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BOBJ 4.0 CEP feature keeps Canadian National Railway costs on track

Longtime SAP customer Canadian National Railway says one feature in the new BusinessObjects 4.0 release could help them save millions in fuel costs.

SAP unveiled BusinessObjects 4.0 this past week, which includes a range of new features including tighter integration with its enterprise information management (EIM) application.

But one of the features most appealing to longtime customer Canadian National Railway is complex event processing (CEP), which lets companies process a wide range of events and pieces of information, with the intent of making decisions on that information in real time. Canadian National Railway says that feature gives the organization the ability to potentially save tens of millions in fuel costs by combining it with GPS technology and business analytics. Prior to this recent release, the company worked with SAP to test how the new technology might work -- and early results have been promising, company officials said.

What they’ve been able to pull off, according to Alan Capes, CN’s director of IT business development, could have widespread repercussions for his organization, as well as the rail freight industry as a whole.

“There’s been a lot of interest [in the application]” by other rail freight companies around the world,” Capes said. “I haven’t seen anything close to this.”

SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 complex event processing technology “impressive as hell”

Canadian National Railway (CN) is a huge company -- evidenced not only by the fact that it employs more than 20,000 people, but also that it runs hundreds of trains on its nearly 20,000 miles of track winding throughout the U.S. and Canada. Having that many trains in operation also means that fuel is a major cost, totaling close to $1 billion every year.

As a result, CN officials went to SAP to ask about a project they had been thinking of for a few years: Could real-time data from GPS-enabled telemetry devices on their trains be used to reduce those fuel costs?

It turns out that they could.

Working with CN, a small team from SAP was able to set up a pilot program that allows CN’s rail traffic controllers to look at the location of the trains on a map-based user interface along with information coming in about fuel consumption, proximity to the next refueling station, and how a train’s speed and throttle level is impacting fuel consumption. Information regarding weather and accidents, as well as information about a train’s length and freight tonnage are also a part of the mix. For example, Capes said, controllers might look at an entire stretch of train, which might involve three locomotives, and based on wind speed and other factors, decide to cut one of the engine’s power to save fuel.

Even though CN currently runs BusinessObjects 3.1, the pilot program has given the railway company a hands-on peek at what’s now known as Event Insight, the complex event processing application that’s included in SAP BusinessObjects 4.0.

“Quite frankly, [the program’s been] impressive as hell,” Capes said. 

Right now, the raw GPS data is manually accessed through a website maintained by the maker of the telemetry devices. However, in a matter of months, the data will be integrated with BusinessObjects, enabling the information to be used to its full potential. That implementation will allow CN to incorporate business rules and workflows so that information can be effectively disseminated throughout the organization to key decision makers. Railway engineers will also be able to see that information in Xcelsius dashboard reports, he said.

And, once the data is fully integrated with BusinessObjects, the process and benefits will be clearer, according to Capes. “It’s still quite new to us,” he said. “We’re certainly impressed with what we’ve seen so far.”

CN fully expects that the new system can help them cut their fuel costs at least 1% a year, which would translate to about $10 million in savings alone, according to Capes.

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