London’s Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is the UK’s busiest light railway network, operated by French transport specialist Keolis and British infrastructure engineering firm Amey, under the joint venture KeolisAmey Docklands.
The service is responsible for the comfort and safety of more than 117 million passengers each year, a charge that Natalia Pickett, Head of Procurement at KeolisAmey Docklands, takes incredibly seriously. “Safety is a word I say a million times a day, because whichever solutions we implement, services we buy or technology we deploy, the safety of our passengers, staff and transport crew is the most important factor - always,” she says.
The procurement division is responsible for sourcing and implementing everything from humble paperclips in the back office, to the 30-plus ton, complex rolling stock that ferry people between destinations along the DLR line.
Pickett describes herself as part matchmaker, part problem solver - the key to both being partnerships. “Those are really the core of my work, and I’m pleased to say that the team and I are very good at it. Procurement is not only about saving money. That is fundamentally not true; savings will be neutral outcome of procurement process,” she says.
“Partnership is another of those words I repeat a lot, because it is very important to me. With my suppliers, we must learn from one another, bounce ideas between one another and grow together; it is almost love,” she jokes. “We need to reach the stage of the relationship where we can talk about the good things, the bad things - it doesn’t matter to me. As long as we’re talking then we can find a solution, which is what procurement is really all about.”
Pickett’s partnerships extend beyond London. The joint venture between Keolis and Amey expanded in 2017, landing the contract for the Manchester Metrolink, a light rail network that is the largest of its kind in the UK. Procurement played a central role in the project, but it was largely invisible - and that was by design.
“We began by providing numbers and what we can achieve with suppliers, but procurement’s real role in the launch of this service was in the realisation. Our job was to ensure that day one looked no different to the previous day. So when the new franchise started on 1 April this year, nobody noticed. The suppliers delivered on time, the network didn’t stop, and that was our real achievement. The purpose of my role is to make sure that everything works and I’m not noticeable. It’s similar to HR: why should anyone notice if everything runs nice and smooth? So well done to us.”
Pickett hopes to remain out of the limelight in the coming year, when commuters begin returning to work and cities reopen to tourists. “I think in 2022, we will be back to business as usual. And I will do all my standard efficiencies projects, and we have taken over maintenance of the Lewisham extension - seven stations in south London. It will be a time to achieve efficiencies. Nothing is certain, but this is the plan.”
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