Rail Industry Supplier Scheme – Are the Signals Red or Green for Achilles and Altius?

We’ve written many times over the years about Achilles, who run services and provide software in the area of supplier management. Their main clients are industry groups in which different firms from that industry collaborate so that the hard work of supplier identification, accreditation and qualification can be largely outsourced to Achilles with the cost and effort shared. As the website says:

“The business provides a cloud-based service, enabling networks of buyers to create industry standards for collecting and validating supplier information. This is made available through the Achilles platform, together with search, reporting and risk management tools”.

One of the long-standing Achilles client groups has been the rail industry, in the UK and further afield. But we’ve seen some interesting recent developments in that area. In particular, the Railway Industry Supplier Qualification Scheme (RISQS) has recently decided to move their supplier accreditation system away from Achilles.

The RISQS initiative is run by senior supply chain managers from across the rail industry and “reports” to the wider Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB). RISQS has decided to split the work currently carried out by Achilles, and now Capita will be managing the audit services while Altius will provide the core IT, verification and managing services. Altius was founded in 2007 and Gary Plant, the MD, has both British Rail and Achilles on his cv.

The RISQS website says this:

Although RSSB RISQS remains the trusted single-entry point for buyers and sellers, the rail industry has sought ways to address a number of issues with the scheme, particularly:

  • An inflexible IT system that is difficult to change
  • The industry’s inability to access data in the scheme to use for learning and improvement
  • The industry’s perception that it is not cost effective for buyers or suppliers

The industry decided that in order to achieve the required changes, it should transition RISQS from the current concession arrangements and move to service provision under two contracts. In June 2017, Altius VA Ltd was awarded the contract to provide IT, verification and management services for RISQS, and Capita plc was selected to deliver audit services.  Work with Altius and Capita is progressing well to prepare for the transition before the new arrangements begin in May 2018.

The tender process may we suspect have been triggered by a realisation that this is necessary under public procurement regulations.  But then we understand this was not a case of Achilles losing out in the tender process – rather, we believe they did not bid for the contracts, perhaps because the firm felt the new strategy of splitting the work was not the right one. Achilles has always promoted itself as a “holistic” service.

We asked Achilles for their comments and they sent us this.

“Following the withdrawal of Achilles from the competitive tender process for the RSSB partnership during June 2017, Achilles’ partnership with the RSSB will cease from May 2018.  We are 100% committed to ensuring the continuity of supplier pre-qualification and assurance services to the GB Rail industry, and will continue to offer these services, building on Achilles’ long experience with the industry for over 15 years. 

Achilles is committed to further investing in and developing rail services to meet the evolving needs of our extensive range of customers. The Achilles team is working with key stakeholders across the industry, which will ensure they have a voice in future service developments and delivery. We are developing and enhancing the services offered to rail customers enabling them to benefit from Achilles’ global and multi sectoral expertise”.

That doesn’t sound like Achilles are just going to walk away from the industry, so will we see some sort of rival offering from the firm, as well as the services from the new RISQS providers?  Some of the participants in the rail sector are also players in other industry groups run by Achilles, so that is another dimension; and Achilles run rail groups elsewhere, including in the Nordic region.

Interesting; and we’ll keep an eye on the developing situation in this key industry.

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