Victor Fromm is Head of Business Development and Innovation at MTR Elizabeth line.

Formerly at Greater Anglia, he has spent the last three years leading on innovation for the busy rail operator.

It was Walmart’s founder, Sam Walton, who said: ‘Great ideas come from everywhere if you just listen and look for them. You never know who’s going to have a great idea.’ And it is this philosophy that is the focus of the Business Development and Innovation Team at MTR Elizabeth line.

Established over three years ago, and with some impressive ideas already in action, the Business Development and Innovation Team is there to share the challenges that crop up around the organisation, and capture those great ideas that can, indeed, come from anywhere in the business.

And that is a business built on innovation. Every year MTR hosts its own internal global awards to seek out the most innovative and ground-breaking ideas that have been successfully implemented within each country business.

In January of this year, the UK scooped an Outstanding Project Award for the Romford Innovation Hub, a two-storey building repurposed with our partners at the Met, British Transport Police and the London Borough of Havering. The safe space located at Romford station was established for partners to work from to tackle issues of crime and vulnerability. This safe space near the railway helps to manage incidents in the community before they have an effect on our network.

Since its launch, the Hub has hosted various community sessions and become a base to deal with incidents, while also supporting local businesses and residents. Soon after its opening there were improved perceptions of crime and security, better support for those experiencing crisis and quicker incident response times to support staff in difficult situations.

Now, just over one year on, we have seen a marked decrease in secondary injuries and people becoming victims of crime due to assessment, treatment and recovery services provided by our partners on site. We have also helped reduce the pressure on local ambulance services thanks to the presence of the triage team and a reduction in incident response times to address aggression towards staff.

All because one member of staff had an idea. Sultana Pasha, our former Safeguarding Manager, recognised the growing problem and realised we could do something about it.

But how can we capture these ideas? Sam Walton was right, they do come from everywhere, but it is the process of looking and listening that is critical.

Our virtual Ideas Station is an online platform from innovation specialists, Wazoku. It’s open to everyone in the business and is designed to share departmental challenges and capture those random ideas that colleagues may have, but don’t know where to share it. Got an idea that you think will improve customer experience at the gateline? Log it on Ideas Station. Did something at your last company
that you think we should be doing? Log it on Ideas Station.

The system also features a logbook to document all the improvements that have been made providing a quick and easy-to- access record of all the brilliant ideas.

The human face of Ideas Station is our network of 16 Innovation Champions. These are team members who, alongside their regular job, be that in Control, Finance or Customer Experience, also have a responsibility – which is written into their role objectives – to be the first point of contact for their department’s unique challenges.

When a department is facing a particular challenge, they can reach out to the wider business for support and guidance on how best to address the issue. The Innovation Champions meet once every four weeks to share their departmental challenges with a view to setting up a process to tackle any identified issues.

This process reaches out to informed individuals – and sometimes that will include external stakeholders such as Transport for London (TfL) – to attend a workshop to come up with a solution. In certain circumstances, we might approach all 1,400 MTR Elizabeth line colleagues and ask them for their contributions to help solve the challenge in question.

In some cases, we identify a workable solution, in others, we may face budgetary constraints or infrastructure restrictions that mean we cannot push on with the suggested solution. This might mean looking for alternative options or accepting that, at this time, we need to put the resolution on hold.

The challenge with innovation is that everyone thinks ideas have to be utterly life-changing and we will come up with something radical such as all trains running on air. But, in reality, most innovations are simply continual improvements. Once in a lifetime you’ll have a transformational innovation, but the best innovations are often the small changes that make a big difference to people’s lives and that could be an update to a process, a change to ticketing, or a heated jacket for gateline employees.

In November, we won an Outstanding Work Improvement award for our Driver Reports Process at MTR’s international awards, which is a great example of a small change having a substantial impact on an area of the business. Previously, at the end of each shift, every driver would have to submit a report that is used by the Performance Team to monitor every train to the second. The trouble was, that end-of-shift report was being submitted in a myriad of ways; telephone calls, a quick chat with a manager, text message, you name it!

This often resulted in a member of the Performance Team having to contact the driver again to gather more detailed information. The result was inconsistent information which was too restrictive to be of much use and, on top of that, it required someone to manually record the information from all these channels making it time consuming and ineffective.

We needed a more effective system. Enter the Driver Reports Process. An online facility accessed via the driver’s iPad that features drop-down menus and simple, multiple-choice questions. We brought other teams on board including Fleet, Engineering and Customer Experience to fine-tune the questions, and now we have an easy-to-use system that has been well-adopted by drivers across the business. In the first four weeks we had over 1,000 driver reports thanks to the automated system. It’s also allowed the Performance Team to identify patterns, for example, we can see trends in particular trains, train path congestion issues or recommendations from drivers on how we can improve performance.

As Sam Walton said: ‘You never know who’s going to have a great idea.’  And that’s true. My job is to make sure we’re there to catch it.