Adapting to Shifts: How Evolving Industry Demands Drive Specialised Technology Expertise

1385 million passenger rail journeys were made in 2023, on many of them, passengers will have encountered varying levels of on-board journey information and therefore experienced different levels of customer experience.

Certain passengers may have encountered a Passenger Information System that remains inactive during their journey. Others might have encountered static information displays, limited to presenting the train’s route without the ability to modify or update, often resulting in inaccurate information in case of disruptions. The lucky passengers will have experienced seamless real-time information, with onward journey information, automated PA, delay information and carriage occupancy.

As the rail industry moves towards digitalisation and a ‘putting the passenger first’ approach, journey information on Passenger Information Systems (PIS) is moving away from static information and towards truly real-time and dynamic information throughout the end-to-end journey.

Early adopters of innovative technology

2015 was a real turning point for the UK rail industry in terms of listening to passenger feedback and implementing new technology that met their needs and expectations of the quality, speed and accuracy of information provided on trains. First Hull Trains were the first UK Train Operator to have truly real-time information, informing passengers about all aspects of their journey both prior to departure, on-board the train and on arrival at their station for planning onward journeys. This system was KeTech’s Passenger Information System. The system was delivered by KeTech in collaboration with First Hull Trains, ATOC (now RDG), Angel Trains, Alstom and Icomera, and helped Hull Trains achieve the top spot for customer satisfaction in the 2017 spring National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS).

The Diffusion of Innovations theory by E.M Rogers, explains the passage of a new idea, product, or technology through stages of adoption by different people who participate in or begin using it. Adoption of real-time PIS in the UK started with First Hull Trains, sitting in the ‘innovators’ stage. ‘Early Adopters’ who were close behind are Operators such as TransPennine Express, LNER, West Midlands Trains, Chiltern Railways, Transport for Wales, East Midlands Railway, Avanti West Coast and Train Builders, Alstom, and Siemens. The next step is for real-time PIS to spread through the industry to the early majority and late majority, but almost a decade on from the technology becoming available and passengers are asking the same question – why hasn’t real-time passenger information been rolled out across the network?

What are the barriers to adoption?

At any point in the decision-making process, an organisation might decide against adopting an innovation, usually due to some kind of barrier. Last year, KeTech surveyed the rail industry to uncover the barriers the industry faces when it comes to implementing real-time information technology. We discovered that 61% of industry professionals thought the main barrier to implementing real-time information was because they felt it was ‘too complex’.

An important concern for software in today’s digital and fast-moving world is the ability to quickly adapt to new or changing requirements. KeTech address this concern through software evolvability, sometimes referred to as modifiability or changeability. The software that sits behind KeTech’s PIS has a high degree to which it can be modified to adapt and extend.

To someone who has no or little experience in software, industry data feeds, real-time intelligence and integrating wayside systems with rolling stock, designing a system that can constantly evolve and meet new and changing requirements will seem like a very complicated undertaking. KeTech’s 25 years’ experience in designing and delivering Real-Time Information Systems for the railways, enables it a different skillset and level of expertise to provide a more flexible and futureproof solution.

An open approach

KeTech is different. KeTech’s PIS was designed with an Open Architecture to make it compatible with a large range of hardware components, existing or new. Futureproofing is at the heart of our systems and by using Open Architecture, KeTech eliminate single source risks to help TOCs escape the risk of costly/forced upgrades and being locked into a single supply chain. This approach fosters collaboration and allows TOCs/Train Builders to implement the best hardware for the requirement, at the best cost, rather than being limited to a single PIS suppliers equipment. KeTech’s software allows TOCs to easily change, modify, scale, and evolve its PIS, usually remotely with no or minimal downtime to the system.

KeTech’s Open Architecture in tandem with intelligence at the core of its system allows Train Operators to respond quickly to ever-changing needs, leverage new and developing technologies such as AI; making adding, upgrading and swapping components or technologies seamless.

Technology, passenger expectations and operational requirements are evolving, and now with KeTech, so is the way Train Builders and Train Operators choose and build their information systems.

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