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5 Things I learned from Indonesian State-Owned Railway Company (KAI)

Indonesian railway maybe not the best in the south-east Asia region, but as an Indonesian and as a customer I have been impressed by KAI (Kereta Api Indonesia- the state owned railway company) transformation in the last five years.

It used to be a transportation mode that was avoided by middle-up class in this archipelago, and especially in the greater Jakarta. In the 90s, my experience with Indonesian train service was far from decent. It was more like a rusty tin can powered by old engines…

Recently, since 2009, there was a change. Around 2010, I started to observe that my neighbours (I live in BSD, an area about 22 km from the business district) began to take commuter line train services. Initially the new “trend” did not interest me. I had been enjoying the two-to-three hours drive (yes, it was for 22 km commuting, one way) in a comfortable SUV full of music, food, and cool air. The traffic sucks, but we are Indonesian just adapted to that situation. I did it almost everyday, Monday to Friday. Just for a picture, if I want to be in the office at 9 am, I had to leave home around 6 am. And again, yes, it is only 22 km away.

In 2011, I quit my corporate job, and started my new journey as a consultant mainly because two main reasons: the daily traffic/commuting and also an opportunity offered by a colleague. I don’t have to drive daily to Jakarta business area, but it came to my attention that the train station near my home has been growing and improved significantly. The station, once a small, dark and lonely place, now has become bigger with a lot of cars in the park yard. And ever since, I am learning that more and more people in BSD and Bintaro took commuter line to go to office.

So I tried the commuter line. And it changed my perception to the state-owned company. It took only 25 minutes by railway, vs. 2-3 hours driving. And now it is using e-ticket, no paper. The station is relatively clean, the compartment is relatively cool and well maintained. Of course, you cannot expect it like the bullet train in Japan or Singapore’s MRT. During the rush hour, it’s so packed that you could stand without holding anything because you are pressed from all direction…:)

It is still not safe enough for woman because of it is heavily crowded, but the company has provided dedicated compartments for women (still not enough. The passengers are growing so fast.

But the point is…. progress…and I am impressed.

In a country where more things are stagnant than progressing, it is very inspiring. And I started to wonder how KAI transform its business and services. So I did some searches for answers, out of curiosity. One of the common result from my search is a name, Ignatius Jonan, a former Citibanker who were brought in as CEO since 2009 by Sofyan Djalil, then the State Enterprises Minister. Of course, what more interesting to know is what Jonan and his management team have done differently.

Here are 5 things that I learned after reading articles, watching videos on youtube and experiencing the services:

1. “We are in SERVICE biz”

While the statement seems simple, it is not really easy to implement, especially for a state-owned company in Indonesia who had been stagnant for more than two decades. There were so many factors internally and externally (i.e. politically) made the organisation couldn’t really focus in delivering what the customers want.

Some few examples in the improvement are toilet cleanliness, punctuality of the train, and eliminating ticket scalpers. The simple mindset change is yet a huge challenge. Toilet, for instance, has been seen as normal if there was no water and it smells so bad that only people who are in “emergency” will use it. The ticket scalper has been taken accepted as necessary “evil”. You didn’t need to wait long if you pay more…

The new management has started their service focus from the toilet. Now, I have a habit to check the toilet in the stations because I heard the KAI management always check them. The ticket brokers have been started to be push out by technology: e-ticket. We will discuss about it later in poin #5.

2. Grow the people

In creating better service to the customers, KAI needed to have better people. Based on my reading, their success in creating better people can be summarised into single word:meritocracy. Just like the mindset changing toward service company, implementing meritocracy was not as simple as for many of us in the corporations world.

It’s a big change in the culture from promotion and rewards based on employees’ service time or their personal relationship with the bosses to promoting good people regardless gender, age, background. It created a new mindset to serve the customers better. And as a customer, I experience the change.

3. “Go out and see by yourself”

Jonan, the KAI CEO, has a habit to always see what happens with the trains. He spends hours and days to travel with the trains, check the toilets, check the locomotives, passengers compartments, and the stations. In Japanese term, he practices what is known as genchi gembutsu, or “go out and see yourself”. The interesting part is he shared what he found almost real time to the mailing list within his management team. Hence, there is a shorter bureaucracy in reporting. We could imagine what happens if this practice copied by all levels of managers. There will be a habit to see and experience from the customers shoes!

While management are riding their own trains, KAI sends their employees to see by their own eyes what happens outside Indonesia, especially in China. In 2013 alone, out of 1200 employees sent abroad, 700 went to China, a country where aggressive infrastructure development in the last decade. Other destination includes Spain, a country with one of the best metro system. I think there is no other way to make your employees realised the possibility to improve our company better than make them to see and experienced the possibility by themselves.

4. Enforce the Rule

One of my favourite book is The Knowing-Doing Gap by Bob Sutton and Jeffrey Pfeffer. I like it because it is very relevant for Indonesia. There are so many rules but so few implementation and enforcement. That’s exactly happened with KAI in the past. If you saw this picture in the past, it was because the management did not successfully enforce the rule.

(picture from VOA in this link).

The above situation is rarely seen today. Why? Because KAI enforces the rules.

In addition to that, they cleared off all of their properties and infrastructures which in the past occupied by people who used them for business. It is a huge task that until today still not completely finished. But the management have the guts to do what they have to do with early success acknowledge by the government and the customers.

5. Apply the Right Technology

In the past, you need to be in a long line to get a ticket. Because the only way you could buy a train ticket is at the station. During the holiday season, sometimes it’s already sold out because the ticket scalpers have bought most of them and resell the tickets again with very high price.

Today, KAI has implemented the online ticket and e-ticketing services. Not only made the customers life better, but surprisingly it helps the company to achieve better profitability. Apparently in the past, because of bad tickets management, the high volume of passengers did not result in profit. Many leakages along the process. With the right technology, it serves best for the customers, the employees, and the management.

In summary, while I am involved in many organisations efforts toward customer centricity, as a customer I could see the progress have been done by KAI in that path. Something that worths sharing.


Original article on Linkedin post

Versi Bahasa Indonesia ada di link ini 

Could We Refresh Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge?

Deming’s thought is an interesting story. His thought seems quite easy to overlook, because it is too obvious or too idealist. While I am still in the early phase in understanding Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge, I am amazed by how the simple 4 principles: System Thinking, Understanding Variations, Theory of Knowledge and Psychology could help many great organisations today.

But, this is the challenge.

Whenever I talk about Deming, many people would have a look at me like someone who talks about Pink Floyd to people who are listening to Justin Bieber.

It’s like, “Dude, that was old stuff. Really old.”

But I am convinced myself that Deming’s thinking would be useful today (even more relevant!), and will be good to be introduced to younger generations (i.e Gen X, Gen Y, Millenia, or any other name that we could think people want to generalise any generations).

For younger generations in Indonesia, I want to present a fresh and fun version of Deming’s core principles. I summarised it in a book titled The Coconut Principles.

It started to get attention by many readers, and now is starting the 2nd edition. The great part of it, many people say they like the simplicity of the principles. These are the same people who think Deming’s thinking is already too old :)

For me, it will be interesting to see where it goes from here, and to really see whether we could encourage people to actually DO the principles.

(This article originally posted for Linkedin in this link)