Workplace Innovation (WI) will be the driving force behind the improvement of innovative services and the technological development of companies


On the occasion of the European Year of Rail, we have recently contributed an article on Innovation published in the Journal of Public Works (”, no. 3627.

The article, developed by Mafex’s Head of Innovation and Competitiveness, Garazi Carranza, aims at analyzing the paradigm shift towards open innovation in the railway sector.

Workplace Innovation (WI) will be the driving force behind the improvement of innovative services and the technological development of companies. Its effects are directly related to improved levels of employee engagement, innovation, improvement and customer service that improve long-term competitiveness. These strategies aim at promoting innovative work behaviours to create, introduce and apply new ideas, processes and products. This article looks at WI in the railway sector and how COVID-19 affects the industry.

The article has been developed based on different empirical studies using a mixed perspective that consists of combining qualitative and quantitative research components. The data used was collected through two online surveys. The first survey aimed at analyzing the effects of COVID-19 on the industry and the second one aimed at measuring innovation in the workplace, using European WI indicators.

New technologies have the ability to significantly change the kind of skills the railway industry requires. It is evident that COVID has forced the industry to make certain adjustments to ensure the viability of its businesses. One of the main consequences that the current pandemic has left us in the supply chains has been the general fall in demand, which has gradually been recovering.

The new reality will force to readapt the strategy and management in the company. In this section, two areas of action should be highlighted: the relaxation of chains and the need to incorporate new products/services into their portfolios in order to respond to the needs of customers. In this sense, new technologies will influence railway maintenance activities, since these systems will facilitate the demand for these operations. Innovative technologies will allow better monitoring, diagnosis and communications that will lead to an increase in preventive and predictive measures, instead of reactive ones as has been done so far. Above all, these technologies will drive the digitalization of the sector and learning techniques.

Industry challenges and conclusions
The emergence of COVID-19 is coupled with important changes that affect consumer behaviour, supply chains and, therefore, the proper functioning of companies. In this context, the sector faces the challenge of aligning its supply chains with the markets in which they operate in an agile and immediate way and preparing for the new and future normal, in which they must proactively incorporate elements such as advanced planning and digitalization, in order to have chains that drive value.

Therefore, the short-term challenge for railway entities is to match demand with supply, which will require better planning capacity, thus it will be necessary to streamline management through digitalization. The biggest challenge at the process level is to promote planning as the main management element to deal with the uncertainty and complexity generated by the COVID-19 crisis. This means providing the sector with a roadmap and the ability to make the right decisions to respond to crises that may arise in the future.

Companies are clearly committed to a paradigm shift in supply chains in which flexibility, resilience and, above all, digitalization will play a key role.

Given this situation, the role of WI as an engine to improve innovative services and technological development will be even more important than before, especially for SMEs: learning from forced experimentation and investment in risk mitigation technologies can help companies become smarter and more flexible. For example, forced experimentation has led to a better understanding of teleworking.

Europe has a highly competitive, professional and strongly integrated industrial railway sector despite the increasing mobility demands achieved by other modes of transport.

Nowadays the railway industry has sufficient capacity to implement innovative technologies developed in other industrial sectors, representing an opportunity to lead the sector through innovation.

In recent years, new business models and commercial strategies are being developed, offering railway companies new technological possibilities and thus accelerating innovation (European Commission, 2019).

That is why railway must be one of the central axes of EU policies and, hence of national policies. It is an inclusive, cohesive sector and, as it has been demonstrated in the toughest moments, key for the transport not only of people, but also of freight, food and goods and equipment of first necessity. It is time to look to the future by strengthening our capabilities, our supply chains; committing to training, innovation, digitalization, connectivity and, of course, security and reliability; being fully aware of our role as the backbone of society and engine of development and well-being.

This text is a version extracted from the published article. You can find the full version on the following link: