In our running series, Information Age speaks to Mark Holt, CTO at Trainline, on the importance of the customer and the radically changing travel industry with the convergence of technology (which appears in this article).
Trainline is Europe’s leading independent rail and coach platform. It’s aim is to bring together all rail, coach and other travel services into one simple, real-time experience for its customers. Trainline has over 500 people from 48 countries working in London, Paris and Edinburgh. The London office is a short 20 minute walk from our base in Old Street.
In Information Age’s pursuit of understanding the great variety of chief technology officers that work for technology-led companies in and around our area, we have embarked on a mission to find out what type of CTOs are here, what it takes for them to succeed and what challenges they face.
The ‘customer is always the focus’
Throughout this series, we have identified CTOs with a lot of different priorities. Many focus on the product, others on maintaining the infrastructure, while some described their role as hybrid in nature.
However, what they all have in common is the importance they place on delivering results for the customer. “The customer is always the focus,” said Holt.
“Keeping the customer at the heart of every decision we make, to give them a great travel experience every time, is key to every role at the company. My role is no different – it’s very much powered by this goal.”
“Part of ensuring this is always a priority is encouraging everyone at Trainline to be a customer themselves. We all use the app daily, including myself, so we know what we love about it, what could be enhanced and what features we’d want to see built in the future.”
A team effort
We’ve heard it before in this series, but the importance of building the right team is paramount to not only the role of the CTO, but also the success he or she has in their industry.
“As CTO, my job is to work on the team, not in the team: recruiting and retaining amazing people; ensuring that we have efficient and effective processes that enable super-fast delivery of customer value; and creating a culture where empowerment stretches throughout the business – everyone in the team is defining the future of Trainline together.”
Have a vision
Succeeding in any tech-focused senior role in this era of disruption is a constant, battling challenge. The moment you think your safe and comfortable in your role, is the moment you push harder in this digital age.
So, in order to mitigate this, succeed and thrive as a CTO or senior leader in your industry, Holt advises that “you think about the place you want to be in 1/2/3 years’ time, and the story you want to be able to tell. Then make sure that you’re always chipping away: every day you’re taking those important steps, even if small, to get there.”
Trainline is growing rapidly, having expanded geographically to 36 European countries, as well as entering Asia, and doubling the number of it’s international carrier partners to over 180.
This growth is very exciting, according to Holt, but with it comes challenges, such as remaining agile and continuing to act small as the organisation grows bigger and bigger.
“One challenge is that the rail and coach industry is extremely complex,” continued Holt. “There are about 350 airports in Europe versus more than 35,000 rail stations and another 18,000 coach stops. The services provided by carriers are extremely varied, and their APIs don’t conform to any standard practices.”
“Even then, selling a ticket is only 30% of the complexity, connecting up seamless refund and change of journey capabilities when you’ve done half your journey on SNCF with one discount card and half on Italo with another sends the complexity through the roof.”
‘Beautiful user experiences’
Hiding this complexity through the creation of beautiful user experiences is the ultimate aim of Trainline and it’s CTO.
In order to achieve this, “we have to attract the best talent and this always poses a challenge – we’re up against the tech giants when it comes to securing the best specialist talent in Europe.”
However, “we’re doing very well in this area – we have amazing people working in amazing teams. Our people make me proud every day.”
Information Age is on a journey to meet the different chief technology officers who have offices in and around our base in Old Street; what defines their role, what it takes for them to succeed, what challenges do they typically face and more