In 1865, Belgium became the second country in Europe to open a railway and produce locomotives. The National Railway Company of Belgium (SNCB) began service with steam engines in 1926, but even then, it inherited an already advanced rail transport system. Today, SNCB employs 4,000 drivers tasked with navigating a complex system of stations and switches to transport 253.4 million passengers to their destinations every year.
However, the intervening century did not see a similar advancement in workplace technology. As recently as 2018, SNCB found itself managing a mixture of daily driver reports, route change information, and safety notices through an arcane system of paper forms and documents.
Motivated to improve efficiency and modernize its workplace—well ahead of a 2023 European passenger rail liberalization program designed to open the system to more competition—SNCB turned to Microsoft 365 and Teams among other tools to digitalize its operations. “Now, we have deployed thousands of devices for real-time driver data to ensure precise arrival times, overhauled the customer experience with mobile apps that provide access to real-time scheduling data, and created new opportunities for employees to communicate. All with Microsoft cloud-based technologies,” says Guido Lemaire, Chief Information Officer at SNCB.
At the beginning of the process, Lemeire struggled with some basic communication barriers. For instance, out of 19,000 SNCB employees, only 9,000 had digital identities and email addresses. SNCB deployed Microsoft 365 to get everyone in the organization access to a corporate email account, and then quickly worked to move beyond email into the virtual collaboration possible through Teams. As Lemeire explains, he and his team knew that “when shifting from paper to digital tools, it was important to allow employees—from office workers to drivers and station managers—to collaborate in different ways beyond just sending documents to each other.” He started with the core function of Teams. “Microsoft Teams was the next step after email, and right away we used it for meetings,” he says. “We showed them how to use chat and elevate that to a Teams meeting. Our users saw the benefits immediately.”
Next, Lemeire and his team met with various departments, such as Sales and Marketing, to demonstrate how Teams would help improve their productivity with integrated apps such as Microsoft Planner. “We showed them how to use Planner to manage campaigns and how to store files in OneDrive—all from within Teams,” says Lemeire. “They realized the immediate benefits of the tools and then, when COVID-19 arrived, Teams usage increased dramatically.”