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Christian Kettmann, CIO CFL: “An important ambition for 2022 is the optimization of the IT Operating and Support Model”

We sit down with Christian Kettmann, CIO CFL, the recent winner of the CIO of the Year ICT Luxembourg Award. For IT One, he discusses, among other things, the importance of data for CFL, the major projects that marked 2021 and his ambitions for 2022.

During the IT One Gala, experts on stage have repeatedly mentioned that “data is the new oil”. To what extent are new technologies implemented to optimize your organization and which one is particularly below your radar?

Christian Kettmann: The importance of data for a group like the CFL is undeniable. And that importance is increasing every day as relevant data delivered in an exploitable way at the right time helps every business to take the best decisions in a daily, mid- or long-term context. Like oil, data must be refined to become really useful and the CFL IT is currently in the process of building a powerful toolbox to extract and to deliver high quality data feeds to internal and external customers.

The process starts with data gathering, which is received from IOT sensors. We try to avoid using already consolidated data from the platform of the IOT supplier – we prefer collecting raw data which can be stored in one of our data-lakes or if the volume risks to become too big, we do the transformation on-the-fly on our side to have a clear view of what is happening to our data. This is important to create reliable information, to understand the whole process from the source to the business report. Performant data transformation and new data generation can only happen with the right combination of tools from different IT suppliers – on premise and in the cloud. This combination of the leading software solutions in data discovery, transformation and management leads to new data insights with high added value for our customers - our daily priority. For the moment, IT is executing together with the business (Passenger transport, Freight or Infrastructure) important projects to build vast data-lakes storing unique raw-data from different type of data-sources to be used in a real time by analytics applications. Those single sources of truth, combined even sometimes in a non-typical and innovative way lead to new insights – important insights that allow the CFL Group to raise the efficiency of our operations and to deliver improved services and products.

What are the major projects you and your team have been working on in 2021? Any specific achievement you would like to mention?

C. K.: It is difficult to highlight a project for 2021 as digitalization of the CFL Group brings along a lot of different projects from a wide range. Pushing forward the use of IOT devices, real-time data gathering and analytics, reducing the amount of paper by digitizing core business processes are some of the high priority projects. Pushing forward all the innovation projects of the Digital Innovation Lab portfolio is also a priority.  The industrial use of 3D print to build rare spare-parts or innovative components is one of our achievements of 2021.

What are your ambitions for 2022?

C. K.: In 2021, a new CFL Group strategy was defined and published – with priorities like Efficiency, Safety, Innovation and Quality and our customers always at the center of what we do, and also paying close attention to our staff – this can easily be transposed to the IT daily business.

As defined in our new IT strategy, we also want to focus on the IT side of the quality of services and support that we deliver to our external customers and our internal users. Create high value processes, simplifying and the continuous digitalization of legacy administrative tasks are some of our ambitions of 2022. It is also important as the current workload due to all the transformations in the CFL Group is high, to take care of our IT staff in order to maintain and improve their daily wellbeing. An important ambition for 2022 is the optimization of the IT Operating and Support Model in order to deliver the right products at the right time in a performant and cost-efficient way.

The role of the CIO is becoming increasingly important within companies and has a role of driving innovation. How do you instil a culture of innovation internally and externally?

C. K.: Innovation is one of the priorities of the CFL Group’s strategy and many initiatives exist today to push further our services in every aspect of the company. In 2019, a special committee with all the resorts of the company was initiated and a large portfolio with important innovation projects was been defined – Autonomous Train Driving, intelligent rail infrastructure assets, innovative use of IOT technology in freight and passengers’ business, but also new approaches in HR are some of the highlights of that portfolio followed closely by the entire board of directors. It is also important to point out that for us it is important to separate innovation and digitalization – innovation can use existing or new technologies to optimize existing processes, but can also be a small change of behaviour in a daily task that benefits our customers. To push forward innovation inside the CFL Group, the democratization of that process is important – Innovation Café, a fun collaborative way to brainstorm together and the Next Academy, a non-IT approach to IT topics, are some of the initiatives launched to foster creative ideas.

What about cybersecurity, how do you cope with the new challenges linked to cyber threats?

C. K.: Cybersecurity cannot not be ignored – we need to protect our IT environment from external and internal threats. The continuous digitalization of core business processes must be closely followed by a tight and performant security layer. Some of the challenges are obvious – for example building high resilient IT security in a transparent way for business or developing together with the business a strong internal IT security culture in order to support continuous prevention.

What inspires you most in your work?

C. K.: Pushing forward business digital capabilities and delivering solid IT operations in order to support our customers (train, station, freight …) in their daily activities is clearly one of the sources of my daily motivation. To explore, together with my whole team, innovative technologies that will help us to create efficient services and products is also motivating. The destination is sure important, but the journey, this challenging digitalization adventure, makes me love my work.