Product acceptance and technology introduction are terms that most people in the rail industry have heard, and on which they quite probably have a strong opinion.
Engineers and project managers, contractors and suppliers, they will all inevitably have come across the ‘stumbling block’ that is Product Acceptance.
There is no doubt that Network Rail’s product acceptance process has come under scrutiny throughout its history. It has been criticised for being slow, and cumbersome, and complicated.
So why is it there? A company has a new product which it has developed and is ready to supply, you are a competent engineer and believe that this product is going to help you complete your task more efficiently, so why can’t you just get on and use it?
Primarily product acceptance is about assurance. It exists so that, as infrastructure manager, Network Rail can demonstrate that the building blocks which make up the railway and the equipment and plant used by staff and contractors are safe, fit for purpose, and do not export risk onto the operational network.
To manage the introduction of technology, it follows a process which is designed to ensure that the needs of each stakeholder are met.
First and foremost is the requirement that each product needs a Network Rail employee to act as sponsor. This sponsor is the most critical role in the process and is required to prove that there is a business need for the product – if there is no business need, then logically the product will not be eligible for acceptance. The sponsor also acts as project manager and is responsible for the safe and timely delivery of the acceptance.
Once an application has been submitted, an early stage in the process will identify if the product presents a strong business case and is in line with product strategy – both technically and commercially. If the application passes the strategy check stage successfully, then focus turns to ensuring that the performance, functional, and safety aspects of introducing a product are addressed along with integration tasks such as training. A specification is drawn up by a competent and independent engineer and the supplier and sponsor, working together, are required to demonstrate within their submission that the product meets those requirements.
The submission is assessed and reviewed and, if successful, the product is issued a Certificate of Acceptance and added to iStore, Network Rail’s online procurement site, so that it is orderable across the entire business.
‘Glasnost and perestroika’
Network Rail recognises that, in the past, visibility of the process has been somewhat lacking. Over recent months an important part of the Technology Introduction team’s work has been increasing the transparency of product acceptance.
Foremost to this is recognising that all parties – infrastructure manager, project team, contractor, supplier – are integral to the successful introduction of new technology into the industry. To meet the needs of the continually evolving railway with higher passenger numbers, greater loads and focus on delivering value for money, if new technology is not being introduced, the company is not just standing still but actually going backwards.
Now based in Milton Keynes, the Technology Introduction department has strived to improve its performance over recent years, and time is a key indicator of