Network Rail is set to overhaul its data management programme to make its data more valuable.
The organisation’s infrastructure information services business unit, dubbed “asset information,” has turned to Informatica to develop its Orbis (Offering Rail Better Information Services) programme.
Asset information will use the Informatica Platform -- including Informatica Master Data Management and Informatica PowerCenter -- for data integration, and the supplier’s data quality system.
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Simon Goodman, head of IS [Information Systems] strategy for Network Rail, said the Informatica deployment, mediated by France-based Capgemini as the services provider, will help the organisation gain a “clear understanding of what our data is and what we need it for. Our MDM programme is about being able to publish and do change control on our business data definitions. We don’t have a common view of our assets [at present].
"But while technology is fine, the challenge is to make the data meaningful -- to the guys on the ground who are collecting and using the data all the way up to the chief executive.”
The MDM programme is, in part, a response to the May 2011 Sir Roy McNulty report Realising the Potential of GB Rail. This found that British rail costs would need to be reduced by around 40% to match the efficiency in use of rail capacity of France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, and set a reduction target of 30% by 2018 or 2019. It also said, “GB [Great Britain] rail lacks best-practice in a number of areas which need to be managed from a whole-system perspective” and are costly. These include asset, programme and project management.
The MDM programme is also one piece of a broader IT transformation programme being led by chief information officer Susan Cooklin, Goodman said.
He explained, “We have got a multitude of systems and practices that work well at the local level but don’t have a clear and consistent definition.”
Network Rail’s assets include the railway tracks, the signalling, rail buildings, telecoms equipment, the electrification and other physical plant. Gaining better insight into wear and tear on the tracks should deliver benefits to the organisation and its customers -- the train and freight operating companies.
“We can build better alliances if we’ve got a better understanding of the capability of our infrastructure. We can have better conversations with the train operating companies. So rather than block booking capacity out for maintenance, we can say, ‘This weekend we don’t need to take maintenance out.’ We can be more transparent, basing ourselves on facts rather than age-old policies,” Goodman said.
In a sense it is also a “big data” story, he continued. “We have a large programme of thousands of sensors on the network to monitor. We want to move away from being reactive to a “predict and prevent mode.” If Network Rail has a better view of the traffic running on the tracks it can assess impact more accurately. Clapham Junction tracks will have a different profile to “a small line in North Wales,” he said.
Orbis rail information service
Peter Tapp is the asset information programme architect for the Orbis programme that the organisation says will improve the information it holds about its infrastructure.
Orbis, with 300 staff, is six months into an eight-year £300m programme with three phases. Phase one corresponds to Network Rail’s “control period 4,” which ends in March 2014. That will see “the laying the information foundation, the MDM programme, the asset data stores and the mobile application platform,” Tapp said. One early benefit lies in the use of smartphones and tablets by maintenance teams in order to help them access a range of data quickly whilst out on-site, he reported.
Armed with their handheld devices, the maintenance workers don’t have to go into a depot in the morning, Tapp commented, so their days can begin earlier.
The second phase, running to March 2019, will be about connecting up assets, and from 2018 onwards the focus will be “making it real time.”
In a press statement, the organisation stated that the new information platform, which includes the Informatica MDM and data quality technology will, as an example, “enable electrical engineers to access wiring diagrams on a tablet for the right asset and update the diagram on-site to ensure that diagrams always reflect reality on the ground.”
But why did the organisation choose Informatica? “We had a full tendering process,” Goodman said. “We rely on systems integrations for the bulk of our IT, and Capgemini recommended Informatica on the basis that they could support wider data management for Network Rail and rail industry. And, when choosing Informatica as a best-of-breed product you can’t go wrong.”
“Capgemini,” he continued “demonstrated a better understanding [than other Systems Integrators] of what we are trying to achieve at a business level and got a grip of our technology landscape, especially in terms of driving out complexity and cost. They were not just looking at a ‘get in, get out’ project.”
His colleague Tapp added: “Cap also demonstrated the best understanding of the Orbis programme from a major business change perspective. They were switched on to the value chain that we are trying to introduce in terms of the intelligence model of collection, evaluation, collation, analysis and communication of information.”
Tapp summed up that the MDM programme will “support our full lifecycle, planning at a high level around options for delivery, execution and monitoring and review. And it feeds into the next round of route strategies.
“It is one of three to four programmes that are not so much financial benefits on their own. But it allows us to sustain improvement over time.”