National Rail Enquiries touts benefits of short cloud contracts

National Rail Enquiries has hailed the benefits of using cloud services and multiple, smaller suppliers, compared with using a single systems integrator provider.

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National Rail Enquiries has hailed the benefits of using cloud services and multiple, smaller suppliers, compared with using a single systems integrator provider.

Traditionally, National Rail Enquiries, the main source of train information in Britain, was a single-source organisation that relied on a large systems integrator to deliver its website through a series of subcontractors. Around seven years ago, it moved to a multiple-sourcing model and now contracts directly with different companies for each part of its website. This approach, the organisation has previously said, helped to reduce its risk exposure as it is aware of issues as they arise rather than relying on a systems integrator to filter it out.

“The National Rail website has 12 suppliers running it and another half a dozen flitting in and out. That’s working and we see cloud as a platform to [enable] it further,” Derek Parlour, head of commercial at National Rail Enquiries and member of the National Outsourcing Association’s Advisory Council, told the Think Cloud for Government event in London this week.

“We’ve got the hosting capacity from cloud, and all we need is a specialist organisation to write the application and manage the application for us.”

National Rail has been using Amazon Web Service for hosting its website, which receives an average 19 million visits a month, since January 2013. The hosting estate is managed by IT consultancy and integrator Smart421.

As well as moving to smaller providers, National Rail Enquiries has moved to “much shorter contracts”, which he believes opens up business for smaller IT firms.

“Our maximum contract commitment is two years, apart from our call centre,” said Parlour.

“So if a service isn’t working, or communications with people is changing, we can just swap it out and bring another supplier in. That’s our model now.”

He added: “If you’re a large systems integrator, you might see it as a threat, but many smaller companies see it as an opportunity.”

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