Amtrak's CIO Is on a Technology Fast Track

By Peter High  |  Posted 04-21-2017
 Amtrak IT

Amtrak's CIO Is on a Technology Fast Track

When Jason Molfetas joined Amtrak as the CIO, he had come from Recall, an Australian-based global company involved in secure information management and logistics, digital media and data protection. In addition, he simultaneously held the position of general manager for its Brazilian operations. Therefore, Molfetas was quite experienced in taking on responsibilities outside of IT successfully. In the five years since, he has modernized the technology at Amtrak, while ushering in a digital transformation. As Molfetas tells CIO insight contributor Peter High, he has once again found opportunities to add value outside of the IT organization.

Peter High: Please describe your priorities for the foreseeable future.

Jason Molfetas: In fiscal year 2016, Amtrak achieved a new ridership record of 31.3 million and also earned record ticket revenues of $2.14 billion. In 2017, our priorities are ensuring Amtrak runs a safe environment, maintains strong financial results and continues to strive for high customer satisfaction.

Several initiatives are in-flight to continue Amtrak's transformation. Focusing on digital capabilities improves the way our customers are served—including a new website, enhancements to our mobile application and increased WiFi services on board trains and in stations. This includes our growing need to use advanced analytics to generate insights that help grow the business, improve safety and security, and drive operational efficiencies.

High: There have been a number of initiatives that your team has developed or enhanced since you joined the company, including improvements to Amtrak app, a revamping of the website, and improved connectivity on trains, to name three. How do you see the habits of increasingly digitally savvy customers driving Amtrak in the future?

Molfetas: Transportation is one of the largest and most rapidly changing sectors of the economy. And technology is interwoven into every aspect of our daily lives. An increasingly digital customer base demands technology investments that are visible, easy to use and personalized. Our customers consistently rank mobile phones, smartphones and tablets as the top devices used to access the internet.

Approximately 90 percent of our customers enjoy complimentary WiFi, and we just enhanced WiFi on our high-speed Acela Express so that it's six times faster. Work continues to upgrade WiFi on other trains on the Northeast corridor and across the country.

We aim to deliver on and exceed our customers' needs with a seamless end-to-end experience, and products and services that are supported by integrated, scalable technology. This calls for the Amtrak IT team to lead the charge on how we can continuously innovate with respect to our competitors and execute a strategy that requires meticulous change management.

High: How does your IT team engage with customers to better understand their evolving needs?

Molfetas: We encourage all members of the organization to be customer-focused. Delivering excellent customer service is at the heart of Amtrak's business strategy. We do this by always putting customers first and building loyalty through positive relationships within and outside the company.

The IT team at Amtrak works closely with the marketing, sales and operations teams to understand our customers' wants. Customer insights—gathered through surveys, social media engagement and other digital means—are at the heart of our decision making. Investing in technology brings clear benefits to customers and increases Amtrak's value proposition in the transportation marketplace.

Amtrak's CIO Is on a Technology Fast Track

High: Your IT team has helped shape demand from the rest of the organization through the business solution officer role. Can you describe how the role works and its primary value?

Molfetas: Technology should be leveraged to meet strategic business goals, and the IT team needs to be a source of innovation for the enterprise. Too many IT teams are reactive in nature. By creating business solution officers that act as liaisons between the IT department and teams across the organization, we ensure the development of true business solutions, not just IT solutions.

Our business solution officers provide technical thought leadership, oversight of programs and alignment on business technology portfolios. This new partnership model allows IT to be more effective—and a better partner—by enabling business agility, reducing expenses, and satisfying both internal business partners and external customers through technology.

High: What trends particularly excite you as you look to the future?

Molfetas: In the modern era, there is no transformation or growth that is not enabled by technology. This is an exciting time because more than anything else, leaders need the imagination to see the future and the skill to make it real.

And let's not forget that the foundation starts with people. Investing in talent, combined with driving innovative technology solutions, is the key to our future success.

The growth of America's urban centers points to the need for increased efficiency in our nation's transportation system. Amtrak's NextGen vision of new high-speed trainsets will certainly supplement the continued demand for rail travel in the Northeast corridor, the busiest rail line in North America.

Thinking about the long term, each trainset will have amenities such as WiFi access and USB ports that can be upgraded to meet evolving customer needs. I look forward to helping Amtrak champion this transformation, which will result in greater reliability and connectivity for our customers.

We are increasingly seeing the use of analytics to create competitive advantage for the business. In the travel and transportation industry, ride-hailing companies like Lyft and Uber have done a great job with this. We're grateful to have Derek Kan, the general manager of Lyft, on the Amtrak board of directors.

The challenge will not be our ability to generate data, but rather taking increasing data volume and complexity and translating it into clear, compelling insights that impact operational efficiencies, revenue generation and customer satisfaction.

Driving the digital agenda and cognitive autonomous analytics is the new frontier: software and hardware that detects, learns and/or causes a change of state, through the direct monitoring and/or control of physical devices, processes and events in the enterprise utilizing digital data.

Autonomous solutions are the future. This is what excites me today.