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Data : the commuter's friend?

Most of us own a mobile phone and many rarely leave home without it. The thought of being ‘unconnected’ is becoming increasingly inconceivable and, whether we like it or not, mobile connectivity is part of modern life.

We want to stay connected and search the web whenever we want and wherever we are. People expect to be able to communicate and access data – and they expect the results to be immediate. For train operating companies (TOCs), this connected world offers a platform to better help their customers and communicate with them about their journey.

There are huge amounts of data being generated that relate to a train journey, whether real-time information about delays, cancellations, alterations and stations; timetables; connecting trains; links to other transport modes such as trams, buses or underground services; maintenance works; and even details on the weather can now be accessed.

This ‘Big Data’ comes from many different sources and, if analysed and used correctly, can offer huge benefit to train passengers and help TOCs better manage incidents that affect every-day train operations.

One of the biggest challenges TOCs face is in limiting the impact of disruption and getting services back to normal as quickly as possible. With reliance on infrastructure, assets, staff and variable elements such as mechanical failures or accidents, the rail network is a complex and intricate system.

As a result, understanding the effect of an interruption to normal services can be difficult to gauge but is critical to helping ensure more efficient operation and higher levels of customer satisfaction.

Making data work

As with any purchasing process, the customer has a choice and can decide if a particular service is the best option for their needs. Whether for business or pleasure, trusting that journeys will be more efficient, more comfortable, safer and more reliable than alternative modes of transport are major considerations in deciding to take the train. If a customer, for whatever reason, is not satisfied with the journey, they are less likely to choose that mode of transport the next time they travel. Modern data management and analysis systems offer a breakthrough for TOCs in the ability to improve customer satisfaction, enhance journey experiences and increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. Allowing the TOC to provide a service that offers value to its customers.

Masses of data on their own are no use unless they have context and are intelligently analysed. For people on their journeys, the information is also of little use if it is not provided in a timely manner. Real-time analysis of information available from multiple data sources can equip customers, onboard staff and control room personnel with the information they need to make decisions and choices that can improve journey experiences, increase operating efficiency and enrich customer service.

Big data analysis is reliant upon huge volumes of data. The more data there is, the better the interpretation of events. It requires collation of similar and disparate data types and then timely interpretation of their meaning. With banks of historical data, which can be preloaded into big data systems, analysis can even include predictions about what will happen and how scenarios will play out before problems arise, enabling the TOCs to make better strategic decisions or even take evasive action to completely minimize the impact of an event. This is particularly relevant for static events, such as signalling problems on a section of line. Knowing the location and time of day, the system can let the operator know the repercussions based on similar issues within its database and present the operator with viable options to minimize the impact on its services. TOCs can also feed in scenarios to see the impact of an operational action prior to actually carrying it out, for example choosing to cancel one train service over another.

Two-way communication

One of the problems with the rail industry generating so much information is the complex interdependencies and the difficulty to see the information pertinent to an individual train, on a particular route, in a specific place, at a precise moment in time. Indeed, being bombarded with useless or irrelevant information can be as frustrating as having no information at all – both for customers and staff. Alongside information about train services, stations, staffing levels, etc., however, modern data systems, can also utilize location information, social media and customer/user profiles to present information in a personalized way. For railway staff, information can be filtered to display only relevant information about the services and connected services they are working on that day. For passengers, they can choose what alerts and notifications they receive. In this way, both staff and customers are presented with clear information needed to make informed decisions about journey choices and courses of action should problems arise.

Modern data management systems offer TOCs a way to make the data available across the network work for them and their customers. Specifically designed for use by TOCs, Arrakis from Nexus Alpha, is a powerful, future-ready information platform. It connects to sources including Tyrell IO, Darwin, Network Rail and other industry platforms as well as being able to take in more general data sources such as weather forecasts and Twitter feeds. Pre-loaded with historical data about rail services, the system can analyse and predict the impact of events and help operators see the effect of decisions they are thinking of making. The open connectivity built into the Arrakis platform mean the possibilities for its use are virtually endless and only currently bounded by the imagination of operators in how different data sources can help them better manage services. The system’s machine learning capability further means it will become increasingly accurate in its prediction of disruption events and scenario impacts.

Summary

We live in a data-driven world which is changing consumers’ service expectations. Today’s technology enables us to collect, add context and analyse vast quantities of real-time data. Intelligent systems can connect to multiple data sources, interpret the data they receive, and present meaningful information back to users.

For TOCs, the impact of this data revolution is on two fronts: to help make better, strategic operating decisions at both control room and onboard staff levels, and to improve levels of customer service with timely, relevant communication to their customers. Operators that embrace the possibilities modern big data systems.

The use of systems such as Arrakis offer TOCs an opportunity to bolster their brand, offer innovative services, and enhance their customers’ experiences.

The Arrakis cross-platform data management and analysis solution offers a return on investment through increased customer satisfaction and retention and improved operating efficiency, while providing capability to expand with the needs to the TOC in the future.

Ultimately, intelligent use of the increasing amount of data available across the rail network will mean better levels of service, reduced impact of disruptions and new levels of customer belief in, and loyalty to, TOC brands.

Author details: Paul Coleman is Business Development Manager, Nexus Alpha

Author
Paul Coleman

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