ScotRail has been operating since 1983 and, in recent years, Scotland’s Railway has seen multiple updates. These include a £370m fleet of electric trains and the introduction of their new mTickets (to help eliminate the need to handle paper tickets).
THE SCOTRAIL CHALLENGE
Following a successful collaboration with The Data Lab’s Data Science Specialists, ScotRail’s Commercial Revenue team approached TORCH, seeking to become more self-sufficient in data and analytics. They wanted assistance in ensuring that they had the necessary skills in their team and could access (and use) the data sets they needed to meet their business objectives.
We spoke with Rhona MacLennan, TORCH Principal Solutions Architect, and ScotRail’s Head of Commercial Revenue, Nicola Curran, to discuss the project in more detail.
What brought ScotRail to TORCH?
Nicola: In 2020, we got in touch with TDL’s Data Science team for support in understanding our passenger numbers and how they were recovering following the pandemic. They built the solution and that piece of work is now being fully utilised across ScotRail.
Coming to TORCH, we wanted to further develop this work. I had 4 more data sets we wanted to expand our usage of: our CRM system, Reservations (and making sure we’ve got the best fare offering for our customers), the Smart Card, and our Marketing spend.
And how did TORCH get started with that?
Nicola: In our first conversation, Rhona established that, instead of looking at these 4 sets separately, you need to get everything in place. And, that’s so obvious now! Within our team alone, I’ve got two people that are using the same raw data for different reasons, and they’re working with it differently. Rhona highlighted that we need a data owner, somebody that’s managing all our data across the Commercial Team, and then, even wider across the business.
Rhona: We needed to take a holistic look at the whole organization. For Nicola’s team, getting access to the data and the tools they needed was really hard, just because things weren’t joined up.
With an organisation as large as ScotRail’s, the volumes and complexity of data need to be taken into consideration. It’s essential to invest in proven methods and technologies to enable the successful on-going delivery of data governance across the organisation. With data coming from a single logical source, there should never be situations where different teams have different answers to the same question.
Going into the engagement, you seemed to have a good understanding of the possibilities that this work could bring. Would you say that an important part of working with TORCH was to have that validation, a second expert opinion to back your proposal?
Nicola: Yes, definitely. And (from a personal stance), I wanted to learn and understand more. It definitely validated and supported what I was thinking. The assessment itself, and the way it is presented, is so helpful. It wasn’t just highlighting what you should do, but also how you can do it.
Rhona, what were the key steps that TORCH laid out for ScotRail?
Rhona: There’s great work happening across different parts of ScotRail. They were already trying to build a data pipeline, but they were doing it with tight resources. Getting the right skills and capabilities at the correct time is a key requirement for any new data development, so we made recommendations around timings for when to bring these capabilities on-board. Then, once they have this structure in place, there’s more chance that the teams who need to work with the data will be able to work with it.
Our key observation was that ScotRail need to take a more holistic approach to how they manage their data and break away from business unit silos. We have made recommendations to guide ScotRail in transforming their approach to data and analytics, enabling them to meet the significant current and upcoming challenges impacting both the organisation and rail services within Scotland.
Nicola, what were the main takeaways for you and ScotRail?
Nicola: I’ve got so many takeaways from this. Not just around this particular challenge, but the way we’ll think about approaching future goals. People, process, data, and technology; I’m thinking about these four words all the time now.
I’m keeping in touch with The Data Lab as much as I can, and we’ve now completed the TDL Introduction to Data for Business Leaders course (arming individuals with the skills, insights, and latest developments needed to apply data to their business).
We’re working through the TORCH report content and recommendations, and we’re already talking to Rhona about the next steps for implementation. The first of these will be the TORCH team working with our Sales and Marketing colleagues on a business case for a Customer Data Platform, to ensure the solution implemented takes a company-wide perspective and forms a key building block for our overall data architecture.
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