My Strategic Rail, LLC (SR) team recently completed a major study for Kazakhstan’s railroad, Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ) to develop an Enterprise IT Architecture (EITA). Simply stated, EITA is the next paradigm shift in IT architecture for companies / industries that can benefit by the integration of information flow between their current, disparate systems to eliminate the duplication of generating, storing, processing, and distributing data. Since I know of no current implementation of EITA by railroads, contrary to its common usage in other industries, EITA has a substantial, to-be-developed market for the majority of railroads across the globe. Additionally, there is also an interesting twist to the value of EITA for railroads that are government owned, specifically those railroads that have a Soviet heritage such as KTZ.
Kazakhstan is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a regional organization that came about with the breakup of the Soviet Union. Hence, KTZ’s operating practices had been largely based upon the cookie-cutter procedures and operations structured by the previous Soviet regime. This meant that KTZ was Government-owned and self-contained as to health care, education, and overall welfare of the railroad’s employees; nothing Capitalistic there. However, that is no longer the case in that for the last decade or so KTZ has been making the transformation to a partially-capitalistic railroad where the rail infrastructure remains government owned, the personnel support facilities are shed to local governments, and the operations and resource management / maintenance are being transitioned to privately owned and operated. For such railroads, the use of an EITA addresses 5 issues as I see it: 1) Shift in IT architecture, 2) Deployment of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), 3) Advancement in Resource Management Systems based upon 4) integrating advancing technologies, and 5) Privatization.
- IT Architecture Shift
As is the case for the majority of railroads across the globe in existence since the mid 20th century, they use Silo-based IT Architecture (SITA). That is, the systems used by the railroad departments are self-serving and developed independently of the other departments’ systems without constructive consideration of sharing data. This fatuous perspective is now working against the benefit of the railroads overall, but again is typical for the 70-90’s time frame of IT integration with railroad operations. However, now is the time for transformation to responsible IT that looks at the railroad from an “Enterprise” perspective. That means accepting that no department is an “island” in that it is truly dependent on what is happening as to traffic movement, maintenance, procurement, etc. of the railroad overall. Additionally, as discussed further below, there have been paradigm shifts in the core technologies within the last decade that are now available to railroads to greatly improve the efficiency and safety of their operations. To explain this point from your own standpoint, consider how one operated prior to the availability of the cell phone initially and then with GPS and integrated information processing (intelligence). As such, so is the case for the majority of railroads across the globe that need to recognize the possibility of using such advanced technologies versus how they operate today based upon century-old technologies.
Pursuing an Enterprise perspective means making the transition to an Enterprise IT Architecture (EITA). An EITA is an integrated information flow structure where key operating data (Data Classes) are independent of the Business Processes within the various departments’ systems. Referred to as Single Source of Truth (SSOT), each Data Class is generated by only a single Business Process and is made available to those Business Processes / Systems that require such data. The advantages of this approach are many including the following:
- Elimination of the duplication of data generation, processing, storage, and distribution;
- Assurance of data accuracy and timeliness to eliminate conflict across the railroad that can result in inefficient and unsafe operations;
- Absolute accountability for data that are being used across the railroad;
- The elimination, or modification, of Business Processes;
- The simplification of adding advanced resource management systems without concern of generating the necessary data.
As demonstrated in the KTZ study, the process used to create an EITA is generically referred to as Business System Planning (BSP) and has been well proven since the 70s across many industries with the railroads, again, being a major exception. The engagement with KTZ to my knowledge is the first effort across the rail industry to move beyond the SITA mindset. A primary reason for this is that railroads have failed to make the business case to advance new technologies given their heavy investment in legacy systems and technologies, as will be explained below.
- ERP Deployment
There has been a significant amount of attention lately as to the Internet of Things (IOT) as a means to generate enterprise knowledge from disparate data bases associated with disparate systems. Simply stated from my standpoint, IOT is a seemingly rational, but actually knee-jerk, attempt to make the most of the inefficiencies of a company’s SITA. These are companies / industries that don’t have the willingness or strategic foresight, to move towards the ideal of EITA. IOT will undoubtedly provide benefits, but it is only a bandage. What those companies relying on IOT require is the transition to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), which can simply be thought of as an overlay suite of resource management systems on an EITA. That is, the variety of management systems that may be deployed from an ERP perspective are facilitated by the integrated information flow that has been already established via an EITA structure.
- Advanced Resource Management Systems
A basic management rule is that the more timely and accurate the data are as to the status of a company’s primary resources, the more efficient the operation will be with the proper management systems that can respond to the change of asset status, e.g., “What is the position and speed of trains which is not available today with conventional traffic control systems?”. For a railroad where the resources are mobile, the opportunities can be extraordinary, both as to efficiency and safety, if such “in time” data (not necessarily “real time”) are available. Additionally, as to be expected with many railroads across the globe, there is likely to be a tremendous amount of manual capture of asset status, e.g., locomotives, wagons, and marshaling yard status. The deployment of systems that provide such data automatically e.g., wagon tracking systems, can greatly reduce the costs of manual collection while providing more accurate and timely data. However, the primary resource management systems that exist today across most railroads are not geared to handle such data. Therefore, improving the reporting of asset status has to be integrated with advanced resource management system to handle such data. That means that there has to be an honest assessment as to how such advanced management systems can be integrated or as a replacement for current, conventional management systems. The usage of advanced resource management systems is largely dependent upon advancing the core technologies.
- Core Technologies
As with the cell phone reference above, how can railroads change their operations accordingly? That is, there are 3 primary core technologies that a railroad requires to manage its mobile resources: Positioning, Communications, & Information Processing. For railroads, their operations are largely based upon century-old versions of the 3, i.e., physical positioning, voice communications, and a mixture of wayside and back-office information processing (intelligence). Unfortunately, most railroads have not yet considered the advancement to wireless data, virtual positioning, and locomotive-borne intelligence respectively. For example, I recently completed another assignment for KTZ, as well as several years earlier for Egypt’s railroad (ENR), to design an advanced traffic control / traffic management / enforcement system (prevents train accidents due to driver errors). This concept that I refer to as Virtual CTC (VCTC) replaces the century-old physical positioning of where trains are with virtual positioning, thereby greatly eliminating extensive capital expenditures and on-going maintenance for the conventional positioning approach. Additionally, wireless data communications are used in lieu of voice communications, and the primary intelligence is shifted from the wayside to both locomotive-borne and back-office platforms. A version of VCTC has now been implemented by at least one supplier.
KTZ is making the phenomenal transition from exclusively Government-owned to a capitalistic perspective of Government-owned infrastructure and privatization of supporting operations such as maintenance of railroad infrastructure and the handling of freight and passenger operations. This is a transition that would be valuable for many railroads that are government owned today. The overlay of ERP on an EITA provides an honest presentation of what’s what across the railroad that will result in the improvement of both the efficiency and safety of the railroad as well as financial and operations accountability required by investors.
A public version of the EITA study that I performed for KTZ is available upon a request to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.