"...consistently updates our knowledge both internally and for our clients: we tend to say that they work on ‘creating the future’!"
From two founders in 2005, to nearly 700 team members today, IKOS in its twelve years in the industry has shown remarkable growth. Headquartered in Paris, but with 15 subsidiaries throughout 9 countries, they now list New York Metro, London’s Crossrail, Belgium’s Infrabel along with Paris Metro, SNCF and many more as clients. Forged from a specialization in railway engineering, but with a desire to develop a new type of consulting firm with a more personable approach, today’s 5 Minutes With… speaks to one of those two founders, Serge Chelly IKOS Consulting’s CEO, and he tells us about growth, Hyperloop, challenges, their LAB and of course his favourite rail journey…
Luke Upton (LU): Many thanks for the time today, to begin, what has led you to your role at IKOS Consulting?
Serge Chelly (SC): No problem, yes, I graduated with a Master’s of Engineering degree from ENSEEIHT in Toulouse in 1990 and started a career in consultancy, working for a major firm across Europe. During this period, the rail industry saw a number of new developments in telecommunications and signalling and I was a part of these changes. Then in 2005, Michael Boyer and myself co-founded IKOS in a very small office in Paris so as to become a leader in the rail sector and I’m proud to say that we have definitely reached that goal!
LU: What do you enjoy most about your role?
SC: Being a part of a fast-growing organization! We’ve gone from just the two of us to almost 700 employees and witnessing this has been fantastic. It’s also satisfying to see that our influence extends far beyond France: our first overseas project was in 2008 with a contract in Spain, and we now operate in nine countries.
LU: What are some of major projects you are currently focused on?
SC: There are many! We are the systems specification lead on a major project here in France for line 14 of Paris Metro: basically we work on defining a new driving automation system for the “Grand Paris” project. We are also working with Crossrail in London, integrating ERTMS into their new trains. Whilst in New York we are currently integrating a new communications’ network in the city’s subway. Then there is our work with TransPod, a Canadian startup that is building a hyperloop system.
LU: Hyperloop? That’s exciting, how did this partnership come together?
SC: Earlier this year, we joined TransPod’s network of partners to work with them on building a commercially viable hyperloop system by 2025. We’ve always worked with clients to develop new and innovative technologies and we are proud to offer our expertise to support the general electrical system, and safety engineering of the TransPod hyperloop pod. It’s an exciting project and it is great to be part of such an exciting adventure from the beginning!
LU: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
SC: Working on major projects does bring major challenges. Having worked on ERTMS at its earliest stage showed us how complex it was going to be to deliver it. Whilst the automation of Line One on the Paris Metro also offered a number of learnings as we went through its rollout. From an organizational perspective, we are now an international firm with different offers in different countries: this can be a challenge too, although generally a nice one to have!
LU: One of the most interesting aspects of your company is the IKOS LAB, can you tell us a little about this?
SC: Our work is all about innovation and new technology. About four years ago we formalised the creation of our R&D hub, IKOS LAB. Led by Giacomo Bersano, the LAB works on IKOS’ knowledge management, and consistently updates our knowledge both internally and for our clients: we tend to say that they work on ‘creating the future’! IKOS LAB has become a very important part of our business and now also offers training sessions for our clients on strategy consulting, complex-problem solving and bespoke courses.
LU: What will be some of the biggest differences between rail now and in ten years’ time?
SC: Ten years’ time isn’t long in the rail industry! Perhaps we should look more at 20 years’ time. We will definitely see an increase in traffic and a growth of networks that will deliver this – new metros, trams and rail lines but also high-speed rail in places like the USA where it currently doesn’t exist. To complement this, we’ll see a further increase in urban mobility and an integrated approach to transport. I think that this traffic growth combined with some smarter maintenance and asset management should also lead to lower travel costs for the end-user.
LU: And finally, as we ask all our Friday interviewees, what’s your favourite rail journey?
SC: I travel a lot. But I still think the Eurostar linking Paris and London is a very exciting journey! Even after more than twenty years, it is still great to step aboard such a historic project.
LU: Thanks Serge, good luck with all the projects!
Last week's 5 minutes with... Faye DiMassimo, General Manager, Renew Atlanta.
5 minutes with… You? Each Friday the team here at SmartRail World bring a 5 minutes with... interview. This fun, fast-paced feature will help you get to know more about personalities across the industry, their ideas and experiences and of course their own favourite rail journey! Want to take part? Email: Luke@SmartRailWorld.com to find out more.
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