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Could data be the rail sector’s most valuable asset?
Craig Waters (Editor of Global Railway Review), Matt Miller - OSIsoft LLC 11/01/2019 00:00:00

In an interview with Global Railway Review, Matt Miller, Transportation Industry Principal at OSIsoft, LLC – a leading global supplier of application software for operational data management – explains that the analysis and use of data is the rail sector’s most valuable asset as it moves forward to meet continued demand for more passenger rail services, and for greater volumes of cargo to be transported by railroads.

How important do you think it is for rail operators to invest in data solutions as they strive to increase the volume of their operations?
I think data is the only tool that rail operators can use to effectively grow capacity, short of massive capital investments, without undermining other aspects of rail operations such as safety, asset reliability, punctuality or compliance.

If you think about operational excellence in other industries, data is widely used to manage capacity. Data must be used, particularly real-time data, to manage operations more carefully and efficiently, without causing other problems. There’s no other more valuable resource than data in improving the overall performance of a network – I think it is imperative.

Do you think the rail industry is still struggling to harness data and utilise it to its full potential?
Most certainly. There’s no question that transportation is not a leading industry, which is a polite way of saying it’s a laggard industry.

If you compare the digital maturity of an electrical company for instance, how it uses smart metering, demand building, load balancing for grids and smart grids – they’re considerably more mature, digitally, than rail. But I think rail wants to be a fast follower. The industry tends to be risk averse, for several good reasons, and so I see that the pace of digital growth in rail is high. We’re seeing that the leaders in the industry – such as SNCF, ProRail, Network Rail, Deutsche Bahn – are really trying to move quickly and understand how to make their data much more actionable to impact their performance.

How does OSIsoft’s technologies fit into the idea of transforming rail operations?
Some of our tools do something really simple. They pretty much gather data from all the different data sources across the railway. By stitching all the data into one system of record that everybody (all the different stakeholders) can use as one version of the ‘truth’ to feed innovation, to feed enterprise applications, to feed knowledge workers of all types. That’s what we’ve done for decades, in nearly 15 other industries; really building a forensic system of record for the organisations that reflect their operation.

It’s a little like putting a DVR on an entire organisation and capturing all the digital events down to the sensor level at high enough fidelity so that you know what happens and when. You know the behaviours, attributes and characteristics of it digitally, so you know what happened when and you can go back and do the root cause analysis from the data to make appropriate corrective action. That correction can then be made, and you can check the corrective action had the results intended.

That’s really what our tools do; they basically collect the data, we organise it in a way that everybody can understand it, and then present it to all the different systems, solutions and people that need to use it in a holistic way, at a scale that would span an entire country’s network or an entire continent network.

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