David Stanley joined Trainline, Europe’s largest independent train and coach ticket retailer, in 2012 and has since taken on various roles relating to their IT infrastructure and strategy, however, his latest role as Director of Reliability, seems to tie in nicely to Trainline’s heightened customer-first business model, as well as their journey with the cloud.
Stanley explained that for Trainline, his sort of job title is traditionally about making sure things simply work, such as whether or not the site is up or down, however, with Trainline, reliability means a lot more: “We’ve expanded on the typical availability figures in IT, we are interested in whether or not a visitor on our website is having the best possible experience.”
Stanley added: “The Trainline story is a story of two halves. When we first started in 1999 we were basically just part of Virgin Trains, doing some online rail bookings. Through the years we were then sold to different private-equity companies. But the watershed moment came in 2014, when Clare Gilmartin, CEO and Mark Holt, CTO joined in the same year. They brought a much larger product focus to what we do.”
“This is when we stopped being a rail company and started being a tech company that is solving a rail problem.”
Ahead in the cloud
As most business leaders will appreciate, obtaining operational agility to successfully meet ever-rising customer expectations, particularly with medium and large companies – where in many sectors, they are being disrupted by more nimble, startups that have less legacy IT baggage, is no easy task.
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Trainline are vocal supporters of the cloud and claim to owe a lot of their innovation and agility to it.
Stanley explained: “At the risk of sounding like a poster child for AWS, they take away the heavy lifting from what we’re trying to do. We are able to innovate a lot quicker because we don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about things like needing more floor space in our data centre.
“In a previous company I worked for, I wanted to plug a firewall into a switch in their data centre and it was going to take six days to get the right cable. It got to the point where I said I would buy the cable, drive it to the data centre and plug it in myself, but they said I couldn’t as I needed to go through a whole process first.
“This doesn’t fly anymore, you have customers with needs and you need to solve them as quick as possible. Not only is it good business sense but it’s also good for the customer. Thanks to AWS I can work more closely with our development team and make sure we have the infrastructure that they need.
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“One of the great things we have is that there isn’t that much of a distinction between product and tech. So if there is a customer need, then we should be creating a product, that fulfils it. The best way to do that is through technology, particularly when it comes to the rail industry which tends to be pretty backwards. But if we can come and help solve those problems through our technology expertise then that’s what we are going to do.
“Of course at the back end of that you get growth as a company, you have increased revenue, you’re solving more customer problems. It’s a flywheel effect because as you grow you get to solve more problems. I think the key thing here is that we should not talk about technology having a budget it’s more about what are the products we want to bring out and what problems will it solve.”
Beyond the clouds with time to spare
He added: “The real challenge beyond the cloud, from an infrastructure point of view, is how do you support this new-found agility? Developers and engineers will always want to go faster and quicker to market. While operations need to make sure what they are doing isn’t going to negatively impact that customers experience. So the challenge is how do you keep up with that agility that is demanded by the product teams? My challenge is balancing all that out, I have a whole bunch of great people that work for us, our engineering and operations teams are excellent, they work together to make sure that is not a problem.”
With a cloud infrastructure, Stanley explained how Trainline’s Data Science team has been able to explore and create new ways to help their customers save valuable time and money.
Price Prediction is just one of the recent innovations built by Trainline. Trainline’s App includes mobile ticketing to help customers avoid queuing at stations and live updates on platform changes or train times whilst they are on their journeys. Alongside this, BusyBot, an in-App assistant, which uses crowdsourced data to identify the quietest parts of the train and help customers find a seat. Last year, Trainline launched a voice app with Google Assistant, for customers to use on the go – bringing the UK’s most advanced rail voice AI to travellers across the country.