05 Innovation


Cooperation between companies and universities: an opportunity for new perspectives

Miguel Ángel Dombriz

Companies need to be constantly improving and in order to improve it is necessary to be innovative. Merely having efficient production processes is no longer enough to guarantee client fidelity, instead new attractions must be sought, so as to maintain clients and broaden customer portfolios. Often, companies get caught up in their “daily routines” which does not give them enough perspective to make radical, innovative changes, so fresh ideas need to be found from an external perspective, which are free from limiting internal procedures and preconceived ideas.

In addition to this, business schools need to get as close as possible to business reality. The more real the work proposed to students, the more interesting it is, and the better training it provides them with. We constantly see how training processes that are closest to the reality of the business world are those that produce most business success. The ideal combination is the professional training given in Germany that we always use as an example of success, in which companies and business schools work together both on the content of specific training periods in study centres, and also on that given during the training period of internships within the company.

UPF Barcelona School of Management’s Challenge Garage is a way of bringing company, business school and students, closer together. By concentrating on making real proposals, whether they are actually implemented or not in the short term, (it’s necessary to bear in mind here that the majority of innovations require a long time to mature), students begin their professional training as close to reality as possible, and companies are able to obtain ideas that are developed from a different perspective than merely an internal one. In the case of FGC we have the added advantage that many students are, or have been, customers of our services, and therefore the Challenge also becomes a meeting point between FGC-customer and helps us to increase our knowledge of customer expectations. Furthermore, UPF Barcelona School of Management students belong to a very important market sector for FGC: that of young university students. In fact, a significant number of FGC customer profiles (both presently and potentially in the future) travel to the University campus at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

The working methods are also ideal. Standing up to the challenges that they will be faced with in their professional lives is the best way to train what they will need to do in the future, and the nearer they are to reality, the better. The companies that collaborate with the master are here to bring these challenges to life. Thanks to this cooperation between companies and the study centre, the students are assured that the challenges are not just random theoretical problems, but that they are practical and real, making them more stimulating and motivating.

The challenge proposed
At rail companies, we pay a lot of attention to the quality of the service we offer including customer service, journey times, punctuality, reliability, or responsiveness to unexpected circumstances that may occur at any time in their everyday running. We also try to improve comfort during journeys, by aiming to provide enough seats to make the journey more relaxed, or by offering new connectivity services (for mobile phones during the journey, free Wi-Fi in some stations). The challenge proposed was therefore, how to make journeys even better.
It is important to remember that within the FGC network, clients make over 75 million journeys each year, meaning that they spend over 30 million hours inside our trains. The question is, how can we improve our customers’ travel experience with FGC during these 30 million hours per year? Not so long ago it was usual to see customers reading newspapers or books. Currently, it is more frequent to see most customers looking at the screens of their mobiles or tablets.

If we take as a reference point the entire Metropolitan network of Barcelona, the number of journeys is almost 1,000 million per year, and the time spent by clients in metros, local rail lines and bus services is an incredible 500 million hours each year. And the same is true for a large number of public transport networks in all of our metropoli.

The Proposed Solution
The solution proposed by the students consists of aiming to create common interest groups with a view to making the most of this time, apart from just making calls, reading messages, playing or connecting to the internet using mobiles or tablets.

The first idea we are working on is organizing groups to learn languages. If you have to spend 30, 40, or 50 minutes inside a train, and you frequently do so, often with the same people, you can take advantage of this time to talk a different language. Another idea could be a reading club, where those with similar literary interests get together to talk about books that they have read, or propose new ones to their travel companions. There are also definitely many more possibilities.

It is not a simple challenge, especially in today’s society which is has become more individualized, and in which it is more and more difficult to open up to relate to others (we can all imagine a group of youngsters sitting together on a terrace where each of them are interacting with their mobile phones much more than with each other). But, in my opinion, it is a good idea that should be developed on.

Certainly, the world is full of people who spend hours using public transport, and the companies which offer transport services strive to make this time pass in the best possible way, helping clients to find incentives to use the services offered, and it is likely that it is not only about the relation with our means of mobile communication. We still haven’t found a way of implementing this idea to turn it into a business or to improve the service. But it is a good idea which we can continue to work on and innovate further. Ultimately, the Challenge was a great initiative for FGC, and we also hope it has also been so for UPF Barcelona School of Management, and most importantly of all, that it has been useful to students who chose this to reach the objectives set out in their training.

Miguel Ángel Dombriz

Miguel Ángel Dombriz

Civil engineer, Railways of Catalonia

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