Rail solutions provider gets everyone on board quickly

Today’s Office 365 post was written by Rick Smith, vice president of global IT at Wabtec Corporation.

Rick SmithSome people think that technology advancements in the rail industry stopped with the diesel engine, but in fact, we are constantly pushing the technology envelope. At Wabtec, we use emerging technologies in the products and services that we offer our customers to reinvent railways so that they match modern needs. For instance, our technology is at the core of a new system being deployed across the United States for improving the safe operation of freight and passenger trains. The system, called the Interoperable Electronic Train Management System (I-ETMS), uses GPS, data from track signals and switches, and train dynamics modelling to predictively determine safe operating parameters. If an unsafe situation is anticipated, the system will warn the train operators and, if necessary, automatically apply brakes.

We also adopt technology internally to help us streamline operations, work together to develop unique offerings, and provide our employees with flexible work options. That’s particularly important for us as Wabtec continues to grow and spread out geographically. We currently have 140 locations connected to our corporate network, and we’ve been in acquisition mode for quite some time. In fact, we’re doubling in size about every five years, and it’s always a challenge to fold new divisions into Wabtec. We don’t just want to onboard our new employees quickly—we want to make them comfortable in their new company, help them get the lay of the land, and give them easy paths to immediate productivity.

Since I joined Wabtec about a year ago, we have been strategically embracing cloud computing, which we knew would be helpful for supporting mobility and getting new employees ramped up quickly and cost effectively. Our initial interest in the cloud, though, stemmed from our search for a more reliable, scalable email solution and a better disaster recovery setup. We investigated building duplicate datacenters to back up our business-critical systems and found it to be a pricey proposition. Of course, we needed to justify the investment that we’d be making in cloud computing. Fortunately, Microsoft Office 365 was an easy sell, because we avoided a six-figure capital investment and will realize a modest annual savings in the operation of our email environment by moving to Office 365.

Along with email and disaster recovery, we’re getting cloud-based communication and collaboration capabilities that will help bridge gaps as teams work across geographical boundaries. A lot of our work involves specific designs tailored for each customer. Since we often manufacture similar components on different continents, it’s critical that our designers, engineers and factory technicians all stay on the same page, despite the miles between them.

We’re putting cloud-based project collaboration sites, document storage in Microsoft OneDrive for Business, and desktop sharing through videoconferencing right at their fingertips, all of which will ultimately increase productivity and quality, and help us keep pushing the rail industry forward. For example, viewing prototypes in real time reduces the potential for misunderstanding and churn during product development.

While our current workforce will certainly benefit from all the Office 365 functionality, I believe our newly acquired employees will gain additional advantages. We’ll reduce early anxiety related to the IT learning curve, which is important because anxiety interferes with efficiency. It’s better for everyone if our new employees can acclimate quickly, easily finding and communicating with the people they need to reach.

Technology advancements in our industry can be tricky to adopt, but it was easy to embrace Office 365. With it, we’ll provision new members of our workforce faster, getting them everything they need to contribute and feel productive as part of the Wabtec community. And that’s the support we need to keep pace not only with our ambitious growth goals, but also with the nature of our high-speed industry.

—Rick Smith