Tuesday May 07, 2013

The Growing IT Labor Shortage Post 3: United Streetcar: America’s Only Streetcar Manufacturer is Back On Track

by Jim Lein, Programs Management Senior Principal, Oracle Accelerate Corporate Programs

Managing Finance and IT Under One Roof

Streetcar (tram) systems are gaining popularity in the United States and worldwide, often as a key component of urban revitalization. Potential investors and residents can be assured that development plans are more than just dreams if a city is investing in an appealing transportation infrastructure. In 2005, Portland-based Oregon Iron Works (OIW) spun off a subsidiary, United Streetcar, to embark on the vision of becoming America’s only domestic manufacturer of streetcars.

Oracle’s Profit magazine featured United Streetcar in the August 2011 Profit Oracle’s JD Edwards Special Edition. However, achieving full production mode was delayed by months, partly because the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) was still actively developing access and safety standards.

Today, United Streetcar is back on track. Late in the evening on January 21st, 2013, it delivered its first production streetcar to the City of Portland. A second streetcar was shipped in April. There are some great pictures on its Facebook page.

Last week, I had a conversation with Don Hutchison, Director of Finance at United Streetcar, to see how things were going. He played a role in the company’s decision in 2009 to deploy the Oracle Accelerate Solution for Manufacturing from local Oracle partner Jibe Consulting.

“We selected Oracle’s JD Edwards EnterpriseOne because of its capabilities for mixed mode manufacturing and because we knew it would be the best solution to help us build a new 100% domestic supply chain for streetcars,” says Hutchison. “And we chose Jibe because they are local and have a great reputation in implementing Oracle solutions at many Portland-area manufacturing companies.”

Hutchison has a diverse background in finance, IT, consulting, and operations. He supervises the finance and IT functions at United Streetcar. For this blog series on The Growing IT Labor Shortage I asked Hutchison about his approach to managing both.

“If done correctly,” observes Hutchison, “finance should be able to provide operations with meaningful and actionable information. That’s what we need to do. An income statement and a balance sheet are interesting but—as I often remind my team—we are a manufacturer-not an accounting firm.”

Hutchison’s IT strategy for United Streetcar reflects an increasing trend amongst growing midsize companies to adopt a hybrid sourcing plan for IT roles and functions. Infrastructure support duties—primarily server management—for both United Streetcar and OIW are shared by three IT staff and one or two contractors from an outside firm. Hutchison has just one part time sub contractor supporting the Oracle’s JD Edwards applications. He meets with Jibe once a week to review open issues and pulls them in as needed.

With most production barriers now removed, United Streetcar is now actively bidding on multiple streetcar projects. Hutchison says the capabilities in Oracle’s JD Edwards give United Streetcar an advantage over big foreign competitors. “90% of streetcar design is the same from city to city,” he says, “with minor variations to things like seating layout, HVAC, and communication systems requirements as well as the cosmetic look of the front and back ends. As we engage in new bids, we can leverage Oracle’s JD Edwards to more quickly and accurately do an evaluation of how any variations will impact our bid. This makes us better situated to meet the needs of the US market which requires bidding on short runs of maybe 6 cars instead of 50-200 cars as is common in Europe and Canada.

 More in this series:

 Post 1: The Growing IT Labor Shortage: Are You Feeling It?

Post 2: Want to Hire and Retain the Best Talent? Leverage Your Employees' Social Media Networks

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