Last quarter's Digital Railway Supplier’s Autumn Conference didn’t just provide an insight into how Network Rail's Digital Railway programme will come together over the next few years, in addition, it raised a rather progressive idea. Discussions were had that put wheels on the notion that a far higher level of collaboration between formerly competing suppliers would not only be possible, but necessary.
“Britain relies on its railway to connect skills to jobs, and goods to markets at home and abroad. But as the pace of change in our economy increases, there has never been a greater need for our railway to deliver more trains, better connections, and an improved experience for passenger and freight customers.” Digital Railway – An Introduction, Network Rail.
The main goals of the Digital Railway programme are to deliver capacity, reliability, safety and environmental improvements, meaning faster trains and better service. Achieving this depends on collective engagement between customers, Network Rail, train operators and suppliers. Among the many challenges this project faces, a key consideration is the difficulty involved in encouraging collaboration between competitors.
Large-scale programmes that rely on key players, who are usually conscious of jeopardising competitive advantage, can prove difficult. Although there may be some advantages, there are many barriers to achieving a peaceful, cooperative working relationship between traditional competitors. Even before project decisions can begin, working with competitors can raise concerns over the protection of intellectual property, and generate difficulties around conflicting working methods, as well as posing the 'who is leading who' question. This setup would be new ground for many and would require considerable effort to establish new forms of best practice and working guidelines. Success will ultimately depend on the willingness of each organisation to join in.
Considering these difficulties, is it worth it? Well, actually, yes. This collaborative approach would make bringing together formerly disparate suppliers far easier which would in turn lead to a stronger resource pool, able to power revolutionary change in the industry. On their own, these companies might not be able to deliver all that a major programme requires.
Traditionally, we see arrangements where big companies tender for overall project control and then run competitive tenders for the myriad of components that make up the final solution. This method demands heavy investment, which can be especially hard for smaller organisations to cope with. They often find themselves consistently delivering similar proposals for the same project to different potential customers, sometimes even within the same programme! Constant competition requires massive resource and effort from Business Development and Proposal Managers, which is not always an option for the smaller players in the market, meaning they and the final solution miss out.
The wheels for a viable alternative have now been set in motion though, and now it's a case of waiting to see how much steam this idea generates. Strategic collaboration could spell an end to this unnecessary waste of resources, reduce delays in the delivery of solutions, promote better relationships between companies and ultimately provide a higher-quality end-result for the customer.
To discover how we're adopting this new approach and collaborating with other industry suppliers, read our case study outlining our work with Alstom Transport.
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