On the road to digital: The future of the rail industry

The future of the rail industry is exciting – in some ways more than any other sector. Consider your journey home…

Recently, I’ll bet you’ve noticed more and more passengers using applications on their smartphones to tell them how long their bus will be or whether the train is delayed, and if they have parked at the station, view traffic status in real-time and opt to be given a less congested route. The pace of adoption of these digital services is accelerating and the potential is massive.

Digital services are available across multiple modes of transport today, but we’ve only just started to see the benefit. For example, the way we buy tickets is evolving fast, and it usually involves a smartphone or mobile device. Passengers can buy tickets on the go using apps or website, while train managers for many of the UK’s train operating companies will soon be able to issue tickets using Fujitsu’s smart phone based STARmobile portable ticketing solution. And it’s not only consumers who are affected – increasingly the jobs of the employees who run our railways are changing through the introduction of digital solutions.

How digital meets consumer demands

According to our Digital Inside Out research, 1 in 5 UK consumers ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ use digital services when offered to them by the transport companies they deal with, with 45 per cent of consumers admitting they feel comfortable with digital services. Transport as a sector highlights how Brits are growing more confident in digital services.

One of the main reasons for this is that digital services, such as smartcard technology, play a big part of meeting the consumer demands – more specifically convenience and speed of service. Smart cards, contactless banking cards and smartphone payment apps are becoming ubiquitous, and it won’t be long before we will be able to pass through ticket barriers and board a train without having to rely on a paper ticket.

Smart technologies also offer companies greater levels of understanding about their customers travel habits and create a connection with the customer to allow a dialogue or relationship to develop. Smart devices then help to support this, as they allow better visibility and reporting to help inform customers as well as to make real-time decisions about the most efficient route to take.

Forging a digital railway

While I’ve drawn attention to the huge impact digitisation is having on payments on the rail and bus network, consumers and employees are adopting new ways of making more of our transport network. From digital tracking for freight logistics, through to working out the optimum schedule of preventative maintenance to ensure a train doesn’t break down, digital services will continue to increasingly affect our lives and for the way the rail industry serves the passenger.

Digital won’t only help to deliver a better passenger experience but for the rail industry and its supply chain, digital services will forge a digital railway fit for the future. It’s not only the delivery of railway services that will change – we are living through unprecedented investment in rail and IT is helping to accelerate the construction of new railways and contain costs, improving collaboration between across construction companies and the railway ecosystem of suppliers.

However, while our research revealed two thirds of employees admitted new digital services had made their job easier, there is still more to be done. When it comes to adopting digital services, it also requires an integrated back-end to support this rapidly growing digital sector. Our research revealed that only 38 per cent of employees said their organisation had introduced a new digital service or solution in the last two years.

To meet this challenge, we have already seen the development of programmes to modernise our railway which will bring forward many benefits that will improve capacity, cost, carbon, performance, safety and convenience. It won’t be long before digital services start to make recommendations based on real-time events – 'train delayed by 28 minutes due to unforeseen circumstances? I’ve automatically calculated you an alternative route, by connecting with two local buses and a short walk that’ll get you to that critical meeting.'

Intelligent mobility

The rail industry is at the heart of a paradigm change in the way transport services will be delivered. The innovation that is required to keep pace with the growth in passenger numbers will drive integration between modes of transport and focus on delivering the best resulting end-to-end journey experience. In common with other sectors, passengers will demand mobility to be delivered as a service, what we call 'Intelligent Mobility'.

Of course, security risks need to be mitigated. It’s imperative that a digitised railway isn’t vulnerable to cyberattack. However, with good security in place, digitising the system and the increasing prevalence of the Internet of Things will massively increase the efficiency of railway operations, as well as improving punctuality and passenger satisfaction.

The UK relies on its rail infrastructure to transport goods home and abroad, and connect people with jobs across the country. But as the pace of change continues to increase, it has never been more important for our railway to deliver more trains, better connections and an improved passenger experience. There is now an opportunity to join up the rail network more effectively.

Digital services have already started to play a huge role in today’s railway sector. But it will be the integration between the back-end and the consumer services that will truly mark its place on the digital landscape, highlighting the ability of the sector to create integrated infrastructures that provide an end-to-end experience to the passenger.

Russell Goodenough, Client Managing Director for Transport, Fujitsu UK & Ireland