Amtrak CIO Ghada Ijam discusses corporate restructuring

Big changes are coming to Amtrak. CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman announced a streamlining of Amtrak’s corporate structure on Jan. 4. Women of Washington hosts Aileen Black and Gigi Schumm invited Amtrak CIO Ghada Ijam into the studio to talk about this shift, and what it means for her technology department in particular.

Amtrak CIO Ghada Ijam
Amtrak CIO Ghada Ijam

The purpose of the reorganization is to reduce operating deficits, increase transparency with the public and comply with the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. Ijam discussed how the changes will combine Amtrak’s public sector core mission with private sector customer service and efficiency.

“What’s fascinating about public sector agencies is that they’re driven by their mission,” Ijam said. “The mission is what drives and motivates people. What you see in the halls at Amtrak is that passion to provide an excellent rail service, but we do look at our financials and our business results and make sure that we are spending wisely and generating the right revenue for the company.”

Ijam discussed IT’s role in the transition, and how her team must be engaged going forward to help make Amtrak successful. “We are a part of this business,” she said. “We need to understand the business. We need to understand what makes the business tick, and how technology can enable the business to get the needed results.”

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Part of the reorganization moved Ijam’s technology department under the Planning, Technology, and Public Affairs group, one of six groups created in the move that will report directly to the CEO. Ijam explained that this would help the company utilize IT more fully in order to deliver on its goals.

“The organization that IT will report into owns the strategic planning for Amtrak,” she said. “IT being a part of that organization is a recognition that IT is a strategic capability that Amtrak can leverage to run like a business, to improve our operations and our services, and to improve our customer experience.”

Ijam said that the new placement of IT within Amtrak was an improvement over where it had been. Since Moorman took over as CEO earlier this year, IT had been reporting into the chief financial officer (CFO). Ijam described how this was not ideal for her team and how the new organization would be an improvement.

“The new place where IT belongs now is a better place,” she said in reference to the reorganization. “When you report into the CFO, you become a cost center, but when you report to the head of planning and strategy, you become a strategic enabler.”

In addition to making changes to its corporate structure, Amtrak is also looking for a new national headquarters. After 30 years in Union Station in Washington, D.C., Amtrak is seeking to move to a new building in D.C. when its lease expires later this year.  Although Ijam said that this was still in the early planning stages, she emphasized that Amtrak’s new headquarters will use modern technology to streamline both customers’ experiences maximize employee efficiency.

“IT is heavily engaged with the real estate department to make sure that the needs and the aspirations of the new building for Amtrak has that new capability,” she said.

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