How can the transport industry break away from one of its biggest enemies - paper?!

John Aloy, managing partner for National Infrastructure, Telefónica UK

“I don’t want us to end up on the front page”, I was told recently by the CFO of a national transport operator. We were talking about the mounting pressures on the industry – from security threats, to inspections and fines, to keeping their people and their customers safe. He was a little surprised when I suggested that part of the pressure they were feeling might be rooted in their reliance on paper.

As the conversation continued, we unpacked some of the risks in more detail. He talked about how rising security concerns are increasing the spotlight on checks and procedures, to ensure they are being carried out to the highest possible standard. Their current checks are predominantly recorded via paper, which is prone to error and loss, and takes time to process. The business simply wasn’t getting the visibility or assurance it needed around security.

A big knock-on risk for the CFO in particular is the possibility of them failing inspections and having to pay large financial penalties. As threats to the security of the travelling public increase, so too does the frequency of inspections required, as well as the likelihood of visits from the security services. Failure to pass these inspections, which are highly specific on the exact types of checks to be made and the required processes around these, can lead to unexpected impacts on the bottom line.

Employee safety too was an interesting talking point. Aside from the obvious moral imperative to provide a safe environment for people to work in, we chatted about the wider business value of having consistent processes and completing regular safety inspections. It not only reduces the operational downtime caused by accidents or broken equipment such as lifts (which keeps passengers happy as they experience fewer delays), it also minimises potential disagreements with union bodies around poor or unsafe working conditions. And because people are working in safer conditions, there will be fewer injuries and fewer workplace accident claims to settle.

But again, we came back to the issue of working with paper – it simply isn’t an efficient way to promote safer working conditions. When the business is reliant on pieces of paper, the organisation has to wait for them to be submitted and processed. Therefore, you don’t have the real-time visibility or assurance you need that checks and processes are being followed correctly or that shortfalls are being dealt with in a timely way.

As you might expect in conversation with a CFO, we inevitably circled back to the commercial impact of all this. Whether from a big regulatory fine, an accident or a preventable security breach, the cumulative impact would be bad publicity for the business – resulting in a decline in supplier relations, share price and customer perception. All because their compliance activity was rooted in paper.

“How should we be doing it then?”, he asked with slight exasperation. This led us to talk about how the right combination of digital technology and mobile connectivity can transform paper-based processes into a more transparent system that allows checks to be verified in real time.

I gave him the example of a subcontractor starting his shift at a railway station. He would collect and sign in to a mobile device, then set about completing his assigned tasks. That might be to do a security check at agreed locations every hour, looking for suspicious packages. At each location, he scans an NFC (Near Field Communications) tag with his device when the check is complete. These tags can be hidden behind posters, under benches, in door jambs or on fire extinguishers. Once scanned, the tag sends real-time data to the central system so the contractor doesn’t have to complete cumbersome paperwork. Not only does it prove to the business that vital checks haven’t been missed, it gives him assurance that his efforts are recorded as there’s documented digital proof he has completed his tasks.

The result? Data is fully auditable and trackable, employee safety and engagement is improved, and the business makes big savings by getting rid of all its paper (I heard tell of up to £50,000 a year from one use case at a single site alone!). No wonder they left with a smile.

If you’d like a conversation about the compliance issues affecting your business, please do get in touch.

Learn more about O2, message me on LinkedIn or connect with me on Twitter @john_aloy