Boasting a membership of in excess of 2000 registered individuals from more than 1900 companies, the Rail Alliance (RA) is the largest and fastest growing networking organisation supporting the rail sector. In particular, the RA pays close attention to the small and medium enterprise market (SME), alongside the train operating companies (TOC) and Tier 1/2 organisations. However, membership is not exclusive to rail companies per se, with many of these numbers being made up of companies looking to diversify into the rail arena or with complementary expertise in other industries.Laying the foundations
Colin Flack, chief executive at the RA, describes the insight behind such a set up: “Whilst I’d love to take the credit for being the inspiration behind the formation of the RA, that falls to those in the business community who recognised that what they needed to help their businesses thrive was a forum where they could network and collaborate. We have always been an organisation that is driven by business and commercial imperatives, effectively working to create opportunities conducive for business to take place. We are simply about enabling companies to Network
, Collaborate, Innovate
, as it says on our slogan.”
In fact the RA has come a long way in the two years since it was launched as a national organisation, although the concept had been proven regionally in the West Midlands for two years previously. Membership is available at two levels – free registration, which sees a company’s profile added to the RA CRM database alongside regular newsletters and event details, and a paid full membership. Here benefits include business development advice, invitations to all networking events and seminars, support packages for conferences and exhibitions, and access to any third-party concessions or discounts negotiated by the RA.Cluster culture
Having contributed to the McNulty Review (Rail Value for Money Study), the RA is well aware of the industry pressures to reduce costs whilst improving performance. One such method is the reduction and consolidation of the supplier base. As such, it is vital that companies look to new and innovative ways of ensuring that the products and services that they offer continue to be recognised.
For the RA this strategy comes down to capitalising on synergies through clustering. “Conventionally, clusters are usually very tightly interlinked geographically and inter-dependant, but based on the global nature of modern businesses, we consider the UK as a whole as a rail cluster,” explains Colin. “As a large region, not dissimilar in size to the UK when you look at it as a capability-based entity, the Saxony rail cluster in Germany is a viable demonstration of this. This region has been hugely successful in promoting its manufacturing capabilities, and this is in no small part due to its genuine embracement of the length and breadth of the supply chain.”Value pressures
Following the publication of the McNulty Review, which could potentially lead to some major changes within the rail industry, Colin is confident about the RA’s role in helping to deliver this value-added thinking: “I believe that our ethos has the unique position of being completely aligned with where the railway as a whole is going. We have always been focused on broadening and deepening the supply chain, and therefore championing the best value for money through such activity. Given the pressure on the sector to get more from less, combined with the high levels of international spending, we need to be taking careful note of what we can gain from other sectors for best use on the railway.
“Our members represent a wide range of companies with very diverse activities and as such they have the ability to help transform the sector. For the RA we believe that the McNulty report provides a platform from which to move forward in the use of collaborative business practices.”Entering the market
Of course, one of the biggest challenges facing businesses that are new to the rail sector, or those with innovative new products, is finding a way to penetrate this relatively traditional market. The RA attempts to facilitate companies such as the SME to gain this access through various methods such as developing their understanding of the market place and its capability gaps, and advising on areas where a company’s products and services directly fit these needs. The RA has also recently launched its own suite of value-added services, known as the RAVAS, which offers specialist support.
Uniquely, by utilising its presence at Long Marston, the RA is able to offer its members the opportunity to place their products and services in a real rail environment for testing and evaluation, and promotional purposes. This concept is being developed one step further with the launch of MacroRail 2011
– an event designed to enable members of the RA to exhibit their products and services on site. Taking place on the 16th September 2011, this low cost/high impact event provides members with an ideal demonstration environment, as well as opportunities for networking through the Long Marston Charity Open Day, which is scheduled for the same weekend.Wider picture
As the rail industry begins to realise the benefits of collaborative working, so the RA’s established model is recognised as being increasingly relevant to the sector. And as more companies look towards adding value through industry and product synergies, Colin sees the potential to expand the RA’s role: “Based on our activity to date, which has seen us gain nearly 300 full members in just two years, I would hope to see this increase to at least 500 active members over the next few years. I would also like to see the RA become present in other countries as well as the UK. Importantly our mantra of Network, Collaborate, Innovate
has never been more appropriate and it is therefore our vision that the RA becomes a firmly accepted and valued part of the railway landscape in the near future.”
Tel: +44 (0) 1789 720 026