This CIO is full of excitement and passion for trains and train travel, yet there is a youthful trendiness about David Jack, not something you usually associate with train enthusiasts. With Jack the enthusiasm is less about buffers, signal boxes and locomotive numbers, it’s about how rail travel can transform travel for families, commuters and help the environment.
“Train travel is a great product. If we encourage people to take journeys by rail that they would not have taken that is wonderful. I’m passionate about rail. I feel frustrated that people don’t understand the value of the proposition. But the modal shift from air to rail is very real. If we can get people out of cars we have done our jobs. We are an extremely green enterprise,” he enthuses.
CIO met Jack at the new HQ for Thetrainline.com that is suitably close to a rail line at Farringdon, London. The office has more in common with the Google European HQ across town than the perceived fustiness of rail enthusiasm. Bright colours, big screens of data, break out areas and artistic images remind one and all that a rail renaissance is speeding through Britain.
“One of the joys of being CIO of Thetrainline is that I get to surprise people about how successful we are. We are the top UK travel website after easyJet,” he says of the airline that topped the 2012 CIO 100. Thetrainline.com is a top 20 UK visited website according to traffic watchers Hitwise he says.
“As a technologist that is great and it is nice to be part of a household name,” Jack says. “The level of growth at the company is double digit year-on-year.”
“As a nerd the fact that we run in three different vertical markets is hugely challenging. It is a hard thing providing a technology platform for train operating companies (TOC) and then again to the travel management companies,” he says.
Thetrainline.com operates as an independent retailer; an e-commerce provider through its retail technology to the train operating companies and as a business-to-business supplier to travel management companies and direct to business clients through a direct to corporate offering.
“It is a who’s who of the FTSE 250 that do business with us,” Jack says. “All of it comes from the same servers. We could have occupied the white label space in one of three ways. We could have stamped our name on it; secondly we could have built a product for every train operating company that would have had a high degree of adaption for each customer but would have been unsustainable for us; thirdly we can and have built a proprietary portal product for the TOCs.” The latter is the strategic decision that was booked in.
“We offer hundreds of parameters, but when a customer looks at First Great Western, Virgin or South West Trains they cannot tell they come from the same operator,” he says. “For us it is a very sustainable model.”