More than seven months into its merger with the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp (KCRC), the MTR Corp is on track to complete what it sees as the most complex information technology integration project in the global rail transport industry. The MTR, the city's sole railway operator and a leading property developer, will cut the total number of enterprise server computers in the merged group by September and finish the roll-out of common software applications by the first quarter of next year. From a high of 1,100 servers before the merger, the new company intends to keep a more cost-effective base of 400 servers. The larger MTR's data centres - all in Hong Kong - will be whittled down from five to three. About 31 common but minor enterprise applications will be deployed. 'Once all that work is done, we can spend our resources on new projects and pursue key innovations,' said Daniel Lai, the head of IT at the MTR. 'We treat IT as one of our vital support departments, just like finance or human resources.' Mr Lai said the realignment of IT systems supported business processes that made it possible for the MTR to undertake initiatives including developing six new railway lines over the next decade and several large property projects that are either on the drawing board or under construction. The MTR is a major player in a HK$39.5 billion plan to build an express rail link to the border, a project that will make Hong Kong the southern gateway to the nation's high-speed rail network. Services will begin in 2015. To run safe and undisrupted railway services, the pre-merger MTR and KCRC relied on their respective IT infrastructure in managing assets such as tracks and carriages, handling back-end fare processing for smart card transactions, providing customer hotline services and managing lost property at stations. Started in February last year, the MTR's IT systems integration programme is a critical part of the HK$12 billion merger between the company and the century-old KCRC. 'There is no reference point anywhere in the world of a similar IT infrastructure merger by almost equal-sized railway network operators,' said Gautam Bardoloi, a partner at IBM China/Hong Kong's Global Business Services unit, the MTR's consultant in the programme. With the corporate merger on December 2 last year, the enlarged MTR has seized more than a 40 per cent share of Hong Kong's public transport market to become the sector's leading operator - with daily passenger volume exceeding 3.4 million, about half of the city's population. 'Without a smooth integration of IT systems, business simply cannot run optimally for the new MTR,' said Mr Bardoloi, whose team at IBM initially worked with the MTR to study and help draw up plans for the IT infrastructure merger. But Mr Lai said: 'From day one, this [IT integration] hasn't been an easy journey.' Considering the cost of introducing a completely new IT infrastructure and the pressure to implement more than 20 integration projects before December 2 last year, the MTR and KCRC chose to minimise risk through a strategy called 'Adopt and Go'. That meant setting up about 71 different committees and working groups to decide which IT systems stay and which ones go. There were more than 100 different enterprise applications to be integrated, in which the IT teams from the two railway firms decided between systems built on Oracle and SAP software. The MTR's Oracle set-up won, with the core enterprise resource planning system adopted throughout the merged company by December 2. Oracle's PeopleSoft-brand human resources application had been fully deployed in March, while the Oracle enterprise asset management system was rolled out in April. Significant IT cost savings had been achieved through lower systems maintenance and support costs, as well as reduced staff in the merged IT services department, which had 138 workers, down from a combined 250 before the merger, Mr Lai said.