A New Start

A little over two years ago, I started working in the UK rail sector. Before then, I'd been in the IT industry for too many years to say, with companies ranging from large multinationals to startups and across sectors from financial services to security to leisure/entertainment. I was brought across and into rail by a friend who was a respected professional with many years in the sector; among his (unpublished) goals was to bring in an "outsider" to assess from the inside (and from several layers down the org chart!) just how projects were being delivered and whether internal IT processes and support were acceptable, and most importantly whether technology was being used in the best ways, was able to deliver efficiencies or savings, or could enable projects that otherwise would not work. The purpose of this blog is to capture thoughts and observations over that time, and ideas for the future.

It did not take long to see ways in which newer IT tools could help: the most obvious was the potential for using reporting tools that join different sources in order to present the information the users want to see, rather than spreadsheet after spreadsheet of raw data. That lead to investigations into how the raw data collection works (or doesn't); the documentation and level of detail required from key suppliers (including if that falls short, and whether it is always kept current at each software change); and the recognition of where the railway sector has requirements that are unique, or at least special. There are fewer of these than some suppliers suggest, and with an apparent small number of suppliers (with attractive margins), some areas of the industry could present unexploited (and possibly unidentified) opportunities for savings or efficiency gains.

Then there are the areas that are either too new or sound too speculative to be embraced by an industry with a healthy respect for safety, engineering processes and low levels of risk taking. These approaches are understandable, perhaps admirable: after all, who would want to be a commuter on a metro service known for it's appetite for risk? Having said that, when it comes to "offline" use of data (in manners isolated from the operational railway) there are areas for investigation: if these techniques show value or at least identify opportunities, then the "live" systems can be considered. The adoption of the 'latest and greatest' simply for the sake of it is not, however, something that should be a consideration (well, apart from when it comes to politics, perhaps).

The purpose of this blog is to identify and discuss some approaches and tools that could be used to help with operational efficiency, maintenance optimisation, planning and forecasting tools, and the development of on-train equipment, data processing and storage to support those activities, together with analytic/reporting and discovery tools that may be of use. Posts will be occasional, and suggestions are welcome (please use the contact/email option, or a comment).