Maximising Rail Resilience with A New Approach to Procurement

Covid-19 has forced train operators to be even more focused on passenger requirements, with efficient management of disruption vital to restoring confidence in rail travel. Technology has a huge role to play in this, but in order to achieve dynamic, more resilient services, we need to think about approaching procurement processes in different ways.

This was discussed during a panel session at the recent Digital Rail Revolution Online Summit where leaders from rail operators considered whether an open ended, holistic approach would enable suppliers to better serve operators and support them in achieving the common end goal of reliable services and customer satisfaction.

Holding Open Conversations

The panel discussed how honest and open conversation with tech companies prior to going into any formal, tender process would be highly beneficial and a great opportunity for both parties to learn from each other’s specific areas of expertise.

Chris Fowler, Customer Services Director at Southern Railway said: “It all comes down to having a clear vision, but as operators we are not clear about how to get there as we aren’t the tech experts.

“We know the service we want to deliver but we need that engagement with suppliers to advise us on what is best.”

Antony Chilton-Murphy, Director of Business Development at Signature Rail said: “I love the idea of pre-engagement, because we can talk openly – for free – and offer ideas and ways of doing things. So, pre-engagement as an open conversation is a massively important thing for us.

“The more we can do that, the better and it will be very welcome – After all, we all have the same end-goal of customer experience and satisfaction.”

Engagement Between Industries

Attendees of the session also heard how operators have formed an industry group to engage with suppliers and build a trusted network – and how these open conversations are a crucial step in procurement.

Chris Fowler said: “The pan group was set up in spring last year and is led by our Chief Financial Officer Ian McLaren, who has a huge interest in tech and the way it can help railways.

“We’ve been going out and working with tech companies in showcase events, where we say to suppliers look; we know we don’t have all the answers. We know there’s a lot going on in the world that the rail industry might not even have thought of. So, we want them to tell us what’s going on at the same time as we are telling them what we’re after.

“And it’s that kind of engagement between industries, where we’re not necessarily bidding and going down a contractual route but just having that conversation, which I don’t think really happened so much before, and I think it’s heartening to see that starting now.”

A More Agile Approach

Signature Rail has a vision for a nimbler and more streamlined approach. And although procurement processes won’t change overnight, there is the potential for tech suppliers to view it from a different angle and ensure value while also benefitting from more transformational solutions.

Antony Chilton-Murphy said: “We’ve got a fast-track process which is really agile using short sprints and milestones. If it doesn’t work, you can stop quickly and not waste any more time or money. It’s a highly efficient way of deploying resources to achieve tangible business outcomes – no doubt our competitors would want to do the same – because it’s the best way for tech companies to engage.

“With the some bidding processes, requirements are gathered from a broad range of stakeholders and with it comes necessary governance. Before long the Requirements begin to grow , costs go up, risk factors go in and you lose sight of that lean and flexible approach with clear outputs in mind.

“If we, as tech companies, can find a way to engage in this kind of fast-track process; so, you’re talking weeks and months from start to finish, rather than 10 or 18 months, it would benefit everyone.

“It needs a level of change of commitment from operators, but we are more than willing to work with them and guide them through this.”

We want to talk to more operators about solving their challenges in this way – a flexible and open approach will enable us to do that.

To find out more, please watch the session recording below.