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Amtrak To Improve CRM, Passenger Information, Employee Information Management With Stimulus Money

March 27, 2009

Amtrak plans to spend $15.3 million on customer relationship management (CRM), passenger information, and employee information management from $1.3 billion allocated to it under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for capital projects.

 
These programs will improve customer service and delivery both directly and indirectly through the staff that will be in train with larger-ticket infrastructure and equipment upgrades financed by the ARRA. Together they will bolster intercity passenger rail services.
 
Unstable fuel costs and growing environmental concerns have prompted a resurgent interest in rail travel, backed by a rail-friendly Obama Administration that has sought for example funding for high-speed rail. Amtrak has posted six consecutive years of growth in ridership and revenue, carrying more than 28.7 million passengers in the last fiscal year. Amtrak provides intercity passenger rail service to more than 500 destinations in 46 states on a 21,000-mile route system.

“These Amtrak projects fulfill all of the objectives of the ARRA, and more,” say Amtrak President and CEO Joseph H. Boardman. “They are ‘shovel-ready’, they will improve the efficiency and accessibility of Amtrak trains and facilities; and we estimate they will result in the retention or creation of approximately 6,000 jobs. It is extremely encouraging to see the direction our country is taking to improve our national mobility, reduce our dependence on imported energy and make a stronger, healthier passenger rail system.”

Here are the details of Amtrak’s CRM, passenger information, and employee information management plans:
 
*          $3.4 million for CRM
 
This program will dramatically improve the functionality of Amtrak.com, increasing usability of the five-year-old system for Amtrak’s customers. The stimulus funding will provide the opportunity to retain the project team working on the site upgrade in order to add increased functionality to the new website. Examples include:
 
--Full-Day Availability. This will allow customers to view all trains based on their request for the entire day rather than 10 trains. This initiative also dramatically improves the ability to avoid long development cycles and costly work in the reservations system when developing future enhancements
 
-- Shopping Cart. This will permit customers to add purchases, including ancillary products such as rental cars, hotels, and sightseeing to itemized carts
 
--Enhanced Service Alert. There will be system alerts based on train number. There will also be Near-Sold Out Alerts i.e. three seats left that will permit customers to see which trains have a limited amount of seats
 
The Amtrak.com/CRM solution will also provide over six million unique monthly visitors with a better experience by delivering targeted messaging. This messaging will be based on behavioral, demographic and modeled insights. A new dynamic survey capability will help Amtrak understand how to improve Amtrak services, as well as the way it communicates on Amtrak.com. The funding will also provide for investment in developing the requirements and initial technology road map for a corporate-wide CRM solution.
 
To increase revenues and ridership Amtrak will be launching a Trip Planning Partnership with a partnering with a web solution provider to make Amtrak services more easily accessible to millions of users. This will be done by integrating Amtrak schedules and route data into the Trip Planner. The stimulus funding will allow the rail carrier to automate the process of compiling schedules and integrating Amtrak Thruway connecting services schedules (i.e. buses and ferries) with the provider.
 
Amtrak says the upgrades will have an ROI within the first year of operation. Amtrak.com is the company’s most cost-effective sales and marketing vehicle. The additional budget will allow it implement these enhancement that improve customer service and generate incremental revenue.
 
The benefits from the Trip Planning Partnership will be realized when Amtrak is able to show comprehensive and accurate schedule information on a Web based planner on-demand. This will only be possible by automating data gathering, by having access to the real-time schedule information, and by including the Amtrak Thruway connecting services in the Amtrak schedules. The route and schedule software developed for this initiative can be utilized and shared by other Amtrak internal, as well as external, entities.
 
*          $2.5 million for a Passenger Information Display System (PIDS)
 
This project will develop a Passenger Information Display System (PIDS) solution that satisfies Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements for disseminating train status information to passengers with aural or visual disabilities. The solution will be designed to accommodate future connectivity to Amtrak’s core systems and will be deployed in Amtrak stations of varying size. Its implementation will facilitate delivery of accurate, timely, consistent train status information in electronic visual messaging and audio formats.
 
The project will utilize off-the-shelf technologies as much as possible, design, develop, test, and implement a scalable, modular PIDS solution that satisfies ADA requirements. In addition, it will validate the PIDS solution by piloting the solution at stations of varying size. The pilot will include the integration of the hardware, software, electronic signs, and infrastructure necessary to support a fully ADA-compliant PIDS in three pilot stations (Aberdeen, New Carrollton, and Baltimore, Md). Included in this project is an upgrade to the Washington, DC, Union Station PIDS infrastructure. The current cabling and video distribution system is at end of life and will be replaced. This upgrade will also provide redundancy to obviate a total system failure.
 
The ADA mandates that information conveyed in train facilities and stations be made accessible to persons with disabilities. This includes making adequate communications capacity available, through accessible formats and technology, to enable users to obtain information and schedule service. Amtrak says accurate, timely train information is an absolute requirement for its customer service. This project delivers service improvements via consistent displays and information across stations and ultimately, across Amtrak's sales distribution channels. It also provides process efficiencies by automating cumbersome, manual processes, and moves PIDS infrastructure towards a state of good repair.
 
*          $9.4 million for Employee Information Management
 
Amtrak has embarked on a program to improve Employee Information Management (EIM) to enable efficiencies in human resources processes that support a large, geographically distributed work force. The wages, salaries, and benefits associated with these resources comprise Amtrak's single largest expense, hampered by an over-reliance on paper-intensive, manual processes. The stimulus funding will enable acceleration of this program, which will deploy up-to-date capabilities across the following areas:
 
-- Initial Design of Qualification Management. This includes the initial design structure for competency management and qualifications (certifications, training, core capabilities related to specific jobs), as well as the data related to specific jobs or job families that will be included in the e-Learning and e-Recruitment efforts
 
-- e-Learning. Enterprise Learning is an integrated solution for back-office enterprise resource planning for both learning management systems and learning content management systems. SAP Enterprise Learning supports traditional classroom training, virtual learning events, Web-based training, and computer-based training, as well as collaboration features
 
- e-Recruiting. Enterprise Recruiting is a fully Web-enabled, end-to-end recruiting solution, accelerates and streamlines the recruiting process with a comprehensive strategy that will enable Amtrak to build up and draw from a qualified pool of internal and external talent. Recruiters can take advantage of this talent pool to quickly find the staff they need, while collaborating closely with hiring managers throughout the hiring process
 
- Self Services. Employee self service and Managers’ self service will be deployed to all employees. Kiosks will be deployed to various locations, offering employees at remote locations the ability to view and, in some cases, maintain their personal information through a secured, Internet accessible Web portal. Managers will be able to initiate routine personnel actions through this same portal as it will provide for the appropriate approvals and security controls
 
As part of this program, the HR service delivery model is being re-engineered to improve the services HR provides to the organization. Many employee-related business processes will be consolidated and automated within a shared services environment thereby creating opportunities for efficiencies and effectiveness throughout the organization.
 
Amtrak says its HR technology is seven to 10 years behind other similar-sized organizations including freight railroads, which are reporting significant ROIs. The program is also intended to help Amtrak address numerous human capital management challenges, a primary one of which is an aging workforce. The current estimate is that 30 percent its workforce will have a combination of service and age to be eligible for retirement in the next five years.
 
There are also unnecessary turnover costs associated with inefficient recruitment tools, specific job training and time related for employees to become fully productive. Addressing these turnover costs will help Amtrak to cut its annual operating expenses; a reduction of just one percent of the turnover rate is worth $2 million/year.
 

Brendan B. Read is ContactCenterSolutions’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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