Written by Glenn Boylan, PMP
PMI Atlanta’s February Technology Forum was held on Tuesday, February 28th, where Sarah Ming Hsi presented a very informative and interesting talk titled "Concept to Reality – Successfully Sell Ideas and Secure Executive Funding".
Steve Kruger started the festivities at the Hewlett-Packard Enterprise office in Alpharetta. Once again the Technology Forum enjoyed the amenities of HP-E’s fantastic new café. Our thanks to HP-E for sharing it with PMI.
Steve reviewed PMI Atlanta’s upcoming events and reminded everyone about the many volunteer opportunities available for the Forum and the Atlanta chapter. For the full schedule of events and more details on how you can volunteer (and earn extra PDUs!), go to the chapter web site at PMIAtlanta.org.
Steve introduced Ms. Hsi, who is the Chief Information Officer for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transportation Authority (MARTA). Sarah started her career as a developer at AT&T. Her first job at MARTA was as an Oracle database administrator. She moved from databases to project management and program management, earning her PMP and PgMP certifications along the way. Being a program manager ignited her interest in a more strategic role, leading to the opportunity for her to become MARTA’s CIO.
In the first part of her presentation, Sarah shared some background on MARTA and an overview of what the agency is working on this year.
MARTA is the ninth largest mass transit system in the country, averaging 450,000 weekday boardings. These passengers use 338 rail cars, 565 buses, and 211 vans which are kept running by over 5,000 MARTA employees. All this adds up to a $2.1 billion input to the regional and state economies.
Security is vitally important to the agency, and to that assist in that they have over 12,000 cameras installed around the system, which includes 2,000 cameras at rail stations and major bus stops. That’s a lot of video, so MARTA is in the process of implementing video analytics software to help keep track of it all.
Looking to provide more than just transportation, MARTA recently introduced some amenities to their ride services – things like food trucks at stations, a bicycle sharing program, jazz events, and the popular Pianos for Peace initiative that placed pianos at several stations, inviting anyone to sit down and play. In addition, transit oriented development is in progress around several rail stations, including the Edgewood and Avondale stations.
Innovation and technology play important roles is keeping MARTA competitive. MARTA is teaming with City of Atlanta on smart city initiatives as well as working to incorporating the power of the Internet of Things (IOT) into the system. One of the key innovation techniques the agency uses is their “Hackathon” which invite teams from the public to come up with ideas to improve MARTA’s services. Last year’s Hackathon had over 197 participants. Hackathons have resulted in system improvements ideas ranging from train scheduling to waste receptacle management.
As CIO, Sarah is at the forefront of MARTA’s technology initiatives. The Breeze fare card program is completing a significant upgrade this year. The next step for fares is a purchase and ride application for smart phones. This app is in the pilot stage now, with 500 pilot users. So far MARTA has is getting an 88% approval rating on the app from these users.
A major technology initiative, and the focus of Ms. Hsi’s presentation, was the distributed antenna and Wi-Fi network being installed throughout the system. Sarah is responsible for the project from concept to reality, and as you can imagine, there were significant logistical, technical, and funding issues to be resolved.
Sarah stressed the importance of simplifying the scope – and therefore simplifying the messaging to stakeholders, including vendors and management. Previous projects to implement the Wi-Fi network at MARTA did not get off the ground, largely due to complicated scopes of works (and the resulting complicated RFPs) and confusing messages to the stakeholders.
By thoroughly analyzing the scope and requirements, the MARTA team was able to simplify the scope of the project without compromising the overall requirements. This was critical to providing clear, concise communication to MARTA management, government authorities, and participating vendors. Effective communication was the key, Sarah said, to getting project approval and continuing the successful project implementation.
The programs and initiatives Sarah shared with the Forum seem to be striking a chord with MARTA’s riders. A November ballot proposal for a half-cent sales tax increase within the City of Atlanta to help fund the transit programs passed with a remarkable 71% approval by the voters.
The Technology Forum appreciates Sarah taking the time to share her insights with us. The Forum attendees, which included both long-time riders and those not familiar with MARTA, learned a lot about the system and the successful project management techniques Sarah’s teams use so effectively.
The Technology Forum meets on the fourth Tuesday of the month except in August and December. The next Forum will be Tuesday, March 28th. Come join us.