The Golden Age of Cloud: Application Dev Teams are the New ‘it” in IT

Rehan Rizvi
Chief Enterprise Applications Officer at NJ Transit
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In today’s episode we’ll cover:

1. Where NJ Transit is implementing digital strategies and processes to help its constituents.

2. What “digital journey” means to NJ Transit?

  • How far along is your team on the roadmap?
  • Where are the opportunities you're looking for in 2021?
  • Any digital pivots based on Covid?

3. Rehan’s experience on the innovation side specifically in the public sector transportation arena.

4. What a world-class digital transportation agency looks like in 2021

5. Cloud is a hot sector. Where NJ Transit center is on its cloud journey

  • Favorite cloud platforms?
  • Mix of on-prem and cloud?
  • Where NJ Transit is going next with the cloud

2 Wrap ups:

  • Rehan’s number one leadership lesson
  • What’s the nicest thing someone has done for him


Rehan Rizvi (00:00):

So if you divide innovation, you have three things. You have process innovation, you have product innovation and you have service innovation. So that's how you categorize your three type of innovation.

Joe Toste (00:12):

Welcome to Tech Tables, conversations with top technology leaders. Taking a closer look at the world of IT and digital through the lens of agility and innovation. I'm your host Joe Toste.

I'm super excited today. As we shift our focus to all things New Jersey transit and transportation with Rehan Rizvi. Rehan is the chief enterprise application officer at New Jersey transit. Huge thank you to Rehan for taking time to come on the show with me today. In today's episode, we're going to cover implementing mission critical digital strategies, what digital journey means in New Jersey transit public sector innovation on the transportation side. What a world-class digital transportation experience looks like and where New Jersey transit is on its cloud journey. But that's quite enough for me, without further ado I'm thrilled to welcome Rehan Rizvi chief enterprise application officer at New Jersey transit.

Welcome to Tech Table. So glad to have you on this morning.

Rehan Rizvi (00:56):

Okay. Thank you Joe.

Joe Toste (00:57):

Awesome. Let's kick off today with a little bit about your background and yourself at New Jersey transit, along with some of the projects, some of the stuff that you've been working.

Renin Risby (01:05):

Thanks for having me Joe. I joined New Jersey transit in June 2019, after spending 25 years in private sector. So this is like my first public sector job. Before that I worked as a director for a $10 billion pension fund. Prior to that, I spent almost 10 years with Accenture providing management consulting to large group of consulting companies around the world. As well, I started my career as a software engineer so I used to be a very cutting hands on type guy doing product development, writing auto loan financing, and mortgage systems. So that's my brief background.

At New Jersey transit... Just to give you a little bit background of New Jersey transit. We are the third largest transit agencies in North America. As my job is to support our four business units. We have here bus, rail, police and corporate. As a chief operative application I managed all corporate applications and system across these four business units. Some of the projects... so in last one year my first project while I started a process improvement initiative and I joined the company, that was how do we do the process improvement and the finance procurement and supply chain functions.

Then we also have our enterprise content management system because as we are a public company, we have to have all the documents. So we start digitizing all our documentation, because we come under state regulation at a transit agency. We also come under federal regulation, so we have our own unique regulatory requirements. So we worked on that project that is underway, as well as I have kicked off multiple projects to start the cloud journey. And I will discuss this with you later. One of the project was how our capital project system move to the SaaS space environment, as well as we are also migrating our time keeping systems to also in the SaaS environment.

Joe Toste (03:29):

That's great. So you mentioned 25 years in the private sector. What prompted the move to the public sector?

Renin Risby (03:38):

Actually it's a interesting question. I came as a consultant and I got a good opportunity. I see the company and 

I think this is the company where I can do technology work as well as giving back to the community. So that was interesting offer at that time. 

And I said, "This is what I want to do", and then I'm enjoying every day of my job.

Joe Toste (04:04):

I think that's one of my favorite pieces about the public sector. Recently there's a really big wave of folks who've been in the private sector, coming to the public sector and then leveraging obviously their technical abilities, but also with the mindset of giving back to the community and having that intersection and that blend. So I love that. That seems to be a big theme across a number of technology. CIO, CTOs, chief enterprise application officers like yourself, which is really good. So now more than ever, digital is really mission critical for cities and states to keep running. On the transportation side at New Jersey transit, where are you implementing digital strategies and processes to help your constituents?

Rehan Rizvi (04:47):

Great question Joe. Yes. This is more than our...It's becoming very critical to have all our application available on a seven by 24 type environment. And in order to have this, we have already kicked off couple of projects. I already mentioned that we are migrating all of our capital programming side of the project to a SaaS based solution. Just want to give you a little bit background.

We are a transportation agency. It's a very capital intensive business, almost $4 billion budget between OPEX and CapEx. This is also one of four key system to have in a SaaS platform. The other thing is we have to all our time keeping system because people need to enter time. They need to get paid and all those things. We are already migrating this to a SaaS based environment, 

as well as we already started the journey to start migrating all of our enterprise application and the SaaS base environment.

So we come up with the strategy and some of the thing is really driven by our NJT 2030 strategy. We have a 10 year strategic plan, what NJT stranded needs to do in the next 10 years. We have five year capital plan, that's what needs to happen in the next five years. We have kind of framework what needs to get done in next 10 years.

We have this roadmap right now, and then we are following that in order to achieve all our digital stuff, as well as make sure we have all mission critical application available in any circumstances, any disaster, COVID environment, as well as natural disaster or anything. We want to make sure that our infrastructure is resilient and we have all the applications available to all our customer as well as to our employee and suppliers.

Joe Toste (06:51):

It's really great. I know you came from... You said you came from consulting and software. Compared to a capital intensive business like New Jersey transit coming up with 10 year plans, were you used to coming up with 10 year plans before, or was this a new... I'm sure you plan before, but 10 year planning. Is that new?

Rehan Rizvi (07:13):

To me it was new, but TSV hired a consulting company. They come up with work with us and then provided a plan because as this plan is also public information, anybody can go and see it NJT.com, what we planning to do in the next 10 years. And what is our capital program for next five years. So in public sector I think... As I said I joined last year so I'm also learning a lot of public sector, but it looks like it's a normal in public sector to publish the plan because it's get approved from multiple level. And we are coming both state as well as federal regulation.

Joe Toste (07:55):

That's great. So on our podcast prep call, you mentioned digital journey. What does digital journey mean to New Jersey transit? We touched a little bit upon it, but if you could just touch a little bit more about how important digital journey means.

Rehan Rizvi (08:10):

It's really very critical for us. As I said, we already have a NJT 2030 strategy plan. If you follow the plan, our digital journey to me is upgrading all our systems because the next 10 years... By the way, we are running mixed blend of application. We have SaaS application, we have all in house custom built application. We still have mainframe application. And that's the plan that when I joined some of the things was shock to me that oh, we are still running this type of technology. Again as a public sector, some of the thing is different. That is the plan that we want to have all our application modernize, updated and so we come up with a kind of three things.

One is, all our enterprise application next move everything to the SaaS space. Then all of our custom built application, we are rationalizing what can we run as a platform as a service. Which application will go infrastructure as a service. That is already underway. And to me is... To answer your question to me, the digital journey is we move our... 

Update our system, upgrade all our applications to the latest digital platform. Move it to the cloud. 

Then also we are looking to do analytical reporting. And once we get this type of maturity, the next level is to go use more AI machine learning, robotic process automation, all those things.

Joe Toste (09:47):

That's great. And 10 years is a long way. What does next year look like for you? What's the focus for next year?

Rehan Rizvi :

So focus for next year is we are looking our finance procurement supply chain system and move it to the cloud environment. Or we are also looking from an HR side. How do we do more self service and I'll talk about the challenges because it's a public sector and transportation organization. That's the plan that upgrade and provide more self service applications and all those things. So next year I know...And also we have also started a couple of things to the digitalization front. That okay, how do we capture all the signature instead of right now people just are still print it, sign it, then they say yes it's acceptable. Now we are rolling out a more, a solution to people can sign it electronically, less printing and less.

Exactly. And also as well as digitize all the paper into our ECMS solution, those are the initiative we are doing right now that is already underway. And I already mentioned this, we already upgrading our capital programming system. We are already upgrading our time and attendance system and all those things. That's the plan for next year.

Joe Toste :
That’s great. So you were building the ten year plan. I'm curious, any digital pivots? COVID comes. I'm sure you're sitting there going, well this wasn't in the ten year plan but now we've got to make an adjustment.

Rehan Rizvi (11:26):

Exactly. And again.. By the way, our NJT plan is not... It's a fluid means... It says in the plan that according to the different system standard, it will change. And exactly same thing happened. We had the plan and boom, we have COVID-19. Definitely some of the things are changing as also impacting us, over revenue... The trap, right? Because more less and less people are using train these days, it has a real impact to us.

Yes, definitely there are pivots because of COVID. Now we need to adjust our plan because we were just planning to go some big projects this year, but now I think we need to slow down re-prioritize some of our projects. What we can do in 21. What can we do in 22 and beyond. Because first plan was, let's have 75% of application upgraded in the next two years. And B, but now looks like we need to adjust our plan. And as from my experience, economic economy has a big say in all these plans and all those things. You can do a planning, but you don't know all the other external factors which can affect your plan. Right?

Joe Toste (12:41):

Yep. So in the tech space, digital details innovation... Talk about your experience on the innovation side, specifically in the public sector transportation arena.

Rehan Rizvi (12:52):

Some of the innovation we did in last one year, we are already...so I think before that, let's talk about innovation. I know people talk about innovation, but again innovation is come up with something new or it can also improve the processes and improve the product with the new features and all those things. So if you divide your innovation, you have three things. 

You have process innovation, you have product innovation and you have service innovation. 

That's how you categorize your three type of innovation. I think we are working on all three fronts. We are looking at what are the process improvement we can do that we already did. What do we have today? What can we improve and can we do anything new in that business processes as well as from a product side? What can we improve right here on app? People buy tickets, people buy... Do a lot of things with that app.

That is also underway. We are keep rolling out new features, right? And from a service innovation side, we are also looking, what can we add a new service to the organization right now? We know that we are a transportation agency, but I think our CIO is already talking to... For example, Amazon. Can we put the locker around at the station? Can we add these type of services, which will help both the customer and help us in the revenue? Can we have some kind of claim system, right? So then people use... Take NJT they get mile and we... Or they get reward, which they can use to maybe buy a coffee or something. There are lots of discussion going on in all three innovation fronts. From a process side, we are... As we said, we are already implementing some of the technology, which will improve in the electronic signature digitization of our documents as well as we are doing more automation so we can improve and automate some of the processes. Things like that.

Joe Toste (14:52):

That's great. I think the... There's a lot of really great stuff in there. I love the game of fine, how we see the transportation system. People still love to travel. Airbnb just went public and their stock went to the moon and people... Even with COVID people want to get out and travel. I think when some of the restrictions, the vaccine, some good news there... I love to travel on trains, airplanes. I'm looking forward to getting back in the swing and that’s—

Rehan Rizvi (15:19):

Just to add, it's an experience. I have three daughters so sometimes— Can we just dad... Just take the train I know, and go to New York? Those things will come back. I know people are a little afraid right now, but eventually it will come back because people want to take the train and it's a different experience.

Joe Toste (15:38):

It's a different experience, especially on the east coast. I've traveled up and down from New York down to Washington DC, Philadelphia. It's a really different... Boston... Is a fun experience. Not to mention, of course right now with cars you have to focus on the road.

Rehan Rizvi (15:55):

... All those things. Every traffic.

Joe Toste (15:59):

I love it. Let's talk about... Cloud is hot. It's a hot sector. It's growing really fast, especially in the SaaS and the SaaS world. Where's New Jersey transit and its cloud journey. You've touched a little bit on it, but I'm just curious where New Jersey transit is on its cloud journey now.

Rehan Rizvi (16:14):

That is... We are full fledged into that path. So let's define again Cloud. Because I think different people have different meaning the word cloud, right? There are three things in the Cloud. 

You have a software as a service, you have a platform as a service and you have an infrastructure as a service. 

In the SaaS platform, your supplier or your vendor will do everything for you. So from my enterprise application side, we made a strategy with all our enterprise application, corporate application we will move into the cloud. And I already mentioned, two projects are already underway. And two more big projects we are already working on the business case and all those things. The strategy is to move all our enterprise application into the SaaS platform. Now we have lots of custom built applications. Those are very unique to the transportation agency.

For example, when you go on board and you don't have a ticket, you can buy a ticket on board, right? So those are custom built application and that's what we are doing. And then you have a reduced fare because we are also come under public sector. And then we had a new initiative that anybody who is a senior citizen can get a reduced fare. Those are custom built application. And now we are rationalizing, what can we move it to the platform as a service environment? And what can we move into the infrastructure as a servicing. That it's very clearly laid out. And then we are already talking to multiple vendors about infrastructure as a service, who can provide that service. That evaluation is underway right now. I know we are doing proof of concepts with different vendors and all those things so that we're so... I would say we are pretty much in flight.

Joe Toste (18:01):

That's awesome. I won't take up too much more of your time. I was curious, I have two wrap up questions. One, what's your number one leadership lesson that the audience can take away today.

Rehan Rizvi (18:11):

That is a good question. Number one, a leadership lesson. 

I will say it's a frayed perseverance. 

What I mean by that... Yes. You hire, you need education, the skills and the desire and all those things that there but let's say everything equal. A lot of people have all those things, but if you are not persistent, or if you are not able to take the risk sometime, or not able to take the challenge during difficult projects, that I learned over years. 

Perseverance is really that key here, because as a leader sometime you will face different kinds of challenges as well as setback.  

Sometime you will have a very low moment and you will feel that oh my God, what I've done. And then can you stand up again and do the same thing again? 

And also I learned as a leader you also have to thick skin because you should be able to take the blame and criticism because nobody's perfect and people will make mistakes.

You move on. But again, you keep trying what you're trying to do... Don't people discourage you. I know sometime people... Don't be around negative people, because they will just suck you into the negative feelings and all those things. If I have to just say one word, that would be perseverance. If you want to do it, I know it's not going to be easy. And career path is not just a straight... You go up sometimes you go down and then you fall down and then you get up again and then you move up. Economy also plays a big role in it. You plan something that I want to do this and then boom! You have a big recession. I remember 2000. I remember 2008. All those time were tough time where you can plan something, but things happened where your perseverance come into play that. Yes. I know it's a tough time. I know I'm having a tough time right now but yes, I can do it. And then you move forward again.

Joe Toste (20:20):

That's really good. So I heard the two P's, which I love perseverance as a trait and positivity. I'm really positive. If anyone is feeling down, they can come hang out with me. I'll lift them up. The last question that I have is what's the nicest thing someone has done for you?

Rehan Rizvi (20:41):

That is also... I guess over the years, I think a lot of people have done nicest thing for me. Again, it all depends in your... Where are you in your career journey at what age you are in something... What as really important to you in your twenties it's not that important in your thirties and forties. It all depends, right? Some... If I go back, some people... Support my mental manager, they send me on exciting training. Some put me on exciting projects and all that type of thing. And then lately, I think ... You approaching to me about me is a nice thing, right? You approached me, you contacted me and then we connected. And also this was a very nice of you to contact me and interview me and we kind of chatting about this.

Joe Toste (21:30):

This is fun.

Rehan Rizvi (21:31):

I think really enjoyed this whole experience of talking to you and going through this... Again, it's a process and then I enjoyed it a lot.

Joe Toste (21:39):

I love it. And so where can people find you? Do you hang out on LinkedIn? Twitter?

Rehan Rizvi (21:44):

Yes. I have a LinkedIn account. They can contact me via LinkedIn. I don't have a Twitter account, but I have Facebook account.I have all other different accounts that I'm trying to limit to just LinkedIn.

Joe Toste (21:59):

Awesome. I love it. Thank you for coming on the show today. I really appreciate it.

Rehan Rizvi (22:03):

Okay Joe, nice talking to you. And thanks for having me.

Joe Toste (22:06):

If you're interested in seeing what Nagarro, a digital product engineering company that excels at solving complex business challenges through agility and innovation can do for your company, you can email Joe at joe.toste, that's T O S T E @.com. Or message Joe on LinkedIn. For all information on the Nagarro, checkout nagarro.com. That's nagarro.com. You've been listening to the tech tables podcast to make sure you never miss an episode. Subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you have an iPhone we'd love for you to open the apple podcasts app and leave a quick rating for the show, just tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves to catch more tech tables episodes. You can go to tech tables, podcast.com and to learn more about our sponsor, please visit dot com. That's Nagarro.com. And of course you can find Joe Toste, your podcast host on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Joe's. Last name is T O S T E. Thanks for listening.

Joe Toste
Joe Toste
Host of TechTables Podcast

Host of TechTables 🎙- Conversations with Top Technology Leaders