Recently promoted to Managing Director – Operations and Mainland Business of MTR Corporation, Dr Jacob Kam opened Day Two of Asia Pacific Rail 2016 with his keynote, Incorporating the future into today’s operational strategy. We sat down with him to get his thoughts on the challenges he and his team are currently facing.
What are the biggest challenges that you face in your role at MTR Corporation?
In the Hong Kong MTR, we are now going through a major undertaking of asset upgrades and replacements and building new lines all at the same time. It’s like someone going through a major surgery – heart, brain bone surgery all at the same time. In the morning, they have to get up and run a marathon and win and continue to deliver world leading type of service. So it is a major challenge for the next few years.
In terms of customer service, major relief line will be open in 2021. From now to then, we will be major crowding and we hope to give our customers a reasonable experience in using our system. So in order to do, this becomes a major challenge – to maintain a reasonable service amidst the crowding.
How are you meeting this challenge at the moment?
With difficulties. Fortunately, we operate on commercial principles and we do have suffice resources – both in terms of capital investment and deployment of people (customer service & technical people) to keep the service at a good level.
What are the key factors for success?
There have been different theories of our performance. I believe that the most important is the mind-set of the staff – the work culture. We have several leading themes in our culture. One is continuous improvement – never be satisfied with what we have achieved no matter how we have done. We can do better. We need to find ways to do better. This becomes a driving force in better customer service, in better asset performance, better commercial performance, better innovation and more.
We are also very fortunate to have enough resources to do what we want to do. Sometimes you can have very good ideas and be very motivated but ultimately, if you don’t have the resources, you can’t do it. So both continuous improvement and sufficient resources are the two major contributions.
In terms of human resources, there seems to be fewer and fewer people getting into the industry and there are huge challenges in retaining staff. So how is MTR addressing this issue?
The interesting statistics show that for people joining MTR, the most likely time they will leave is within the first five years. Once they have gone through 5 years, either they enjoy their work very much or somehow they will stay. So we need to make sure that in those first five years, people will really fit well with the culture and they will enjoy the culture and working in MTR. However, we also face another challenge – the new generation of young people. They are much more computer literate than their predecessors but they are less inclined to do night-shift work or labour intensive work. For example, sometimes, they have to swap a computer card, but they don’t like to do that. They rather put a command into the computer, so we need to work with our young people. Our assets have to be designed to fit with their working style. That’s a challenge.
What are some of the main technologies you are looking at?
Nowadays, a lot of systems are computer based and software driven and our technicians can type in a command and do a lot of things. But at the end, no matter how advance the technologies, someone still has to do the hardware. Fortunately, our new systems are more integrated, more software-based and open platform such that we can continue to build the systems so even if the computers become obsolete, we can move to another computer and the software will continue to work. These are the directions we are moving towards.
MTR’s 99.9% reliability is based on 5-minute delays. Are you moving to a lower number or threshold in the near future ?
At the moment, people are accepting that 5 minutes a reasonable measure of delay. We are measuring not the initial delay but the cumulative delay at the end of the land. So when passengers get on and off, it should not take 5 minutes. It’s measuring right at the end. So I think the current definition of 5 minutes is still accepted as a reason criteria, though do they expect 100% on time. So we will continue to work on that.
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