Deutsche Bahn and SNCF enter digital rail partnership, UK lags behind
German and French rail industries will be working closely together on digital innovation in a bid to future proof their national networks.
Dr. Rüdiger Grube, CEO of Deutsche Bahn AG, and Guillaume Pepy, President of French National Railways (SNCF), signed a memorandum of understanding in Berlin at InnoTrans, the leading international trade fair for transport technology.
They agreed to bring together their know-how and learnings generated so far to bring more modern services to their rail passengers. A key focus will be how the companies work with fast-moving, disruptive start-up technology firms.
UK rail network lags behind
The announcement between two nationalised, state-controlled entire rail networks brings into question the ability of the UK network to advance as a whole given its complex franchise structure. Once seen as the step to modernisation, privatisation of the rail industry has received enormous amounts of negative press and is accused of serving short term, profiteering interests.
While maintenance of tracks is the responsibility of one body, Network Rail, the operation of the country’s trains is split into several franchises often run by companies housed overseas. The degree to which services modernise is therefore largely down to what each franchise decides to invest over the course of their contracts.
Indeed, there have been a number of recent headlines stemming from controversial franchise decisions, from Go Ahead's Southern Rail's continuing dispute with conductors to Abellio’s awarding of a new nine-year contract with the Greater Anglia network.
New projects such as Crossrail and HS2 promise to deliver futuristic services connecting London and the central spine of the UK. However, the cost of the latter has been brought under increasing scrutiny with many interest groups arguing the money could be spent on modernising much of the existing, Victorian network.
French and German rail looks to start-up technology
"When we look in particular at the major opportunities that digitisation offers for transport companies, it makes obvious sense to share ideas and methods with SNCF. I believe in doing so, our customers will benefit,” said Grube.
“With the digital revolution now underway, we need to be as strong as we possibly can —especially in light of the operational and customer challenges,” added Pepy. “This is the purpose of our new cooperation agreement with Deutsche Bahn, on aspects ranging from the way we cooperate with start-ups to Industrial Internet solutions and further on to onboard connectivity. Working together will not only serve the interests of SNCF’s and DB’s customers, but also those of the mobility community at large.”
Another goal is to identify the requirements that digital data transmission in rail transport will need to meet in the future, so that rail companies can work with the telecommunications industry to improve connectivity for customers and employees.
Both companies have already gained some insight into what it means to work together with start-ups. Now they intend to learn from each other on how to deal with these new forms of collaboration. They plan to foster innovation by creating joint-event-formats and agree on topics and challenges to be solved by the tech scene accordingly.
Whether nationalisation would enable the UK to enter similar partnerships with other European rail networks is not known. What is known is that France and Germany can enter partnerships and take decisions on behalf of their entire rail system – the UK and its franchise system cannot do so in the same way, if at all.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”