Are we all on the same virtual page with digital transformation?

Within the rail and broader travel sectors, digital transformation continues to feature prominently in the list of frequently used catch phrases. In spite of the longevity already achieved by the term however, it would appear that the sheer magnitude of its scope leads to uncertainty when it comes to identifying the objectives that will drive business evolution.
While transformation can be defined as “a wholesale change to the foundational components of a business”, the addition of “digital” to the process description appears to narrow the target only slightly. I have heard “digital” described as any technology that connects people and machines with each other and/or information. If we accept this as a broad but accurate assertion, it becomes obvious that the full spectrum of business functions potentially placed under the banner of “digital transformation”, is beyond extensive.
Perhaps the obvious flaw with such a monstrous concept is that none of us can identify a finite and manageable number of initial goals, while placing ownership in the right hands? Are we trying to build a platform that delivers improved processes, data security and dynamic API’s? What does that have to do with improving consumer relations, while maximising incremental revenue streams and overall efficiency? A recent survey carried out by Black Pepper research among CTO’s, CIO’s and IT Directors would appear to allude to a chicken and egg challenge. The “C” level guys interviewed were representing some of the leading travel and financial services companies in the UK.
Some telling insights were as follows:
The biggest perceived upside of rolling out a digital transformation strategy was the achievement of greater business agility. However, only 40% of managers highlighting this priority had ever used agile methodology during a software project. Furthermore, 62% of those interviewed considered themselves heavily reliant on “off the shelf” packages. The majority of these systems were further identified as “antiquated”.

In total 47% of those polled were of the view that their existing systems are not fit for purpose. When you consider that 71% of people interviewed identified digital transformation as the most important IT trend pertaining to the future of the organisations they represent, it becomes clear that we are struggling to move forward with the actionable strategies and clear focus we would all like.

It is possible that the reasons for this are simply two-fold:

1) “What do we need to do?”
2) “Where do we start?”

As part of the study referenced in this document, Black Pepper asked group members to identify the key objectives of digital transformation. The single proposed statement to receive 100% approval was based around “fundamentally making it easier to do business with us”. This is undoubtedly a credible ambition and an important KPI for almost any business model moving forward. It seems imperative though, that a large degree of internal honesty exists surrounding the degree to which things are “joined up”. The following example should help to illustrate:
Many Train Operating Companies have placed significant focus in recent years on developing customer experience and providing informed journeys. With a view to this, a typical target would be to “delight the customer by creating a seamless UX at every passenger touch point”. This in principal is clearly a good idea and throws up many obvious opportunities pertaining to mobile apps, web development and social media. Staff training initiatives and loyalty reward schemes are other traditional models that spring to mind. To deliver a truly exceptional CX program however it is imperative to strike a balance between an “outside in” model (described above) and “inside out” fundamentals. That is to say that we have to possess the infrastructure, interfaces and resource allocation skills to ensure that things fit together in the best possible way.
If a train operator has an application that allows a passenger to book and host a train ticket, a passenger touchpoint has been created. This touchpoint will now remain open until the contract between the two parties has been fulfilled. In a scenario whereby the air conditioning is broken on the train and a delay has been caused by damage to a section of track, the benefit of an end to end transformation strategy becomes obvious. The refrigeration unit on board can inform the operations management platform that it has malfunctioned and is in need of a new part. In turn the crew resource management module of the operations system will dispatch a mini crew to fit the part. Having sectioned off the afflicted portion of track, the traffic management software will run algorithms to calculate the most efficient way to re-prioritise and direct traffic. It will then inform signalling control and operations management systems of the new schedule. At this point, details can be shared with the passenger so that they are aware of all implications to their comfort levels and punctuality. They can then view and consider options in order to plot a preferred route. As part of the broader smart city movement, the information available to the passenger will also include the availability of bus, taxi and driverless POD connections.
By striking a balance between an “inside out” and “outside in” approach and outlining a set of connected, achievable goals, the train operating company is in a position to action a transformational passenger experience that will make the company easier to do business with on a significant and sustainable basis. This is very different to a few tweaks via app. or social media that can create limited value and mixed sentiment.
Connected data and processes can allow us to look at things past, present and future in order to create the business intelligence that drives truly informed decisions. Creating a platform capable of delivering a transformational story can identify and address interfacing challenges (61% list this as their biggest IT concern). The task can be further simplified by the production of a manageable and finite roadmap with clear lines of ownership and communication. 33% of our senior IT professionals cited BOD “buy in” as a problem, with many agreeing that their difficulty in articulating short, medium and long term goals had raised barriers.
The technology platform we have installed at Resonate has allowed us to connect our key product areas of signalling control, operations management, traffic management and customer xperience. The endeavour and financial resource we have invested is benefitting our network and rail operating clients as our systems reduce cost, increase capacity and improve communication. In conjunction with our smart city and IOT partners we learn more about the transformational power of our digital infrastructure every day and will be delighted to discuss our experiences with you – from the triumphant to the challenging!
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