It's not often a CIO is asked to rescue a $2.2 billion construction project, but that's exactly what happened when Transurban hired Cesare Tizi to steer Melbourne's troubled CityLink toll road back on track
"I hope you know what you're doing." Those were the first words Transurban CIO Cesare Tizi heard from his managing director after signing a contract to buy back the technology for Melbourne's beleaguered CityLink toll road from the company that originally developed it.
Transurban MD Kim Edwards had good reason to be nervous. Today, the $2.2 billion CityLink road built by his company is viewed as a model of how toll roads will operate in the future, attracting interest from governments as far afield as Taiwan and South America. But that wasn't always the case. Back when Tizi stepped into the newly-created CIO role in April 2000, technical problems and other delays had seen CityLink subjected to scathing criticism from the Melbourne press and local community groups. By the time Tizi arrived on the scene, Transurban was a company under siege.
Billed as Australia's biggest infrastructure project since the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, the 22-kilometre CityLink expressway was built to link three of Melbourne's four main freeways, slashing travel times with an automated tolling system that eschews toll booths in favour of transponders, called "eTags", mounted on passing cars.
That was the plan, at least until concrete blistering on the Bolte Bridge held up construction and set back crucial work on safety, tolling and billing systems. The opening of the southern section of CityLink was also delayed for a year after cracking discovered in the Burnley Tunnel led to serious leaks. Transurban's construction partner, Transfield Obayashi, spent months anchoring the tunnel to bedrock with rock and steel ties to overcome the problem, but nevertheless found itself the target of a $251 million lawsuit for faulty construction brought against it by Transurban.
To make matters worse, the tolling software that sits at the heart of CityLink - designed for Transurban by CSC - was bug-ridden and months behind schedule. Problems with the mailhouse interface and report writing functions caused serious delays for the development team, and when the first sections of the Melbourne toll road opened in August 1999, the integrated tolling system still wasn't working. At one point, Transurban was losing roughly $200,000 per day in missing toll revenue.
When the e-Tags finally did come into use, things didn't get much better. "The technology was failing all over the place," Tizi says. "People were not getting the e-Tags until late, statements were incorrect, and they'd ring up about their account and the people on the phone couldn't answer the questions."
Tizi arrived at Transurban just before Easter, and almost immediately he heard that plans were under way to hire 100 extra call centre staff to cope with the flood of complaints expected to come in over the holiday period. For Tizi it was an ominous sign of the challenges he would have to overcome.
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