National Rail Enquiries (NRE) handles 1.3m train journey queries every day through its call centres, internet and mobile services.

To cope with demand NRE, which is part of the Association of Train Operating Companies and a member of the National Outsourcing Association, has outsourced responsibility for timetable and fare information to more than 20 third party suppliers employing about 1,000 people.

The decision to move from a single source to a multi-source operation was taken by NRE’s Head of Commercial Derek Parlour. He says the huge number of customer contacts handled online through www.nationalrail.co.uk and via the call centre, plus the speech recognition, mobile and text services it provides, meant it was crucial the company worked with specialists. NRE has negotiated separate contracts for journey planning, the journey planning interface, real-time data, website design and data management.

“Money has been saved with more efficient contract pricing and competition between suppliers,” he says. “We are careful about which providers we work with because they must be able to work with us and together, which includes integration with each others’ systems.”

Parlour is convinced the multi-sourcing market will continue to grow and more competition between providers eager to grab market share will bring costs down further for end-users.

This approach to outsourcing has helped NRE reduce its costs by two thirds since 2005. Passengers are changing the way they source information, switching from contacting the call centre to using online and mobile services.

“Outsourcing does not mean something is no longer your responsibility so you must ensure you can manage a network of providers effectively,” says Parlour. “We have changed our skill set internally and rather than employing rail experts we are recruiting people with commercial and project management skills who can manage people who are delivering important services on our behalf.”