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/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/train_195219.jpgWhen planning a trip across Central Europe, there is a fundamental question to answer before you go; Train or plane? While many prefer air travel for long distances, the benefits of train travel for shorter trips need to be considered. For one thing, you don’t have to squeeze yourself into a tight seat, but can relax in the restaurant car. And you might even spend less for the same amount of travel time.

Belgian Railways, known locally as Nationale Maatschappij der Belgische Spoorwegen/Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Belges (NMBS/SNCB), is committed to providing fast, convenient, and secure train service for 200 million passengers travelling to and from Belgium every year. The government-owned company connects over 550 stations across Belgium and operates high-speed trains from Brussels to other capitals such as Paris and London. Furthermore, it hauls 60 million tons of freight each year.

But the airlines are no longer the only competition for Belgian Railways. European Union legislation continues to drive the liberalization of Europe´s transportation networks and plans to open up the railway market for other public railroad companies by 2016. Faced with new market conditions, Belgian Railways knew it needed to transform from a traditionally process-driven organization to a more agile, value-driven service provider. Company leaders tasked the IT organization with establishing a sustainable technology platform that would support this strategic goal.

The plan was to cut costs, boost productivity, and improve rail service quality for passengers and freight customers as well as to overcome a monolithic IT infrastructure and paper-based processes. These imperatives set the stage for a total business transformation initiative.

Step one for the IT department at Belgian Railways was to devise a strategy for achieving transparency across all structured and unstructured content. The team started looking for an enterprise content management solution that could handle large volumes of content and integrate well with existing business applications without breaking the bank. They found their answer with the SAP Extended Enterprise Content Management (SAP Extended ECM) application by OpenText.

“It´s not simply about creating structured content from unstructured content,” says Stéphane Haelterman, who managed the project for the Belgian Railways team. “The point is that we want to transform real business documents into structured information that we are using in our IT business processes.”

The Information Challenge – Managing Tons of Information Every Day for High-quality and On-time Train Service

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Keeping trains running safely and on schedule requires fairly complex purchasing and maintenance processes that are very paper-intensive. Within the next five years alone, the number of documents produced by Belgian Railways is set to grow from 2.5 million to 7.6 million, translating into 7.5 terabytes of data.

Instead of sifting through stacks of paper, engineers at Belgian Railways can now easily retrieve the files they need on a tablet PC, including 2-D and 3-D equipment designs with the associated bill of materials. “By creating one version of truth, we have been able to speed up maintenance activities by up to 50% – doubling our productivity,” explains Haelterman. Not only does this allow the company to ensure that trains run safely and on time, it also helps avoid the creation of duplicate, obsolete, and inaccurate documents by providing a consolidated view of all business content. Furthermore, these improvements are critical to complying with government regulations regarding record keeping, retention, and transportation safety.

“By improving the quality of our data, we can ensure that the right parts are purchased or stocked, which is very important to maintain smooth operations,” outlines Haelterman. With the new application in place, Belgian Railways expects to realize cost savings of nearly €3 million annually just by eliminating orders for the wrong parts.

Getting Ready for Innovations to Come

Beyond the immediate operational benefits, Stephane Haelterman also feels that enterprise content management presents a key a strategic opportunity for managing the challenges ahead.

“Due to the nature of our business, we have to be able, as a company, to handle and analyze vast amounts of data almost anywhere, at any time.” To put Belgian Railways on track for the future, he and his team are investigating the potential of SAP HANA and the SAP Mobile Platform. “For these kinds of projects to be successful, it is critical to have visibility into all business documents and to integrate them with your business processes,” concludes Haelterman. “Enterprise content management helps us do just that, paving the way for future success.”

Listen to Stephane on a panel discussion about “How Belgian Railways Runs on SAP Extended ECM by OpenText” and learn more about the transformation at Belgian Railways/NMBS

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