I traveled to New Zealand this week to meet with some IBM transportation clients and discuss IBM’s thought leadership in Rail. Coincidently, IBM opened a Global Rail Innovation Center in Beijing, China this week as well, coinciding with my meetings in New Zealand. IBM has issued several documents and press releases on Smarter Rail. If you would like to see those please follow the link in this paragraph.
Over the past several years I have been visiting clients globally and hearing their challenges and share IBM’s vision for improving asset management in transportation. A large portion of these meetings have been with rail clients. There has certainly been an increase for IBM in proposals and tenders in the rail industry segment. Our investments in asset management solutions has helped IBM to be selected by many rail and transit organizations worldwide by aligning with the needs of those clients and showing value, both in software and services, but also in the benefits achieved by existing clients.
For many rail organizations there is a need to manage a wide variety of assets. In some countries, like England and the Netherlands, privatization has led to the separation of asset management of rolling stock from linear assets. Whereas in most countries the rail system must manage all the assets. These assets are: Rolling Stock, which includes locomotives, passenger cars and freight cars; Linear Assets, such as track, signals, bridges, tunnels and power; Facilities, including buildings, stations, depots and other repair facilities; Support Fleet, such as cars, trucks and other specialized equipment for repairs; and IT assets, which can include data centers, network hardware, desktops, laptops, telephony, etc. Whatever the case, the rail system must support a variety of equipment and are focused on providing increased value to their customers.
Because the rolling stock and linear assets are both “revenue generating” assets for a rail system, organizations will typically address these first with an asset management system. However, these assets fall into two different types. Each share some challenges, such as aging workforce, safety, security and regulatory changes, and improving service levels, but in general have different needs. Those managing rolling stock assets are concerned with increasing asset reliability and availability, improving asset performance to reduce the impact of rising fuel costs, recovering warranties on components and parts, optimizing inventory levels and reducing material costs, and capturing accurate data to drive condition based maintenance programs. For the companies or divisions managing linear assets, their challenges include managing aging infrastructure while also supporting growing service demands, managing continuous assets with dynamic segmentation, supporting visual and automated inspection systems and addressing lost revenue due to track occupancy. Those clients I have talked with are seeking systems with out of the box capabilities that address these challenges.
Meeting these challenges was clear in my meetings in New Zealand and will be demonstrated in the Global Rail Innovation Center in Beijing. I have been working with Keith Dierkx, the center’s director, for several years and we share a similar focus on improving asset performance and service delivery through improved asset management. With many countries investing in their rail infrastructure, in some cases with stimulus funding, the ability to provide new innovations that can help upgrade the infrastructure and reduce costs will be critical in providing what we have been calling “Smarter Rail”. I believe this is one of the most important opportunities in a move towards a Smarter Planet.