Exclusive interview: National Express Chief Digital Officer Rob Muir

By Johan De Mulder

The international transport firm National Express has created a new management role as it gets serious about digital innovation. Business Chief caught up with Rob Muir to find out what lies ahead...

Public transportation conglomerate National Express, which has services in eight countries, recently appointed its first ever Chief Digital Officer.

Rob Muir, a former Senior Director at global digital agency McCann, has been chosen to spearhead its digital operations and oversee related strategy going forward.

The intention is to identify and select appropriate technological opportunities to pursue with the aim of best positioning National Express in a crowded sector. It is not a straightforward task, but the new-look digital team is enthusiastically rising to the challenge.

“First and foremost, I’ve known National Express for quite some time,” Muir says. “I’ve always respected the company as a leader in its sector. For three years National Express was a client of mine when I worked at McCann, and that gave me real hands-on experience from a client perspective. Throughout the process I was really impressed by the calibre of the people here and so the opportunity to join the business was one I grasped with both hands.”

Identifying opportunities
There are numerous measurements that will need to be met before Muir and his team implement any kind of new technology, but primarily the innovation needs to drive at least one of four main areas. “Principally, there is an awful lot that is happening within the technology and travel sector,” says Muir. “The biggest challenge I see is identifying what is useful tech for the business rather than tech for its own sake.

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“Tech that we can bring into the business will very much fit the vision, which is something that’s going to make transport more accessible, more efficient, more affordable and safer; safety is of course at the core of what we do. In everything we do, we want to ensure we keep that safety agenda extremely high. I would say the main challenge is around identifying what is useful tech rather than jumping on every technology bandwagon that rolls past.”

The business has already been investing in technology prior to the creation of the CDO role. Lytx DriveCam is now fully implemented in the organisation’s UK bus and coach operations and North America transit, delivering a reduction in the number of collisions and associated costs. New mobile websites and ticketing apps have helped to increase sales in the Spanish arm of the business, ALSA, by 10%, and the launch of contactless pay across the UK business has proved popular in offering greater convenience to customers.

Muir adds: “There is already plenty of digital activity going on within National Express. We’re identifying where the short-term digital opportunities lie for us looking forward. Then, medium and long-term, it changes to what strategic processes we can put it place as a business to make sure we continue to be at the forefront of tech innovation for our sector.

“We need to continue to lead, whether that be on data or innovation strategy and we have to make sure processes are in place to consistently deliver strong, fit for purpose, innovative ideas that embrace rapid prototyping and allow us to bring ideas quickly to market. That said, it comes back to having the processes in place to identify useful tech first. By useful we mean fulfilling criteria in one of the four areas of accessibility, efficiency, affordability and safety.” Muir adds that his appointment as CDO is “testament to how much National Express if focussed on the digital future”.

Utilisation of data
In light of recent customer data breaches at tech firms making global news, National Express recognises it is a huge responsibility when a customer hands over their data. It has a rigorous system in place to ensure it is using data properly and responsibly, as well as complying with GDPR regulations. 

Muir said: “We are transparent with our customers and how we use that data. As more customers interact with us through digital channels, we continue to demonstrate back to them that we are responsible in the use of their data – it is core to what we do.

“The social media channels that customers use are continually changing and developing so we are always looking at that space, both from a customer service and satisfaction point of view and also from a marketing point of view as to how we can best make our services available to customers.”

Future ambitions
Digital innovation can be truly beneficial, not just for the customer but also for a firm’s own staff. This is why National Express is looking internally as well as externally in the way it innovates as a business. Digital scorecards are used as a yardstick that allows the management of the business to see how the overall group is evolving digitally.

Muir explains: “Successful digital innovation doesn’t come from just one single investment or initiative; it comes from a continual, sustained and dedicated application to improving what we do for our customers, what we do for our safety, continuously going back through that loop and asking ourselves the pertinent questions. It is a concerted push rather than a granular approach.

“By looking at the opportunities as a whole, where are they, what can we do better, and what new tech is out there that’s going to be useful to us as a business, we can then judge which ones are going to make us more accessible or efficient, going to make travel more affordable or is going to drive the safety element forward. Therefore, it is an iterative process that we go through and what a digital scorecard does is keeps those four important areas at the top of the agenda”

Looking at how customers are interacting using particular social media channels and analysing what developments National Express needs to bring through are activities that make up the bulk of what a digital scorecard does – essentially a way to summarise current market position to management. Muir and his team will be reviewing and measuring multiple components on a monthly basis to ensure National Express stays ahead of the industry curve.

Muir concludes: “So far, my time at National Express has been everything I had hoped for upon joining the business and I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead as part of an intelligent enthusiastic team. I’m confident we’ll continue to make waves across the board.”


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