I often deride myself when critiquing the career choices and career passions that have characterised my working life. I can’t help but think I could’ve taken one or two easier paths……..
I have always felt at my best when in “challenger” businesses, trying to upset the status quo. And when I found myself in more corporate roles I tried hard to instil a challenger mentality in the teams that I led. Challenging can be energising but it is rarely easy or quick.
And on more than one occasion I have nailed my colours to an idea or an opportunity that has required changes in historic consumer, client or user behaviour in order for it to be successful. The start-up world is now littered with the bodies of digital challengers that had ideas hailed as “brilliant” or “game-changing” that just didn’t scale. Among most of those bodies is evidence of neglect, a neglect on behalf of business leaders to put enough emphasis and focus on how users will adopt their applications and how they will change behaviour in the long term. Particularly in the consumer space (B2C) the commercial model underpinning a new digital tool or application is likely to be linear, the more users adopt the more revenue grows…….however, if a consumer downloads your application but doesn’t adopt you gain little or no value.
I speak from experience as I once launched one of those digital consumer businesses that was slated to be a “game changer that couldn’t fail”, only to trigger a life-saving pivot 18 months in.
In the adjacent but profoundly different world of B2B software sales challenger businesses have often been shielded from the risk of user adoption, trading on a medium term license fee where the client remains responsible for driving up user adoption and securing value.
In many cases that same neglect around user adoption and behaviour change is evident even though the deployment of this new digital tool was an “edict from the very top”. I am pretty sure everyone reading this blog will be able to recall such an edict as well as its underwhelming impact in this regard.
Whilst a very different commercial model saves the software seller from the same number of dead bodies it does create a wasteland of the Walking Dead; applications that are still commanding a license fee with little or no user adoption. This is a regular scenario which I feel is doing real damage to the potential for digital transformation within business and commerce.
We launched Digirail in 2020 with a passion to try and put some of these failings of the past right in a sector which has the potential to benefit greatly from widespread digitisation of previously analogue processes.
At an infrastructure level rail will benefit from wide scale digitization over the next 30 years. It is therefore essential that all of the detailed industry processes and interactions that combine to control the use of infrastructure are being carried out on modern digital platforms if the full benefits of signalling, asset management and rolling stock innovations are to be harnessed and converted into value when they land.
The potential in the future for rich data to pass between infrastructure systems, operating systems, the supply chain and rail users seamlessly is extremely exciting but this will require the industry to adopt digital tools as standard across operating models rather than as unique showcase projects.
Even though Digirail is young and even thought the team have only had a small number of engagements to date it is clear that rail is already of those landscapes with its fair share of Walking Dead applications so now is the time to act.
Digirail is application agnostic and we do not bring one specific product/tool to the market. What we do bring is a passion for integrating the best applications into core business processes, a focus on helping colleagues begin to adopt those tools and applications to achieve results and we commit to ensure that data is harnessed from these applications and exploited in the day to day running of rail businesses.
Tim Robinson is the Chairman of Digirail.