Network Rail’s ERP system is fit for the future
Client:Network Rail, owner and operator of Britain’s rail infrastructure.
- Assure the performance of Network Rail’s ERP system— one of the largest and most complex Oracle E-Business Suite implementations in Europe—and prepare it for a major upgrade.
- An ERP optimisation project to clear out redundant customisations, implement a business-driven governance framework, and deliver a robust and scalable supporting infrastructure.
- A successful transformation of the ERP system and its infrastructure that laid the foundations for a smoothly delivered Release 12 upgrade.
- Closer alignment of future developments with business needs.
A system relied upon by thousands of users
‘Business critical’ can be a rather overused term, but it’s an accurate description of the Oracle E Business Suite (EBS) enterprise resource planning (ERP) system at Network Rail, the owner and operator of Britain’s rail infrastructure. Every year the system processes £5.5 billion of supplier payments, £2.5 billion of track access payments from train and freight operating companies, a payroll of £1 billion, and £3.5 billion of project financing. The system is also used to run other functions as diverse as order management, logistics planning, expenses, customer relationship management (CRM) and online learning modules; and to provide an online recruitment portal that’s used by up to 80,000 applicants annually. Within Network Rail alone, 30,000 users rely on it, as do a further 2,000 across their supply chain.
When the ageing IT infrastructure underpinning the ERP system started to become unstable and affect performance, Network Rail knew it had to act: it couldn’t risk any failure or downtime. An additional driver was the pressing need to upgrade to Oracle EBS Release 12 (R12)—an upgrade the existing infrastructure couldn’t support. As well as moving to the latest supported version, Network Rail wanted to take the opportunity to review its business processes, eliminate the number of customisations, and exploit new functionality. It also needed to reduce the support and administration overhead and overall total cost of ownership. As part of an enterprise operations agreement, CSC manages Network Rail’s infrastructure and database that support the Oracle EBS system. CSC worked closely with Network Rail and Oracle on a proposal to redesign and re-platform the infrastructure and optimise the ERP system ready for upgrade to R12.
A robust and scalable platform for the future
The old infrastructure consisted of a small number of large, powerful servers: an inflexible architecture that was expensive to expand. CSC took a completely different approach— based on industry best practice and Oracle’s maximum-availability architecture principles for Oracle EBS—and built a new platform comprising a larger number of smaller servers, which improves technical and financial flexibility as well as efficiency.
It’s now much easier and more cost-effective for Network Rail to expand capacity by adding one or more extra servers to the platform. Disaster recovery provisions are also much improved: if one server should fail, there are plenty of others to take the load and minimise the potential risk of data loss. Capacity for specific activities at times of heavy demand, such as year-end reporting, could be expanded in a similar way. The platform is robust, scalable and easier to manage. It provides a much improved monitoring capability that enables Network Rail to investigate and resolve rogue processes faster and better manage capacity in line with the performance levels expected by the business.
Business needs drive system upgrades
A key aspect of the ERP optimisation project was implementation of a new governance framework and control system. In the past, Network Rail’s Oracle projects were often led by technical updates to the tool. The new governance model now ensures that it is business needs that drive upgrades and changes. Under the new framework, Network Rail creates roadmaps for each business area’s strategic direction, decides what changes need to be achieved during each funding period, and looks at the impact each one will have on other business areas. Network Rail also now has a structured program of new feature releases every two months. Changes that deliver business benefits or help meet regulatory requirements are
Reducing customisations and complexity
A pillar of the new governance framework is the centralised configuration tool that holds details of the ERP system’s customisations. Over the years, documentation for many customisations and non-standard additions hadn’t been centrally stored or controlled, making them difficult to manage—an impossible starting point for a major upgrade like R12. CSC discovered 29,000 non-standard items in Network Rail’s ERP environment. The majority were redundant scripts and files that were deleted to declutter the environment. The 6,000 customisations were investigated by Network Rail and CSC. Some were as trivial as changing the colour or a screen or the position of a button; overall about a third of the customisations were removed. The remaining two-thirds were genuinely needed to provide functionality not present in the ERP system as standard—such as allowing for the additional levels of payment authorisation required by Network Rail’s oversight obligations as a regulated body.
These were fully documented in preparation for the R12 upgrade and to enable their effective management over the longer term. With the new infrastructure in place and the ERP system optimised, Network Rail was ready to upgrade to Oracle EBS R12, a project that was awarded to CSC following a highly competitive tender process. The ERP optimisation project gave Network Rail direct sight of the required transformation journey and laid the technical foundations for a much easier R12 upgrade process. In addition, CSC worked with Network Rail to run an intensive communications programme to gain organisation-wide buy-in to the project, engaged closely with the business to understand requirements, and planned for in-depth testing by system users. Throughout the entire process Network Rail’s application services team together with CSC, formed a very strong project team that demonstrated the high levels of commitment necessary to ensure the ERP optimisation and R12 upgrade projects were successfully delivered. Over a three-and-a-half year period, Network Rail’s entire ERP estate was transformed and a major upgrade delivered without any disruption to business operations.