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Rail sector signals customer first focus is on the line

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Picture by Vicky Matthers iconphotomedia London Midland launch of new high speed train ‘Project 110’ at Euston Station, London

Technology leaders in the rail sector in the UK and across Europe signal that the industry is changing lines and moving from being a engineering process led culture to a business community that puts the customer at the centre of its strategy. For business innovation leaders in rail that is creating a scenario of ever greater integration, Icon Business Media found in its research for an event partnership with the travel technology provider Amadeus. 

Rail is largely still outside of the travel digital platforms yet the customer is increasingly looking for total journey services, as an Amadeus Rail report highlights. Virgin Rail in the UK recently announced an integration with the UK’s largest car sharing club. 

Integration is the key.  Integration is so much more than a technology process, it is the opportunity to create customer services that delight and retain the travellers. Christophe Lemaire, Program Director at SNCF is pioneering payments methods that will see travel payments totally modernised. 

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Picture by Vicky Matthers iconphotomedia: Fomer Eurostar CIO Christophe Lemaire now heads up a major transformation of French high speed operator SNCF

Richard Poole, Managing Partner at innovation advisors Fluxx says: “Customers are looking for intelligent mobility, with rail as one part of the journey. The challenge for rail sector CIOs is how do you make service design for that.”

Poole agrees with SNCF technology leader Lemaire that customers will expect to “pay by the mile travelled and for pricing to be demand based, creating the Uberfication of rail.”

Ticketing, stations, on-board experiences are already being enhanced through integration with the likes of coffee shop chain Starbucks, retailers, bank service providers and other travel operators.

Industry leaders observe that Network Rail, the owner and operator of the rail line infrastructure in the UK, is innovating with the use of geotagging of assets such as tunnels. Network Rail recently appointed Jeremy Vincent as its CIO, Vincent has been with car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover for the last eight years.

“The challenge is that there are 22 different companies and they have to agree on things,” Trainline CTO Mark Holt adds that the existing government controlled franchising model makes it hard for the TOCs to retain investment interest.

For the service suppliers to the rail sector the challenge is to change their business model away from a sale and SLA to a partnership where innovation is shared. In the public and health sectors contracts along these lines already exist.

Internally the rail sector will need a change in culture as existing engineering and public sector like attitudes have to give way. In order to compete, the rail sector must adopt the working practices of today’s digital leading business such as Amazon and Google. Engineering firm Atkins uses business model canvases, standup board meetings, storytelling and Agile methods, yet remains an engineering company. The new methods of working inject pace. Digital companies also have little in the way of hierarchy. Ideas are shared and the knowledge of those at the front line right to the board room are given equal weight. Methods such as Hackathons generate this culture and increase diversity. At the heart of transforming a business and becoming customer centric is information. Poole’s organisation Fluxx played a major role in the introduction of digital working methods into Atkins. 

The rail sector generates incredible levels of information that on the whole is not shared, therefore innovation opportunities are missed, a number of business leaders told Icon Business Media. Today’s customer wants flexibility and to be informed of options when there is the wrong form of disruption, no matter who is at fault, Lemaire says of how the information could be used to improve services. 

Sally Hogben, head of IT for rail rolling stock operator Eversholt Rail Group expects cyber-security and signalling technology improvements to become major factor for her and peers in the coming years.

Regulation and competition will continue to place the sector under increased pressure, but in discussing innovation with CIOs it is clear that just as the rail lines were the platform for amazing innovation, so too can increased collaboration see rail be the line towards opportunity.

Widgets Magazine
About Mark Chillingworth 228 Articles
Mark Chillingworth has over 20 years of journalism and editing experience across all media platforms including online, live events, print magazines and television.
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