Transport Agency digitises contracts management for improved visibility and transparency

 |   Ashlea Lynch

Auckland City

Transport investments have a long-lasting impact on the livelihoods of all New Zealanders. Keeping this in mind, the NZ Transport Agency puts people and the country first as opposed to vehicles and the network. Since its establishment as a Crown entity in 2008, it has been working on targeted partnerships to create transport links and services that improve the social, economic, and environmental conditions for businesses and the wider NZ community. It oversees the national transport system in NZ and its responsibilities include planning, designing, constructing, maintaining and operating the state highway system.

The Transport Agency outsources most of their physical work, professional consultancy services and enterprise goods/services using different contract types. They were using spreadsheets for the purposes of contract registry and management. But with several thousand suppliers to manage from spreadsheets, the Transport Agency sought to explore other ways to gain greater efficiency, visibility, and transparency.

Need for greater visibility to keep the momentum going

The Transport Agency operates a centre-led procurement environment where suppliers and contracts are managed by the business. This created some issues around visibility and access, particularly when responding to reporting demands. As a result, they partnered with Voco to help them streamline and improve the way contracts were recorded and managed. The Transport Agency wanted the ability to quickly generate custom reports on-demand, gain insights, and access structured, accurate data — with minimal manual effort and time. “The idea was for Voco to work closely with us to understand where our contracts resided, and centralise these into a single register, which was effectively an Excel spreadsheet until an e-procurement solution could be implemented,” said Brett Rigden, Manager of Procurement Strategy and Methods at the NZ Transport Agency. He further added, “There are a number of different requirements sitting behind that spreadsheet— some of it was around internal transparency and government reporting, visibility for the business, and a single central repository for our contracts.”

Microsoft lights up the road ahead

The Transport Agency has constantly looked for improvements by upgrading to the latest technology so that it can revolutionise the transport system. Last year, it moved into the Microsoft ecosystem by deploying a significant number of Surface Hubs to many of its meeting rooms. This move was to ensure that meeting rooms were functional, where employees could go into a meeting and start working straight away. The Transport Agency also had a positive experience with other Microsoft products such as Office 365. So, it was not surprising that it was keen to leverage it wherever possible.

Due to the volume of contracts that need to be stored and managed, and taking advantage of the affinity with Microsoft, Voco proposed developing a contracts application by leveraging Microsoft’s Azure SQL and Power BI Platform. An application would allow the data to remain current and offer additional workflow improvements.

Bringing transparency in the way contracts are managed

“The contracts app basically digitises the contracts process. It allows people to enter only the information that they should enter and provides good visibility moving through the process so that all the right information is captured. It offers visibility across all of the Transport Agency’s contracts,” explained Voco Partner, Dudley Harris.

The journey to build the contracts app proved to be seamless and rapid with Voco receiving constant inputs from the Transport Agency via Microsoft Teams, which facilitated greater collaboration between the two. The procurement portal within Microsoft Teams enabled access to the Contracts app, knowledge-based articles, videos via Stream, and help via Conversations. The application was developed in iterations using agile methodology to manage development. Even with its early inception, the app received outstanding reviews from users for its simplicity and accessibility, promoting transparency in the way contracts are created and managed. What’s more, it has the ability to capture additional data for creating further insights. A pilot was also implemented to test all the functionalities with users.

The contracts app effectively addressed issues that were constraining the Transport Agency. It brings greater structure to the data, gives visibility of where data is incomplete and highlights accuracy issues, and it facilitates controlled access. In addition to this, the app guides users on what information is required for each step of the process and how far along the process they are.

Evidence-led decision-making made possible by Power BI

With the integration of Power BI, the contracts app offered powerful insights to users, based on their requirements. It also enabled the Transport Agency to spot gaps in the existing information and fill them to improve compliance. “It’s a really simple, user-friendly tool that people can engage with. It’s fantastic from that   point of view that we can run the app with the Power BI functions. We can now run our reports with ease through convenient access, which would have previously taken several days or weeks in some cases depending on the report,” observed Brett.

Working towards a digital strategy that delivers more functionality

From their great experiences with Microsoft solutions, the Transport Agency is positive that the contracts app will bring about significant time and cost savings in the coming year. The Transport Agency plans to work with Voco to investigate further functionality via the app, which will offer a single view of all contractual information that supports the procurement lifecycle of plan, source and manage. This move will certainly strengthen its processes and provide more value to its clients. The app is being rolled out on 1 October 2019.

“The benefits are huge for us in the sense that everybody’s got visibility, access rights, and we are capturing the relevant data. We’ve got a great deal of transparency around what our contractual commitments look like and how best to use this critical information.”

Brett Rigden: Manager, Procurement Strategy and Methods NZ Transport Agency