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Smarter Use of Data Eases the Daily Commute on Dutch Railways
By Martijn Scheele, Head of Data and Analytics, Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways)
Keeping Customers Moving
The Dutch rail network, run by Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways), is one of the busiest in the world, used by 1.1 million people every day.
As a state service provider, Dutch Railways must deliver a reliable and modern service for the public that’s good value for money. With budgets continuously under pressure, it is always seeking smarter ways to manage its network. This includes putting on higher-capacity trains at periods of peak demand, helping passengers find a seat, and minimizing service disruption, so more passengers get to their destinations comfortably and on time.
Its goal is to make better use of the data it collects every day, but although Dutch Railways had its own data centre, it was struggling to build a real-time picture of everything happening across the railway network. Its analytics capabilities were limited, and data was spread across lots of different systems and hard to get at.
Even though advances in intelligent, large-scale analytics offered great possibilities for doing more with data, Dutch Railways wasn’t in a position to take advantage of them.
“We could see more and more data coming from our trains, from passengers, and from online media, offering us possibilities to do more. The challenge was to improve business outcomes, but our IT set-up couldn’t keep up with the market. We couldn’t react quickly enough,” says Martijn Scheele, Head of Data and Analytics, at Dutch Railways.
Dutch Railways decided that it needed to move with the times and embrace the cloud. This would provide ready access to smarter data analytics at scale. It chose Microsoft Azure as the ideal platform to consolidate and crunch all of its diverse data, in real-time; using tools such as Power BI to bring findings to life so it could act on them in new, innovative ways.
Customers love the Seat Finder app. Sometimes there are a lot of people in the front of the train when the back of the train is half empty, so we combine rush hour crowd statistics with other data to identify how passengers are spread across the carriages
A new mobile app, ‘Seat Finder’, now advises passengers where to stand on the platform to maximize their chances of getting a seat when they board. This uses live data about passenger movement, CO2 levels, and a train’s load distribution, to provide real-time advice.
“Customers love the Seat Finder app,” Martijn says. “Sometimes there are a lot of people in the front of the train when the back of the train is half empty, so we combine rush hour crowd statistics with other data to identify how passengers are spread across the carriages.”
Live dashboards provide insight into the daily running of trains; information which teams can act on promptly to improve the experience for passengers. For example, one keeps track of the number of people at each station, so Dutch Railways can adapt carriage capacity to demand. Another shows delays and causes, to help plan for the next day’s services. A further dashboard helps plan the upkeep of trains to minimize disruption for travelers.
“We’ve created various reports in Power BI which provide current, detailed status information about our network and trains—a level of insight we didn’t have before, not to this degree of accuracy,” Martijn notes. “Now we can trust the data completely.”
When services run smoothly, customers experience the benefits immediately. It also reduces costs for Dutch Railways, as it better target resources like for example toilet water and optimized planning of logistic operations.
High-speed Travel to the Future
Dutch Railways can now roll out new service innovation quickly and efficiently too. Before, this was a long-winded process involving approvals, development, and delivery, taking months.
“In the cloud, with Azure, what we wanted was available within an hour,” Martijn says. “The reaction from everyone was, ‘Whoa! If this is just the beginning—if the cloud means there is no limit—we want to do this, and this for our traditional Business Intelligence and new types of Analytics using the same data fundament with solid data management!”
Dutch Railways is so excited by the potential for ‘analytics on demand’ that it is migrating more than 80 applications to Azure, and already tackling ambitious challenges, from crowd control to image recognition to combat graffiti on trains, to more personalized marketing.
Martijn believes Dutch Railways has found the key to the future in the cloud, and the ideal partner in Microsoft—which also takes care of data protection and security.
“Our goal is to be the best travel companion for our customers, to deliver the best reasonable train ticket price we can and this can’t be realized without data and AI, and Microsoft are undoubtedly the provider to help us deliver this.”
To maintain its status as the Netherland’s preferred national rail operator, Dutch Railways must honour its pledge to provide travellers with “a comfortable journey, in a clean train, with plenty of seating, that runs on time between stations that are among the world’s best”; and meet performance targets without exceeding its limited budget.
Already, customer satisfaction ratings have soared to 80 percent, service punctuality to over 92 percent, and travel information provision to 82 percent over the last three years, so it is clearly on the right track.