected to relocate to Wellington.

There are certainly plus's and minus's to the centralisation argument, from the point of view of training, management, reduced costs, critical mass (especially if turnover is high) and continuity there are positives. On the flip side there is risk of placing a nationally important group in the one location overdue for the "big one".  The further risk for this team was a loss of connection with the regional safety fraternity including NZ Police and from the point of view of crash processing the loss of local knowledge important for crash locations, but to be fair the impact of the latter has been lessened over time with technologies such as Google street view. The final risk is losing institutional knowledge - especially with older team members less likely to be willing to relocate.

In mid 2014 a decision was made to bring forward some aspects of the planned centralisation of staff and the two remaining analysts in the Auckland team were given the opportunity to move to the Access and Use business group in Wellington along with their two counterparts in Wellington. The Auckland staff decided not to move to Wellington and of course the two Wellington people just changed floors and managers.

Me with some of my old crew when Lynette went over to the Highway team.

In late 2014 the Agency commissioned an IQA of the CAS Replacement Project  - an independent quality assurance, a good practice approach to make sure things are on track.
As a result of the IQA a decision was made to move CAS ownership and the delivery of CASR from the Investment team over to the Access and Use (A and U) business group as a more logical fit placing CAS alongside the two other large data bases at the agency.

By mid 2015 the remainder of the CAS team had moved to the A and U Analysis and Insights team. The previous Investment group CAS Manager and CASR project manager leaving shortly before.
The CAS Manager role was taken on by the Analysis and Insights Manager.

With the CAS Replacement delayed but still due for delivery mid 2016 and allowing for the brand new Wellington based team to get up to speed the regional CAS processing teams shut their doors finally in Christchurch in December 2015 with the departure of Geoff and Max Grey. June Gregg and Margaret Hardy having left the same office in September 2015. The remaining Auckland processing staff had left not long before.

Max and Geoffs' farewell in Dec 2015 along with Margaret and June who had left in September 2015

I was asked to stay on till June 2016 to help out the CAS  replacement team with UAT testing of the factor code changes deemed necessary for the replacement product but to be implemented initially in existing CAS. I also carried on looking after CAS users entrance and exit to the system as I'd done since 2011 - some 1000 plus users. I was moved to the Research and Evaluation team (R and E) towards the end of 2015 not long after their new manager Alex Brocklehurst was appointed.
I did a lot of CAS training in HQ as well as helping out my R and E colleagues with peer reviewing some of their CAS work. I updated a significant amount of the downloadable CAS help material using Adobe Acrobat Pro on behalf of the CASR Comms team.
I found the R and E team pleasant to work in full of very bright and quirky people reminiscent of my early years in Wellington. Probably a somewhat under-utilised group as an A and U only resource rather than pan-agency.

Skipping forward to mid 2016, CAS has not been replaced despite the initial high hopes by the CASR Governance group that the Agency could purchase a CoTs (commercial off the shelf) product and deliver it with a few tweaks.
I know from talking with colleagues outside the Agency that they are wondering what is happening with the project as the last communication on the subject was around seven months ago.
In fact one external user I was training shortly before I left was of the impression that the replacement had been quietly implemented in the way a lot of software is - in the background. I had to disappoint him by saying there were no new features.

Like my other regional colleagues I chose to stay in my original location for family reasons. I lived in Wellington between 1967 and 1976 and although much has changed for the better their climate hasn't nor have the earthquakes which I seem to feel every time I'd been there on business. Although compared to what I have felt on Christchurch they seriously need to "harden up".

The good thing is CAS is still running eighteen years after it was rolled out in 1998 testament to the outstanding work done by the vendor RTI (and their system maintenance up until 2012)  as well as the LTSA, LTNZ , MoT and finally NZTA teams that keep it functional. That has got to be a spectacular achievement.

Time will tell if the all new team can keep up the standard of excellence provided by all the teams having gone before and if the centralisation call was a good one.

On the flip side and how all over-budget block buster disaster movies should end Marina has a great job at Auckland Transport as their CAS god, Lynette is a Project Controller in the Auckland Highways team, Karyn is finally completing her Business degree, Sofia is tutoring students with excellent results, Warwick is caring for his dad, Jo is being a grandma.
Geoff, Margaret and June hung in there to retire post 65 with redundancy which you can tell from their faces in the picture above was a good thing - and being the Christchurch crew with two of their house totally written off and the others badly damaged- a well deserved bonus for keeping going through all the stress and disruption.

This essentially is my point in writing this blog - so the work of those regional Engineering / crash processing teams remains acknowledged somewhere because unaware to most the entire safety fraternity relies on this team doing its job well.

To be continued.......

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