Trendspotting: What the UK can learn from India’s railway transformation with GSMA
More than 1.7bn journeys are undertake...
The United Kingdom’s train network is one of the oldest in the world; the first public railway opened in 1825.
More than 1.7bn journeys are undertaken every year in the UK and like many other complex transport networks, the UK railway is under constant pressure to deliver against skyrocketing demand for more trains and better services. Maybe India has the answers…
The BCG’s latest Rail Performance Index, which rates European railways on safety, quality of service and intensity of use, reports that UK railways have the sixth worst standard of service on the continent.
According to the research, high fares and delays have pushed our network out of the Tier One band of “best-in-class” railway services offered by Switzerland, Denmark, Finland and others.
There are many factors at play here, but digital transformation can go a long way in transforming the customer service experience offered by our railways.
But rather than just looking to our neighbours in Europe for inspiration, we can look further afield for examples of technology that is revitalising our railway services. We can look as far away as India, where mobile technology is leading the way.
India’s travel industry is evolving. Over the past two years, rail minister Suresh Prabhu has announced new plans that will revitalise the country’s railway network, including increased investment of nearly 285%. One development that is already underway is the introduction of mobile ticketing on all trains.
Not only are mobile tickets faster to buy and more convenient to carry than traditional paper tickets, but they are also widely used, given India’s love affair with mobile technology.
India has one of the fastest growing populations of mobile phone users in the world – 690 million by 2020, according to the GSMA. The UK, meanwhile, has 74 million mobile phone connections.
It seems an obvious choice, but introducing mobile ticketing is just one way that smartphones could transform the UK railway network, just as they have enabled India’s railway revolution.
Mobile enables transformation
Another pillar of the digital transformation of India’s railways is growing internet penetration. In India, the government aims to increase the number of stations with high-speed wifi services to 400 by 2018, allowing more passengers to stay connected as they travel.
More than 1.5 million people in India already log on to Google’s free station wifi on their mobile phones – and that’s only available in 19 cities.
As more high-speed services are rolled out in India, there is a huge opportunity for railway operators to improve customer service.
The same could be true in the UK. Using social media or apps, operators can provide real-time travel updates to passengers, informing them of any delays or confirming platform information based on their mobile ticket. Passengers benefit from convenient, personalised updates, fostering greater loyalty.
Increased access to high-speed wifi also provides lucrative opportunities for retail businesses within train stations.
Mobile is the perfect channel for retailers to provide personalised offers that can help drive footfall to their stores. Using geo-location tracking, retailers can send push notifications to a shopper’s phone when they physically pass an in-store beacon.
These notifications can interrupt traditional social media feeds and share targeted offers and content based on the shopper’s location in the train station. With so many passengers travelling through stations in India and the UK, phone in hand, retailers can more effectively market to these commuters.
Importance of authentication
However, for any travel industry to successfully transform, it’s essential that these new services are supported by robust authentication. Despite growing adoption of digital services, many UK consumers have concerns about the security of the data they share with service providers.
A recent study by Unisys revealed that half of all UK consumers are extremely or very concerned about the safety of their personal data. Maintaining customer confidence in digital services is a growing challenge for any business.
The solution lies in our pockets. Multi-factor authentication is the best way to protect customer data and using our mobile phones to do so ensures a smooth service for everyone.
With the prevalence of mobile phones, using the same device to authenticate your identity while interacting with service providers is an incredibly simple way to lower friction and increase security. It also removes the need for consumers to remember an ever-growing number of online username and password combinations.
The GSMA is already working with leading mobile network operators in the UK and India to roll out Mobile Connect, an operator-based authentication service that provides a convenient and secure login solution. Mobile Connect protects consumer privacy by using personal data held by the mobile operators, plus proven SIM security, to authenticate a transaction such as booking train tickets.
The journey ahead
In India, the government’s plans to transform railways are ambitious. If rolled out effectively, they have the potential to elevate India’s transport system to compete with those in Japan and others around the world. The UK’s rail networks could consider following suit, if operators want to deliver high quality customer service to meet demand.
Mobile phones are the best tool to support this transformation and offer a range of benefits to passengers and service providers. But passenger privacy must remain a priority.
It is only by adopting a mobile authentication service that travel operators can ensure data is really secure and ensure consumer confidence when embracing new digital travel services.
Amazon test new technology to improve employee safety
At the Amazon Robotics and Advanced Technology labs in Boston, and Northern Italy, team members are testing and developing new technologies in order to help to make employees’ jobs safer, these include technologies that help move carts and packages through Amazon facilities.
Recently the safety of Amazon's warehouses has drawn scrutiny. On June 1, the Washington Post's Jay Greene and Chris Alcantara published findings from an analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration data showing Amazon's serious injury rates are nearly double those at other companies' facilities.
A spokesperson from Amazon said the company spent more than $1 billion last year on safety measures, and hired more than 6,200 employees to a group dedicated to workplace health and safety.
One innovation being tested by Amazon, which is in early development, is the use of motion-capture technology to assess the movement of volunteer employees in a lab setting. These employees perform tasks that are common in many Amazon facilities, such as the movement of totes, which carry products through robotic fulfillment centers.
The motion-capture software enables Amazon scientists and researchers to more accurately compare data captured in a lab environment to industry standards rather than other modelling tools traditionally used by ergonomists.
“With this data, visualisations, and employee feedback, we are looking to identify relatively simple changes that can make a big impact,” said Kevin Keck, worldwide director of Advanced Technology at Amazon. “Something as simple as changing the position of handles on totes may help lower the risk of injuries to our employees at a massive scale.”
Autonomous Robots creating new paths to safety
In order to reduce the need for employees to reach up or bend down when retrieving items, Amazon is testing a new workstation system called “Ernie.” According to the company Ernie takes totes off of a robotic shelf and uses a robotic arm to deliver it to employees, so they can remain in a more comfortable and stable position.
“We’re known for being passionate about innovating for customers, but being able to innovate with robotics for our employees is something that gives me an extra kick of motivation each day,” said Keck. “The innovation with a robot like Ernie is interesting because while it doesn’t make the process go any faster, we’re optimistic, based on our testing, it can make our facilities safer for employees.”
“Bert” is one of Amazon’s first Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), and is being tested to autonomously navigate through facilities with Amazon-developed advanced safety, perception, and navigation technology. In the future, it is thought that an employee would be able to summon Bert to carry items across a facility.
‘Scooter’ and ‘Kermit’ are two other robots that also operate autonomously, and are both transport cars. The carts are used to carry empty totes and packages through our facilities.
In a blog post the company said: ‘By having Autonomously Guided Carts (AGCs) like Scooter and Kermit perform physical tasks, we believe we can make our facilities safer and enable our employees to focus on jobs that require their critical thinking skills. In addition, using an AGC like Scooter to pull carts through our facilities reduces the risk of strains on our employees, or even collisions. We currently plan to deploy Scooter to at least one Amazon facility this year.’
Amazon began using robotics in its facilities in 2012, and since then they have added more than 1 million jobs worldwide while simultaneously deploying 350,000 mobile drive unit robots.
“The role robotics and advanced technology can play in not only innovating for customers, but helping make our facilities safer, is a massive motivation for me and my team,” said Keck. “The health and safety of our employees is our number one priority. By listening to them, innovating on their behalf, and driving new technologies into our facilities over the coming months and years, I’m confident we’ll make a big contribution to our goal of reducing recordable incidents by 50% by 2025.”