CIO interview: Christophe Lemaire, CIO Eurostar

Eurostar CIO Christophe Lemaire oversaw the launch of the company’s new website, the cornerstone of Eurostar’s new IT architecture

Eurostar CIO Christophe Lemaire last month oversaw the launch of the company’s new website, one of its biggest technology deployments in a decade and the cornerstone of Eurostar’s new IT architecture. 

For Lemaire the new platform is more than just a site relaunch. “This was a significant investment and one of the largest information system projects we’ve done in the last years,” says Lemaire.

The previous website was designed in 2002, which is ancient in the world of e-commerce, he says. “So the experiences as a customer was limited – previously the number of clicks required to make a booking was 12, plus plenty of additional things to enter each time you go to website. The experience was cutting edge ten years before, but not any more.

“Now the new site takes five to six clicks, and the experience on the website will be a lot more personalised – even if you are not part of a loyalty scheme. For example – as on most recent websites – there is the option of storing credit card details for an 'express checkout' option next time you will book.

The project took two years, with the launch of the site just the beginning of a number of changes.

“In summer we will add real-time train information, something expected by customers and people waiting for customers in our train terminals. At the moment the only way to see that is using the information board at the station.”

Because Eurostar’s products are not tangible items, with ticket availability subject to many variables, the systems underpinning ticket sales are more complex than standard e-commerce platforms. “The systems are very complex, with the product you buy being built for you in real time.

With the website we wanted to introduce a tool box which makes most of the logic behind the customer interface reusable

Christophe Lemaire, CIO of Eurostar

This meant an entire rebuild was required, with Capgemini UK being appointed for the web tier.

Eurostar has 1,700 people in total, with the information systems team less than 50 people.  This means it has to outsource for IT services and maintenance, while keeping skills around systems architecture, business analysis and service management in-house. Lemaire himself has been CIO for three years

We don’t have many developers as such. On all our new projects, we tend to buy existing systems and the remaining developments are outsourced,” he says.

“We have learned a lot during the project. We wanted to build a new site, but also the first brick of a new distribution system. There are lots of ways we can use to buy a Eurostar ticket – contact centre, mobile – which are based on different systems. With the website we wanted to introduce a tool box which makes most of the logic behind the customer interface reusable, this interface being the only ‘bespoke’ part.

“The software we bought and adapted, we will use it for mobile, the contact centre and for the train terminals – if you want to book in St Pancras.” As such it will re-use the IT and payment systems behind the site for the rest of its operation.  “Our plan is to re-use, so it’s a bit like we have bought a Lego box.

 “So the information system road map for the next four years is to start with website, and expand this architecture for distribution systems, financial and operating systems.

“Building the site was something we had to do as the previous one was too old, but it was also an opportunity for us to think a lot further."

Knowing your customers

In the longer term, Lemaire wants to use business intelligence (BI) to improve missing capability around customer information. “We are asking, what is the information we need to provide innovative services?”

“The way to design systems is probably going to be more data-driven than process-driven, as was previously the case."

The value of the data is there already, he says. “But today, if you are not part of a loyalty scheme and travel frequently with us, it is likely that you will have to repeat most of your details every time you book a ticket.

“There is a lot of information we have about our customers in our databases that we should be using in a better, more integrated way.

“We are also planning to improve our capability to analyse bookings globally. We need to better see trends and patterns, or spot speculative bookings that can be damaging to our business. We can’t sort that out without a better organisation of all the data we collect and operate from.”

The company will be working with third parties to develop this area of operations.

BI is not a traditional investment in technology, where the CIO can be the sole sponsor. In this case it’s a mixture of technology and massive new capabilities for the business.

Christophe Lemaire, CIO of Eurostar

“We’ve also been working with our colleagues in the sales and customer services departments to get a vision about what they need to know about our customers now and in the medium- to long-term. We’ve been starting with what was achievable in the short-term.

Senior executive buy-in will be a key success factor for the BI project, he says. “It’s not a normal project with a clear business owner, whereas if it was a CRM the person in charge of it would be the sales director. It is not a traditional investment in technology, where the CIO can be the sole sponsor. In this case it’s a mixture of technology and massive new capabilities for the business.

“Data crosses everything, so the only business executive in charge of that may well be the CEO. What we have chosen to do is to have multiple cross-functional business sponsors.

Costs won’t make the project easy, as it involves significant investment and touches everything, he says.

“The important thing is not to rush. There are so many business possibilities and it is not cheap. You need to dig into a few case studies – so many things can be done – and find a few potential ideas. Find the ones you think could be powerful for building additional revenue.

“For example, the customer calling the contact centre, and it knowing them and their last journeys, along with the type of customer they are, for example whether or not they are high-flyer not caring so much about the cost of travel. It’s important we know that at the moment of engagement, as the travel solutions available may well be different depending on the type of customer we are speaking with.

For Lemaire, the personalised service enabled by BI could give Eurostar the future edge in a competitive travel market.

“Being more aware of our customers and using that information in a smart way could translate into small gestures, such as little things mentioned in our dialogue with the customer. And in the context of competition, I believe those things could make a difference.”

Christophe Lemaire, CIO of Eurostar, was speaking to Computer Weekly at the UK CIO Committee Event by Global Business Events 

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