In the meantime, the $12.5 billion company has already launched a host of IT projects to push the envelope in three areas: customer satisfaction, railroad operations, and human resources.
For starters, says Campbell, "We focus on ease of doing business with us." BNSF worked with other railroads, for example, to develop a Web services application to provide one-stop shopping for customers who want to send shipments across multiple railroad networks but who previously had to get a separate rate quote from each carrier.
BNSF is the only railroad running "multiple channels of technology simultaneously in our customer portal," Campbell asserts, a setup that enables customers to track shipments, pay bills, and check an invoice status -- all on a single screen. "We've invested time and money in BNSF.com," Campbell says. "It's not just about lipstick; it's about the content as well, … taking out the railroad-speak, simplifying the intuitiveness of the Web site."
On the operations side, the railroad has replaced traditional paper-based systems for train and crew dispatching with a combination of voice and e-mail technologies to "optimize velocity, performance, and availability," Campbell says. "We used to have over 400 crew-callers," Campbell recalls, referring to those who assign crews to trains. "Now, all our outbound crew-calling is done by computer, and inbound is done by IVR with voice authentication if crewmen want to call in sick or for a schedule change. Today, we have less than 100 people in that area."
As for overall results, Campbell says, "Productivity in terms of gross ton miles and tons per employee has improved dramatically," partly thanks to IT investments. On the customer-facing side, the company has seen a "slow, sustained improvement in customer satisfaction scores" during the past two years.
But how sustainable are BNSF's IT competitive advantages? "We have a momentary advantage" when it comes to operations, Campbell responds. "We've spent the most on this and have the most advanced systems." As for the customer side, Campbell says, "I think we have a competitive advantage, just half a step. The runner-up that gives me a run all the time is Canadian National Railway."
Campbell is also quick to note that the technology journey has not been all straight-ahead. "In 1999, we got caught up in the hype, drank the Kool-Aid, and invested several million in an Internet startup to buy and sell rail capacity online, separate from the railroad," he recalls. "We thought capital-intensive old companies were has-beens."
The lesson learned? "Build the technology right in to the railroad," Campbell says. With the right IT, "Sometimes being an old railroad ain't bad."