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In 2015, the French national railway group launched an ambitious digital transformation programme branded “Digital SNCF”. Four years on, digital technology permeates all of the company’s business lines. We find out how.

Since the launch in the early 2000s of Voyages-SNCF.com (now Oui.SNCF), SNCF’s digital transformation has continued apace. Indeed, a key digital milestone was achieved by the rail group in 2015 with the creation of a digital department, which saw SNCF step up the digitisation of its organisational structure and business lines.

“Introduced the same year, the Digital SNCF programme was aimed at getting the whole company involved in the transformation,” says Olivier Reinsbach, director of the “574s”* (the group’s “digital workshops”) and communication within the e.SNCF senior management team.

The programme, which is still active today, has four objectives: to enhance services provided to customers, facilitate the work of employees, drive company performance, and improve employee and train safety.

Digital SNCF is implemented across successive “seasons”. The first season involved installing the programme and launching major projects and “574s” – hubs that combine coworking space, showrooms and test areas. There are now 5 such hubs in Saint-Denis, Nantes, Toulouse, Lyon and Lille, with a sixth due to open in Marseille in 2020.

These “digital workshops” house centres of expertise that support the company’s various digital projects (including Design, IoT, Big Data and Open Innovation).

The three other Digital SNCF programme seasons followed swiftly on, involving IoT and data-driven industrial projects, then new services for customers, and finally data and its potential for transformation.

Tailored organisational structure and equipment

In 2016, SNCF adapted its organisational structure to the digital age by merging its digital department and information systems within the new e.SNCF department, headed up since September 2019 by Henri Pidault, the rail group’s former director of digital performance.

“Alongside this, appropriate equipment has of course been introduced internally (such as mobile devices and collaborative tools), and employees receive support in how to use it,” stresses Reinsbach. Indeed, the purpose of the “Digital for everyone” programme is precisely to disseminate collaborative tools within teams and to provide support in their use.

“It’s difficult to train everyone. The idea is to rely on local management and group interactions”

A community of around 60 digital champions was also formed, whose job is to look at what links can be created to address problems that cut across all of the group’s activities and business lines.

“It’s obviously difficult to train everyone. The idea is to rely on local management and group interactions, and in particular on staff who are more advanced and can get others involved,” explains Reinsbach.

He makes reference to the reverse mentoring programme, “which seeks to engage with the least digitally-literate staff members, starting with but by no means restricted to older staff.” In four years, some 500 employees from different business areas in the rail industry and with varying levels of responsibility, ages and locations have taken part in this intergenerational programme to transfer digital skills, collaborative practices and new mobility-related digital trends.

Apps in the field

The SNCF group’s move towards digitisation is reflected in the many initiatives and projects carried out across all of the rail group’s activities: infrastructure, business development, rolling stock, etc.

The SNCF app, for example, which has been downloaded approximately 11 million times, is a door-to-door mobility assistant that accompanies passengers in real time throughout their journeys. It will eventually enable tickets to be paid for with contactless or used via mobile phone.

Another recent example of an operational app is Haltograf, an automatic and automated graffiti detection system used to speed up the removal of graffiti from regional express trains.

With the help of start-up Elter, which specialises in artificial intelligence models, and 4G Technology, a data transfer expert, SNCF is currently testing a system at its Nîmes site in the south of France that can work in any conditions, day and night, and even in the rain, collecting information. This involves detecting the defaced car and the train’s headcode, and assessing the size of the graffiti itself.

In time, the system could become a platform on which further services are built to detect other types of issues with rolling stock.

*574.8km/h is the world rail speed record achieved by SNCF in 2007


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