Building B2B Mobile Applications: Delivering high impact for your business


At the recent BlackBerry® Innovation Forum event in London, Albert Gribben, the Procurement Manager for Northern Rail – a BlackBerry customer – spoke about the impact of mobility on their business. Here are the highlights of his talk!

As one of the largest passenger train operators in the UK – with 84 million passenger journeys last year across the north of England and 4,700 employees – it is imperative that we run a tight ship. Streamlined communications make an essential contribution to this.

In 2007, 1,300 train conductors had limited access to real-time information and paper-based business processes. We wanted to improve the quality of information our conductors were providing to our 270,000 daily passengers. When incidents occurred, multiple SMS messages were sent to each train conductor’s mobile phone with no confirmation of delivery. In addition, workflow approvals were taking 20 days. This was a costly and unreliable way to communicate with staff, and we looked around for a solution to these problems.

We chose to work with Research In Motion® (RIM) and implement the BlackBerry solution. Today, 34% of our staff now have a BlackBerry smartphone. Our in-house developers have been working hand-in-hand with BlackBerry partners – iQ Link and 10 seconds software – to trial a solution called Express Shopping Cart. Our mobile workers can now approve shopping carts/purchase requests on their BlackBerry smartphones, speeding up the Purchase-to-Pay process. In addition, train staff can now use their BlackBerry smartphone to book on-off, request annual leave, view their rosters for seven days and report faults.

Moreover, mobile email has proven to be more reliable, more secure and faster than texting. It is the surest way we have found to get information to conductors. With the BlackBerry solution we can trace delivery, which is especially important for safety-critical messaging and the control team can simply click and send a targeted message containing the right amount of information to a group of people in an area. In addition to replacing texting with mobile email, the BlackBerry solution gives the conductors access to live departure boards using the BlackBerry® Browser. They can tell the passengers where their connections are, if it’s on time, even what platform they’re going to go to.

The BlackBerry solution has been a resounding success in terms of return on investment, communications, user satisfaction and customer service. As the business case predicted, the BlackBerry solution was cost neutral in year one, and we’ve seen a significant return on investment in years two and three.

We ensured that employees were fully involved in the rollout, from the initial trial to feeding back on every step of the process. Since the rollout, we have seen a significant increase in customer satisfaction (based on customer surveys) and our employee satisfaction is at an all-time high, with 95% of users surveyed finding the BlackBerry smartphone “a very useful tool”.

We are currently reviewing opportunities to mobilize other business processes – that is, using SAP. We are also considering both off-the-shelf and in-house applications to fully mobilize our train crew and get even more benefit from the BlackBerry platform in use.

Thanks very much to Mr. Gribben and Northern Rail!

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