NS uses data and analytics to innovate

Big data is no longer a trend but is here to stay. There is an opportunity for companies and organizations to use it wisely to their benefit. This is also true for NS, the Dutch Railways. 'We see the big data cloud heading our way, bringing with it the opportunity to use this data to gain greater insights and to innovate,' explains Geert van der Hoek, IT Manager at NS. 'This immediately raises the question: What is the platform of the future that will help us do so?'

NS has implemented various improvement programmes to examine how to get the best out of technology, processes, and people. This led to a request from the business side for a quick and efficient way to start using information themselves. 'They didn't want to rely constantly on the IT department for information,' explains Jean Keultjes, IT Information Manager at NS Stations. Like Geert van der Hoek, he is closely involved in the improvement programmes. 'At least ten different solutions were being used at NS for reporting and dashboarding purposes. We took this request from the business side as an opportunity to select a single self-service solution that could be used throughout the organization. We also wanted to make a step towards analytics to look forward and innovate' Keultjes adds.

Four criteria

NS selected a number of suppliers and gave them four criteria on which to base their proposal:
1. Functionality: can the tool cope with large quantities of data and can it be used by a business user to perform analyses?
2. Total Cost of Ownership: is the tool easy to manage?
3. Time to Market: how quickly can the solution help respond to requests for information?
4. Migration costs: what are the costs for the entire project?

Time savings

NS has chosen SAS Visual Analytics. As Keultjes explains, 'Our slogan within the IT department is "IT innovates NS". SAS Visual Analytics can actually help us do so. It is the combination of the software itself and the requirements for the hardware that make it such a fantastic product. The fact that the tool is in-memory offers significant benefits. The business benefits directly from time savings; you don't have to watch an hourglass on your screen before getting a report, but instead are given immediate insight into the current situation.'

With the help of SAS Visual Analytics, NS is developing into a data-driven company in which we can provide our travellers with a better service and improved communication.

Geert van der Hoek
Manager IT, NS

Examples of innovation

Van der Hoek explains that NS will first roll out reporting and dashboard tools before implementing analytics. 'Everyone can now benefit from the ability to create their own reports and obtain faster insights that help them make good decisions. In the next phase, we can start truly innovating with analytics.' Keultjes gives us some examples: 'We can use SAS Visual Analytics to analyse real-time GPS data to enable trains to run with reduced environmental impact. We can look at factors such as speed, as well as the effect of the way the train driver operates the train. This can provide useful insights that not only benefit the environment but also help us save significantly on costs.’

Optimizing traveller service

'SAS Visual Analytics also plays an important role in optimizing our traveller service,' Keultjes explains. 'For instance, our colleagues in the Real Estate and Development Departments can perform passenger flow analyses based on the anonymous data that is collected from check-ins and check-outs at stations. This allows us to optimize the flow of passengers and offer them appropriate commercial activities at specific points. Analyses also enable us to quickly see the effect on passenger flows of a change in platform for a train entering a station. In turn, we can make better decisions regarding these matters.'

‘With SAS Visual Analytics, NS is developing into a data-driven company in which we can provide our travellers with a better service and improved communication,' Van der Hoek explains. 'In future, we will be able to progress from data to insight to action in all areas. This not only applies to the maintenance of our train carriages – a pilot study has already shown us how analyses can help us make better decisions regarding preventive maintenance – but also to our promotions in which we can see the effect of a particular action on customer satisfaction. The insights we will gain from using the technology supplied by SAS will also help us determine where to make investments.'

Strategic partner

The user-friendliness of SAS Visual Analytics, its simple integration with underlying systems, and the possibility of visualizing data provide several advantages for NS. In addition, its partnership with SAS ensures that maximum returns can be achieved from the solution. As Keultjes explains, 'For us, SAS is not just a technology supplier but a true strategic partner. The IT department aims to deliver 30% more output to the business while maintaining the same number of staff. SAS plays a key role in achieving this. They provide us with a solid foundation for getting the best out of our people, technology and processes.'

'Also, SAS Visual Analytics plays an important role in optimizing our service to travelers,' said Keultjes. 'So to make our colleagues of Real Estate and Development course flow analysis based on the anonymous data that comes from check ins and check outs at stations. This allows us to optimize the flow of travelers and offer them appropriate commercial activities on specific points. You can also see very quickly analyzes the impact it has on the running streams if we let a train coming on another platform. So we can make better quality decisions about these issues.'

'NS is developing with SAS Visual Analytics to a data-driven business where we can provide our customers with better service and communication,' says Van der Hoek. 'We're going in the future in all areas of data - to understand - to action. This applies to the maintenance of rail vehicles in which a pilot already showed how later by analysis to make better decisions about preventive maintenance, but also for our promotions where we can see what effect a certain action on customer satisfaction. Thereby helping the insights we gain with SAS technology also determine where investments should be deployed.'

NS Reizigers


To provide the business with a tool it can use to create its own reports and gain insights on which it can base its decisions. In addition, NS was looking for a way to innovate with data.


SAS Visual Analytics, Data Management, Data Preparation, Data Integration


  • Fast access to self-service reports and analyses
  • Reduced management costs of reporting and dashboard tools
  • Data and analytics can be used for a variety of innovation purposes

The results illustrated in this article are specific to the particular situations, business models, data input, and computing environments described herein. Each SAS customer’s experience is unique based on business and technical variables and all statements must be considered non-typical. Actual savings, results, and performance characteristics will vary depending on individual customer configurations and conditions. SAS does not guarantee or represent that every customer will achieve similar results. The only warranties for SAS products and services are those that are set forth in the express warranty statements in the written agreement for such products and services. Nothing herein should be construed as constituting an additional warranty. Customers have shared their successes with SAS as part of an agreed-upon contractual exchange or project success summarization following a successful implementation of SAS software. Brand and product names are trademarks of their respective companies.