Dissecting Alstom’s three-part IT strategy

Our first focus is to continue with the integration of Bombardier Transportation. We want to finish it as quickly as possible and then continue supporting the business and its initiatives. We also want to reduce the energy consumption of our solutions. It’s an important focus and we already have projects regarding this. In addition, we’re working on the evolution of autonomous driving. We’re great connoisseurs of trains, subways, and the different rolling stock at airports, but now we’re promoting more efficient autonomous driving operations.

Will there come a time when trains run without drivers?

Today we already have fully automated metros in Singapore and Madrid. The airport shuttles are too. And as far as the railway network is concerned, there are already several degrees of automation in the trains; in countries like China, they’ve opted for the highest level. Yes, driverless trains are a trend, whether they arrive sooner or later is another issue, but this depends on legal issues, not technical ones.

What are your biggest challenges as CIO?

Attracting talent. But at Alstom, we’re lucky to be recognized as a top employer globally, as well as in Spain, and it’s one of the pillars of our growth. In fact, in Madrid, we have one of the main centers of excellence in software development. The attraction of technological talent is still one of the challenges we have, though. Not only Alstom, but all companies. It’s a main focus for us. In Spain this year, we’ve hired 350 people out of around 3,000 between Spain and Portugal. We’re looking for all kinds of profiles, from data scientists to systems engineers. Other challenges include completing the integration of Bombardier Transportation, and continuing to analyze how new technologies can help make our products more durable and sustainable.

What does the R&D center in Madrid do?

It develops software to improve communication between the train and the ground, software that’s embedded in the trains themselves, and digital mobility systems that facilitate the frequency of the metro or tram, in that there are systems that will control the traffic lights of the line where they are.

Cybersecurity is also essential in the railway ecosystem, isn’t it?

Yes, many of our customers and operators have critical infrastructures, so cybersecurity is one of our biggest concerns. Currently, around 500 people work in cybersecurity within Alstom, not just in security of products but also internally. Our motto is ‘security by design.’ In our operational and production processes, security plays an important role in the design, implementation, and validation phase.

How do you think Alstom is positioned in terms of digital transformation compared to its competition?

We’ve been lucky to start the journey very early. In 2015 we had to set up our IT systems almost from scratch, and there we adopted a more disruptive strategy than traditional companies in the sector, much more focused on the cloud, mobility, and data. Currently, 70% of our solutions work in the cloud, our workloads are cloud ready, and we can use our solutions with any type of device anywhere in digital continuity. We are certainly a data driven company.

The fact of going much more to the cloud and having a fairly standard core system will allow us to work in the same way in Spain as in France, or in any other country, and it allows us to integrate Bombardier Transportation or any other company faster and more efficiently.

Is Alstom’s core business in the cloud?

We have a data center in France but everything else is in the cloud; our main cloud provider is Microsoft Azure. Before, going to the cloud was a riskier step, but if you have a cybersecurity and access strategy based on identity control and data, you get good results.

And what about the hidden costs of the cloud that many CIOs have issue with?

You have to do a business case of any project every three or four years, evaluate it and follow it up. It’s the same in cloud projects, and that’s what we do. For now, we want to continue taking advantage of the technological benefits of the cloud through our partners. 

What other partners do you work with in IT?

In 2015 we decided to work with a very small number of IT partners. One is Microsoft, but we’re also supported by the consulting firm DXC Technology, whose team, by the way, manages our cloud. In the telecommunications area, our global partner is British Telecom, in the ERP and finance part, we work with Accenture, and we have another global partner for support.

Technology companies have the same problems we do in capturing talent. They also face others like SLA controls, costs, and those related to the relationship with the client, and knowledge. But our partners are companies we’ve worked with for many years and have created a strong relationship of knowledge and trust. 

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