Hand in Glove

March 11, 2010 by Susan Sills

Montreal_winter_STM

Record-setting bitter-cold temperatures have hit the headlines regularly in the past few months in many parts of the world. The masses of snow have caused both wonderment and hardship. But for Montréalers, icy temperatures, endless snowfalls, and black ice are just par for the course.

Winter? We like it, it’s part of the Canadian life and psyche.  But it’s also a large part of the reason why our subway systems have to function so well, says Marielle Fournier, director of IT at Société de transport de Montréal (STM), Montréal’s public transit service. “Bus transport is important, but mainly in the other seasons.” She turns to her colleague Sylvain Lapointe, IT divisional manager, for his opinion. He smiles, concurs. “In winter people use the Montréal Metro a lot more than the buses,” he explains. “At temperatures of -20 Celsius, it’s simply too cold to wait for a bus.” Not to mention the fact that seven Métro stations service Montréal’s famed underground city – the largest underground complex in the world and used by over half a million people every day during the long winter months. But whether subway or bus, continues Fournier, “it’s imperative that STM function efficiently and reliably.”

This, in fact, was one of the reasons why STM, one of the most extensive municipal transit companies in Canada, turned to SAP six years ago. “We had too many heterogeneous IT systems,” explains Fournier. “They were highly disparate and costly to maintain. We wanted to integrate and modernize our systems and so we decided to adopt an SAP enterprise resource planning solution.”

With its acquisition of ERP financial and human resources modules from SAP, the company was able to replace its assorted back-office systems with one powerful solution.  “The modernization and integration were successful,” says Fournier. “We were able to reduce our IT costs and personnel expenses. To meet our needs more completely, however, we also implemented some in-house software for recruiting processes.”

Next Page: Low tech meets high tech

Low tech meets high tech

STM is currently in the process of executing the second part of its IT strategy, the implementation of SAP Plant Maintenance capabilities, spread over a period of ten years and divided into the maintenance of buses, buildings, fixed assets, and subway cars.  The first two maintenance projects – bus and buildings – have been completed.

The bus maintenance was particularly challenge since it involved weaning inspectors and mechanics off paper-based work orders. The company met this challenge by implementing SAP Enterprise Portal and equipping each shop-floor PC with a handheld bar code reader. Mechanics simply scan the job number of the paper work and are immediately presented with job details via the portal. The portal also allows mechanics to see all their current jobs and the history of each individual one.

“Initially, the acceptance of the portal wasn’t very high,” admits LaPointe. “But now our mechanics find the portal very user friendly. And the portal also gives managers access to the all the information they needs regarding the reliability and availability of buses. So they benefit, too.”  But not only mechanics and managers use the portal:  all STM employees use it to access a wide range of documents, including company policy and business plans that are produced by the individual STM departments. By giving employees, customers, suppliers and partners a single point of access to the content and applications, the portal ensures optimized work processes and  informed decisions.

In August 2009, STM implemented the BI level of the SAP solution, giving managers key performance indicators. “They could see, for example, that 2008 was the first good year in that department after about six or seven rough years,” says Fournier. “Managers now have more control over cost and availability.”

Playing with information

For both bus maintenance and building maintenance, STM is considering implementing the first upper level of SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius. Says Fournier, “Our goal is to ensure that business users have more information.  We want to make sure that they can both access and play with the information they need easily.”

“At the moment, the third phase, fixed asset maintenance, is keeping us busy,” says LaPointe. “We’re also developing a business case for the fourth project, revamping the subway cars.” Since the objective is to have fewer subway cars and shorter downtime in the future, it is important, he emphasizes, that maintenance be as fast and efficient as possible. The new subway cars are scheduled to roll onto the tracks by the end of  2014, a major project that has been years in the making.  LaPointe’s eyes light up as he describes the new subway cars – “They’re futuristic with a great design,” – adding that the smaller, sleeker cars will be more appealing to Montréal passengers and easier for STM to maintain.

The next winter is bound to come, probably sooner and with more snow than even the most blizzard- proof Québecois really want.  But with their service-oriented and smoothly operating public system, Montréalers are well equipped to deal with its icy rigors.

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