Raildiary has capitalised upon its domain experience and expertise to deliver tools specific to the needs of personnel working in a highly regulated and also intensely commercial market.
Manchester, UK-based Raildiary is a railway industry-specific cloud-based data collection and reporting platform utilising mobile and web technologies. On-site data is captured in line with the UK’s Rail Method of Measurement and presented in reports and visualisations, enabling analysis of resource, schedule and health and safety information. Raildiary founder and CEO Will Doyle talked to Extranet Evolution about data capture and the value of information.
A chartered surveyor by training, Doyle worked for Tier 1 contractors in rail construction in UK and in southeast Asia. He says “Problems were always the same: getting critical information from the worksite back to me as a quantity surveyor”. He recalls an electrification project in the north of England where the programme had overrun and costs had risen by around 50%. The contractor needed to document the issues, Doyle said:
“We spent 10-12 weeks working on a construction claim for extension of time and variations, with lots of people gathering data. We had some paper records in ring binders, but we were also finding documents in vans, and even in a rubbish skip – nobody recognised the value of this information. We were eventually able to justify the claim but it nearly crippled the business. I thought there had to be a better way. We need to avoid that end-of-project claims culture and find a more sustainable way of working.”
He quit working as a QS and, with a little funding support, started Raildiary. Together with Paul Clegg (now CTO), he developed a basic minimum viable product for the Apple iPad which helped secure some early clients, and was then able to start expanding his team. Raildiary then raised £650k in funding (from the Rail Supply Growth Fund and Angelgroups) in May 2019. Its mobile device support now includes an Android app.
Doyle said he used his experiences as a QS to specify the application’s functionality:
“Essentially, I want to capture the story of the project. I wanted a site diary which told me who arrived when, what works were planned, and what works were undertaken. Traditionally, paper duplicate pads were used for record-keeping and the overall project picture was created from 1,000s of pieces of paper. The project story might tell me exactly why additional time was needed. Typically, a job is priced on a set of assumptions, but the reality of site work may mean we need to justify new access requirements, bigger foundations, or changed work sequences.”
Making Raildiary user-friendly
By making the application as intuitive to use as possible, Doyle says Raildiary quickly accelerated capture of accurate information by site-based personnel. “It had to be easy to use by someone working at 4am on a cold, dark and rainy site. Record-keeping that used to take an hour using paper could now be done in less than 10 minutes. And as fewer details are missed, contractors get paid for 100% of the work”.
Full and accurate records also help contractors to understand their typical productivity for standard types of work, and to better predict risks. “They now know what projects are too risky to bid for, cost planning discussions are more data-based, and Network Rail can estimate a realistic net cost per kilometre.”
Doyle says the best use of Raildiary comes when the client and contractor both use the tool together, mentioning a project with Siemens that was working that way. “Network Rail can quickly understand the reasons for extensions of time – a late-running train that delays a track possession, for example.” Use has also extended down the supply chain, with data collated about subcontractors and contingent labour suppliers. Other UK customers include Amey and Balfour Beatty, while the product has also been deployed on projects in Spain and the Middle East.
As a commercial specialist, Doyle was familiar with the CEMAR contract change management application, and work on a project at Birmingham New Street station opened up an opportunity to integrate the two solutions. Raildiary captured changes, work progress and resource utilisation that could then be used to support Early Warning Notices and other contract-related processes. “With clear evidence, conversations quickly shift from claim validity – did it happen? – to quantifying the claim. Teams have meaningful discussions rather than disputing facts.”
With Raildiary’s headcount into double figures, Nick Woodrow, formerly at CEMAR, was appointed Raildiary’s operations director in May 2021 (he had been part of the CEMAR management team when the Gloucestershire-based business was acquired by Germany’s thinkproject in May 2018 – post). Woodrow says Raildiary is not solely working with CEMAR, but is looking to be software-agnostic and work with other applications and platforms where vendors recognise Raildiary’s domain expertise: “There comes a point that best-in-class software is better than trying to build it in a platform. We are capturing the data in the right way for the rail function.”
Raildiary is also looking to link to scheduling tools, to undertake earned value management (EVM) tasks, taking data from Primavera P6, MS Project and Asta PowerProject, while recognising that many clients still run projects using Excel. Raildiary has developed a shift planning tool that helps managers populate programmes in less than 10 minutes.
The business is also looking to expand overseas. Its European and Middle Eastern projects have been secured by existing UK customers, but the popularity of the NEC contract suite in Commonwealth countries could help Raildiary to build on CEMAR’s international expansion into those markets. Raildiary is also not just a tool for Tier One contractors, says Doyle (“We have a plan that suits SMEs”), and it can be deployed on non-rail projects. The application has been used for aviation projects, for work on a navy warship and on time-critical highway schemes (“the lane rental approach used in highways is similar to rail possessions”), where clients – as in rail – are moving away from paper and want more than record keeping.
The EE view
Raildiary has identified a niche market and sought to capitalise upon its domain experience and expertise to deliver a platform that is specific to the needs of personnel working in a highly regulated and also intensely commercial market. Competitors include the mobile-oriented eviFile (eviFile – geo-located progressive assurance – May 2018) and Helix Rail, as well as the field applications provided by several of the leading CDE vendors. As Woodrow mentioned, the latter tend to be more generic data capture tools rather than being rail or linear asset-specific, but several software vendors (eg: Autodesk, Procore) are building platforms that allow partners’ niche tools to plug into their ecosystems.
The UK rail sector has been very buoyant in recent years (major projects have included ThamesLink, CrossRail, East-West Rail and HS2), but the scale of some investments is being pared back as the UK government looks to manage its way out of post-Brexit and post-COVID squeezes. However, rail transport also offers a means to contribute to carbon reduction measures, and the various Network Rail regions are already starting to gear up for Control Period 7, the next major rail framework programmes starting in 2024. Like other ‘arms-length bodies’, they will be guided by the UK construction strategy (outlined in the Construction Playbook and Transforming Infrastructure Performance: Roadmap to 2030) which demands clients and their suppliers collaborate better, “further embed digital technologies”, and enable greater sharing of better data while “driving better, faster, greener delivery”.
Raildiary has successfully started to help rail clients and their contractors shift from an adversarial claims-based culture towards more evidence-based collaboration and negotiation approaches. I understand Doyle and his team are thinking about how Raildiary can translate these process improvements into helping rail networks (and other industry owner/operators) achieve better whole life asset management outcomes.