Exclusive interview: National Express Chief Digital Officer Rob Muir
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.”
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.
- Business Chief, Europe edition - May issue OUT NOW!
- Vodafone to take over Liberty Global operations in four countries for €18.4bn
- Businesses in Europe behind on multicloud adoption, says the IDC
“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.”
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.”
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”