Project of the Year

One of the best and most efficient public railway networks in the world, Hong Kong's MTR provides 19 hours of passenger service daily from 6a.m. to 1a.m. Maintenance and engineering works can only be carried out during non-traffic hours, which is between 1.30a.m. and 5.30a.m.More than 1,000 maintenance and engineering works have to be executed every week. This is to ensure efficient, safe and reliable passenger train services, as well as to meet all performance requirements stated in the HK SAR Government's Operating Agreement.

Company
MTR Corporation was founded in Hong Kong in 1975. It launched its Initial Public Offering in 2000.

Project
Engineering Works & Traffic Information Management System (ETMS)

Objectives
To optimize the utilization of MTR's limited resources--people, tools, workspace and time (four non-traffic hours every day)--and yet be able to comply with the statutory and safety regulations.

Budget
US$703,000. This includes ITSD staff cost, AI software and consultancy costs, outsourced programming work, hardware and software license costs.

Timeline
The project took almost two years to complete.

Tech partners/suppliers
City University of Hong Kong, Microsoft, Business Objects, Arbortext, SYSTRAN Software

Key learnings
Four factors to ensure success:
•  Dedication of the project team.
•  Commitment of the experts and super users in contributing their knowledge and effort in user acceptance testing.
•  Find suitable technology to implement business processes and functions.
•  Structured IT governance and methodology.

Deserves the award because...
The project has significant impact and benefits passengers, MTR staff and the company's bottom line. MTR has also done exceedingly well, considering there were challenges such as the complexity of the system, the deployment of the latest technologies, and time to market.

The business challenge was, therefore, to optimize the utilization of MTR's limited resources--people, tools, workspace and time (four non-traffic hours every day)--and yet be able to comply with the statutory and safety regulations.

In 2005, MTR embarked on a project called the Engineering Works & Traffic Information Management System (ETMS) which uses artificial intelligence (AI) for planning, scheduling and managing engineering works.

The business challenge was, therefore, to optimize the utilization of MTR's limited resources--people, tools, workspace and time (four non-traffic hours every day)--and yet be able to comply with the statutory and safety regulations.

In 2005, MTR embarked on a project called the Engineering Works & Traffic Information Management System (ETMS) which uses artificial intelligence (AI) for planning, scheduling and managing engineering works.

The ETMS helps MTR to efficiently plan and execute preventive and corrective engineering works during the limited time available in the non-traffic hours. The Artificial Intelligence technology enables interactive online scheduling of engineering works.

The system ensures all resource constraints, rules and regulations are checked. Conflicts and possible options are also highlighted. The system is particularly useful when there is an ad hoc change to the original confirmed schedule, as a revised schedule can promptly be determined.

The application interface is also user-friendly; the state-of-the-art XML-based SVG technology enables the graphical display of complicated engineering information such as track circuits and track possession range. Users can also input data and amend information on the diagrams.

ETMS was developed under an ISO 9001:2000 and Capability Maturity Model (CMM) Level 2 Certified system development methodology. It has also undergone vigorous and stringent user acceptance testing to ensure accuracy. The system has been in production for almost a year with 99.99 percent uptime.

The project team comprised MTR ITSD in-house staff and Andy Chun, a City University of Hong Kong associate professor who specializes in artificial intelligence. MTR ITSD was the project manager of the project, and a pool of users with domain experts provided input to the functions of the system.

ETMS is said to be the first application of its kind in the world, as no commercial product is available in the market. Because of the system's uniqueness in the railway industry, MTR believes there is market potential for other railway operators to use ETMS. The company said it is exploring this technology with railway operators in the United Kingdom and China.

The system will also be licensed to Beijing Line 4 and Shenzhen Line 4. This same AI rule engine is now used by the Immigration Department of Hong Kong for application assessment.

ETMS was developed at a total project cost of US$703,000, which includes ITSD staff cost, AI consultancy service, AI license cost, outsourced programming work, hardware and software license costs. MTR projects significant benefits and payback in less than three years.

According to MTR, the total value of fixed assets that it holds is over US$13 billion. Effective maintenance and engineering works help to enhance assets conditions and extend assets life, which directly translate to profitability.

Commenting on the project success factors, CIO Daniel Lai told ZDNet Asia: "I strongly believe that the difference is in having sound IT governance, as well as the support and participation of all stakeholders in relation to the project.

"Like all projects that we do, we align the project objectives with business objectives, and we establish clear targets and plans. We also ensure effective communication, emphasize controls, change and quality management, and we work as a team work toward a common goal," Lai added.

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