CIO50 2021 #18 Russell Morris, TransGrid

  • Name Russell Morris
  • Title Chief Information Officer
  • Company TransGrid
  • Commenced role 2018
  • Reporting Line Executive, corporate services
  • Member of the Executive Team No
  • Technology Function 65 staff, 5 direct reports
  • Managing a large engineering workforce across multiple construction sites is complex and potentially high risk. The biggest challenge at electricity transmission network operator, TransGrid, is ensuring staff and thousands of supporting contractors are properly registered and qualified to work safely, and none of the accreditations or insurances expire doing the course of work.

    Historically, in-house developed systems, combined with a large volume of manual paperwork, were used to manage projects safety and were unable to scale, creating a constraint during a major growth phase of the business.

    TransGrid owns and operates an asset base of $6 billion which is predicted to double in the next five years as significant investments are made in critical infrastructure.

    “The same historic systems also created an in-built inefficiency around site inductions. Previously upon arrival, all workers had to complete extensive safety inductions before entering a job site, which created delays.

    To overcome this, TransGrid’s chief information officer, Russell Morris and his team rolled out an online workforce management platform that provides safety management of operational workers, delivers training, and reduces the time it takes to do safety inductions.

    It also provides an irrefutable record with an app-based electronic ID card similar to a digital drivers license. This provides visibility of workers in real time, which enables the organisation to manage risk, stay connected, improve productivity, and make smarter and safer decisions, says Morris.

    “We can now centralise all work qualifications, improving the experience for all parties, including internal and external workers and the companies they work for. The platform includes an online contractor portal where delivery partners must register their business before starting work with TransGrid. Onsite supporting kiosks inspired by the airline industry’s self-service check-in, as well as a mobile app,” he says.

    Under the new system, any worker’s credentials, accreditations and insurance can be instantly checked against the work they will be doing on site. TransGrid managers can go into the field, scan a contractor’s digital ID and quickly see all their relevant information including qualifications, training and certifications.

    On site equipment had QR codes and after scanning the code the requirements to operate equipment is checked against the worker’s virtual safety license in the app.

    “The app immediately feeds back to the user by flashing green if the worker is up to date in all required areas, amber if their accreditation or insurance is due to expire within 60 days, and red if their insurance or accreditation has already expired,” Morris says.

    “The system also proactively sends notifications to the worker and the company they work for when any of this documentation is due for renewal.”

    Morris says that to address the issue of induction inefficiencies, workers also complete a virtual induction prior to arriving on site. This induction is linked to their individual profile, so it is not transferrable between users. This means that if the original worker is substituted for another employee from the same delivery partner, the new employee is flagged as having to complete the induction.

    “This removes the potential for workers being onsite without necessary credentials. Upon arrival on site, workers complete a short verification via the kiosk to ensure the induction was engaged with. This vastly reduces the time it takes to complete site inductions from two hours to 15 minutes, removing delays at the site gate,” he says.

    In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Morris and his team also integrated a QR code module into all of its sites using the same technology to track staff movements and usage of office facilities during the hybrid working period.

    “In this sense, the system provided the leadership team with vital duty of care information about who was on site,” he says.

    Safer work environment

    So far, 452 of TransGrid’s independent delivery partners have signed up, with 5,200 words and their current qualifications to work loaded into the system. The system has been used to register more than 500 TransGrid engineers to track their qualifications with the process uncovering around 200 new B2B relationships that were previously unrecognised.

    “For example, at our Sydney East 330,000-volt substation, more than 37,000 hours of safe work has been managed through the new system. We have also transferred more than 45,000 historic records from multiple separate systems and eliminated all paper records,” Morris says.

    A communication campaign to encourage adoption was also run through TransGrid’s radio channel with an engagement rate of more than 70 percent.

    “This was above the 50 percent we have seen in the past when engaging a heavy engineering organisation with technology. As an added bonus, 60 percent of the integrations built through our microservices architecture platform were reusable. This saved us $1 million in development costs and greatly improved our future speed to value,” says Morris.

    Morris says he never asks himself what the needs of the business are now. Instead, he asks what they could be.

    “I think of how they might change many years from now and aim to build future-proof and adaptable systems that will be flexible to unforeseeable changes,” he says.

    In 2019, Morris and his team built a business productivity kit. This simple but highly effective system securely replicated key pieces of business information from the intranet and across the company to each individual PC.

    In the event that a staff member didn’t have connectivity at home, or a more serious disaster occurred like a cyber-attack, all staff would have the information they needed to contact others and follow certain key business processes with consistency.

    “The potential of this kit was realised earlier than expected in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in 95 percent of our staff working from home almost overnight,” says Morris.

    “We could have never foreseen a global pandemic which would cause such a dramatic shift in how the company operates, but the ‘future-facing model’ was able to accommodate the unexpected. The result was reduced disruption to the business at a critical time.”

    Byron Connolly

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