“There are key pillars to the Amtrak mission,” said Sovan Shatpathy, Amtrak CTO, “(1) safety and security, (2) customer centricity — that is, a focus on customer needs, and (3) operational and financial excellence. Everything we do is grounded in those three pillars.”
“The primary challenge in front of me was ‘how do we take this railroad company, which moves close to 32 million people every year, and standardize things? How do we move it to a technology world that allows for our customers, partners, and employees to be happy and productive?’” Shatpathy continued. Referencing the famous Leonardo da Vinci quote, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” Shatpathy and his team focused on simple, intuitive, and scalable technology options, paired with an outcome-oriented mindset, to drive three objectives:
Objective 1: Business process simplification and consolidation.
Amtrak had inherited a number of rail systems and management applications, which had proliferated as the organization grew. As the organization moved from mainframe to client server to cloud service providers, executives knew they needed to simplify the technology model. “We analyzed the entire application ecosystem and identified ways to potentially aggregate apps into logical bubbles, consolidating duplicative business processes along the way. These apps are in a wide variety of lines of business such as mechanical, engineering, safety, operations among others. Based on characteristics like time to market, ease of adoption, optimizing total cost of ownership, we came up with a phased approach which detailed out what apps could go as a part of the initial wave, what’s goes in next wave and so on..” The IT team rationalized each and every app against a distinguishable set of success criteria on a few select, strategic platforms, including Salesforce.
Objective 2: Experience enhancement and optimized total cost of ownership.
Following the consolidation effort, Shatpathy and his team established a competency center, a shared service technology group that focuses on standardizing the skills, processes, and infrastructure Amtrak needed to move from point solutions to an integrated, core platform strategy. The competency center serves as a strategic foundation that scales Amtrak IT, giving the organization the ability to support requests for new tools or services from internal customers — line-of-business teams representing various aspects of the passenger experience — in a timelier manner. “We’re not defining technology needs as much as we’re defining business needs, and then using tech to solve those problems,” said Shatpathy. “Fast and agile are key, as it’s all about business agility and time to market.”
Objective 3: Enable pervasive mobility, demonstrated by apps like TOPS.
Amtrak’s competency center empowered the company to support various business needs, fast. One such request came from the Chicago Union Station team where employees, 70% of which are entirely mobile, coordinate the many services and safety checks required to turn over long-distance trains.
“When the California Zephyr arrives in Chicago, it's the end of the journey for the 1,100-plus passengers on board. But it's the beginning of the train-servicing process. We are a rolling cruise ship on land, so to speak,” said Savoy. The slightest delay in any train turnover logistics, from safety inspections to restocking the dining car, can have big ripple effects. Keeping the schedule moving across such a mobile environment “is an incredible responsibility” said Savoy, who started at Amtrak as a train conductor in the Washington, D.C., Union Station, and has seen every side of servicing a train.
Built on Salesforce, the TOPS (Train Operations) app tracks the train servicing. Supervisors can log when their team is done with a given service, alert their counterparts of any issues or delays, and pull reports that capture performance stats, common disruptions, and more. The TOPS app opened up communications and visibility across the entire train turnover process, making it easier to understand, quantify, and replicate best practices that could otherwise get lost in an expansive workplace.
“We don’t have a tech-dominated workforce, so we needed an application that was simple enough yet innovative enough that it would be adopted without a ton of training,” Savoy continued. “At the end of the day, we’re a federally subsidized corporation, so we have to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s money. Becoming efficient is what we do, and we’re using technology to deliver this business need.”
Amtrak institutionalized innovation management as a practice — as a service — on the cloud, using transformation objectives to define the modern mission.