Elaine Clark

Encouraging supply chain collaboration to bring about innovation in rail

Collaboration within the rail industry’s supply chain is key to delivering on the huge investments and projects being made within the industry currently.

Working together collaboratively can also act as a breeding ground for innovation within the industry.

In this regard the work of organisations such as Rail Forum Midlands is essential in helping bring the supply chain together and representing the interests of the supply chain.

Rail Forum Midlands also work around helping bring about innovation in the Midlands supply chain and act as an example for the rest of the country on how to bring the supply chain together.

Elaine Clark’s role as Chief Executive at Rail Forum Midlands is therefore essential in encouraging collaboration and representing the supply chain on a national level.

Elaine spoke exclusively with RTM recently and explained how important collaboration is within the supply chain when working to deliver the big infrastructure projects in rail.

Commenting on this Elaine said: “From the SMEs perspective, many of the SMEs we deal with do want to be able to work with other companies and they can see the benefit of that.

“Sometimes that's not just existing companies in rail, it might be bringing in different companies that are currently in other sectors, because they might have expertise that we don't currently have in rail, and it works the other way too.

“So we may have companies doing great things in rail that can access other opportunities in other sectors by working collaboratively. I think from the SMEs perspective, they see collaboration as a really important step.”

In December of last year Rail Forum Midlands ran its SME challenge.

This is the third challenge the organisation has run and offer SMEs the chance to come up with solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing the rail industry.

Elaine took the opportunity to comment on the success of the recent challenge and the innovation initiatives like this can bring saying: “[The challenge] is a really good example because one of the reasons that we put forward this idea of these SME challenges as part of the sector deal was to provide the opportunity to test out something to see if it worked.

“They've proved very, very popular, both with clients and with SMEs because from a client perspective if they've got a specific need this is a mechanism for engaging with the supply chain.

“For the SMEs they know there's a real challenge, they know there's a real problem, they know there's a real opportunity to solve problems or to make better; they know it’s a real need on the part of the client.

“[The challenges] are proving to be a really good way of bringing the various parties together to understand the challenges, whatever the problem or opportunity might be, and then providing a mechanism for SMEs to respond to that.”

Part of the work of Rail Forum Midlands also includes securing investment and support from Government for the rail supply chain in the Midlands.

This includes working closely with both the Department for Transport (DfT) and Department of Business.

Elaine commented on the benefits of working so closely with these Government departments explaining: “DfT are very focused on the UK railway, which is absolutely right. That's what you'd expect them to be amongst all their other responsibilities. Whereas the Department of Business has got a broader perspective around business and industry generally, of which rail is obviously an important part.

“So they might have more of an interest in, for example, some of the impacts of the wider economic challenges that we're all going through.

“It's different working with the different departments, I think you've got to understand what their priorities are, and you’ve got to understand what their what their key issues and challenges are.

“Part of my job is to navigate through that to help position our members and the supply chain in general, in the best way to support what in particular DfT are trying to achieve.

“Whatever we're trying to do it's got to be with DFT, we can't do it without their support.”

By investing in rail infrastructure, the DfT and Department of Business has the chance to support a huge number of jobs across rail’s supply chain.

This is something that has helped formed the core basis of Rail Forum Midlands pitch to the Government.

Elaine elaborated on this point stating: “[We’re raising this] as another as an opportunity for another consultation that is ongoing around net zero emissions, industrial products and the opportunities for the UK. That's currently a consultation out from the Department for Business.”

On the whole, it is clear to see how collaboration within the rail supply chain is the best way of bringing about innovation within the rail supply chain and helping deliver huge infrastructure projects in the sector.

Rail Forum Midlands and Elaine’s work is leading the way in this regard and serves as a shining example to the wider industry on how to bring the supply chain together to help create jobs, support the supply chain’s best interests and bring greater innovation.

RTM Dec/Jan 23


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