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Getting on board for a digital future

August 14, 2017

Adam Collins (left) and Adam Stone from Rail & Transit's UK Digital Services team

The skills required for success in the rail industry are changing, with more demand for expertise behind a laptop, as well as with hands-on mechanical engineering. We meets the Digital Services team, who work collaboratively across SNC-Lavalin to ensure technology is used in the best way to improve clients’ businesses.

At the start of 2017, the Software Solutions team was renamed and is now known as Digital Services. But there’s more to it than a name change; the new title reflects the profound shifts affecting railways globally.

Clients are looking for smarter, more efficient ways of running their operations to suit the green agenda and keep pace with the demands of better informed, digitally connected passengers.

‘Business first’

Adam Collins, Team Leader for Digital Services – a group of more than 25 experts in Derby – explains: ‘We’re called Digital Services as our team does much more than just develop software. Although we have a big capability to do that, principally we help customers understand how they can use information and technology to support whatever they do. The starting point is always business, not technology.’

While the team has had much success in recent years – including developing apps that are in demand from industry clients (see panel article) – Adam Collins and his colleagues will be working more collaboratively with other teams in future, to match customer needs.

‘Over time, we have worked hard to bring our breadth and depth in engineering and technology solutions to our clients, to ensure we drive operational excellence within their organisations,’ he says.

‘As the market around us changes, and organisations look for new ways to drive efficiency, so too must their supply chain and partners.’

He adds: ‘Taking a “one team” approach is how we will succeed. More recently we have worked with our colleagues in Sweden to merge our portfolios and capability across respective Digital Services teams. This will allow our conversations to span much wider. It will also demonstrate the value, from defining strategy through to in-life operation, and ongoing continual service improvement through data analytics and analysis.’

With data becoming a highly valued business commodity, many enterprises battle to understand how best to use it to improve their products and services – and often ask, is this data really useful at all?

Adam Stone, Section Head for Mobile Solutions, says: ‘There are reams of data, but it means nothing without the context and knowledge to turn it into something useful. This is where we differentiate from traditional engineering consultancies; we understand the data and turn it into business information.’

We have reams of data, but it means nothing without the context and knowledge to turn it into something useful

Adam Stone

Section Head – Mobile Solutions

More sustainable operations

One example is Energyx, an SNC-Lavalin app that around 90% of UK train operators use to monitor energy usage and operate more sustainably.

This tool has helped operators to understand better the energy use from their electric trains, with a wealth of analysis and reporting options – so, among other things, they now know exactly what their electricity bill should be.

SNC-Lavalin is in the process of merging several of its service offerings for clients. Project Trinity combines Energyx, TAS and Diagnostyx (see panel), as well as Monitryx, to assist clients in aggregating data to make informed operational decisions and subtly change their processes, for maximum return.

While much of the railway remains slow to adopt new technology, this is changing, and fewer clients are seeking solutions for single problems.

Adam Collins adds: ‘There are pockets of innovation where rail is streets ahead of other industries. It is being forced to innovate to fix some of the challenges it has today – for instance, with the modernisation of signalling systems as part of a new UK government programme driving digital innovation in rail, the ‘Digital Railway’.’

Adam Stone says: ‘While there will always be elements of playing catch-up... the industry is getting wiser about quick wins that are a strategic fit.’

As technology continues to support different ways of working, the team is developing a Connected Worker solution. This will mean harnessing the Internet of Things – where objects and machines are connected to each other via the internet – to promote visibility of the total operation, and to manage people better in safety critical environments.

So what does the digital future look like for rail? ‘The end goal has not been fully fleshed out by the industry,’ says Adam Collins, ‘but there are things we can do now to support our clients in transforming their operations – and deliver a better today with an eye on tomorrow.’

All about the apps

SNC-Lavalin’s customer apps include:

digital-screen-trinity

Energyx – a cloud-based system that receives energy-meter data from compliant smart meters on board electric trains, and brokers transmission of billing information between clients and Network Rail. It was a UK Rail Industry Awards (RIA) sustainability excellence finalist in 2014.

TAS – a tablet-based app, featuring in-built GPS capabilities, that supports drivers and operations to monitor train performance and location against timetable, in real time. Winner of the RIA environmental and sustainability award 2015; highly commended in the RIA sustainability excellence 

awards 2014.

Diagnostyx – a remote condition-monitoring service, providing relevant and near real-time information and trend analysis of railway assets’ health and performance.

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