Stakeholder Relationships in the Rail Industry

The challenge

CN is a freight railway that transports C$250 billion worth of goods annually. It boasts a rail network of approximately 20,000 route-miles spanning Canada and mid-America.

CN’s Public and Government Affairs team is sprinkled across several offices on both sides of the Canadian and U.S. border. These team members engage frequently with thousands of local, provincial, state and federal officials –ranging from small-town mayors to high-ranking members of Congress and Ministers of Parliament.

Eliminating blind spots

Prior to implementing Borealis stakeholder management software in 2016, the team didn’t have any formal tool or system for keeping track of all these conversations and relationships. Instead, it spent a lot of time in staff meetings trying to keep everyone in the know.


Borealis Stakeholder Management Software for Public Affairs and Government Relations

Since implementing Borealis software, all members of CN’s Public and Government Affairs team can view their stakeholder contact information and access the history of all the engagements that have taken place.

This on-demand institutional memory enables the team to have more consistent and focused discussions with stakeholders, which in turn helps to build continuity and trust.

CN continuously strives to be a good neighbor to the thousands of communities we operate in and through. At the heart of that effort is effective communication with our federal, provincial, state, and local stakeholders. For the last two years, Borealis has been a critical tool in tracking and amplifying our varied communications. From tracking one-on-one engagements to organizing and managing broad issues and developing smart communications to large and diverse, yet targeted groups, CN has found Borealis to be an essential and invaluable tool.

David Woodruff - Assistant Vice President & Head of U.S. Public and Government Affairs at CN

Building long-term relationships

Having these insights right at one’s fingertips is a huge asset in stakeholder engagement, which is all about building long-term relationships.

Simon Pelletier, CN’s Senior Public Affairs Advisor, is the steward of the stakeholder database in Borealis and guardian of quality control. He adds that having easy access to all this information in Borealis also helps the team put any issues in context.

Managing a vast stakeholder database

Frequent elections at all levels across Canada and the U.S. means that CN’s stakeholders are constantly changing hats. This translates into lots of updating the stakeholder database and lots of communications. It’s not unusual for the team to surpass 98,000 communications in a single year.

Simon says being able to process batch updates has drastically cut down on manual entry work and reduces the potential for errors. So has the Smart Comms feature which was introduced in the last two years. A stakeholder manager at CN may juggle as many as 500 stakeholders, which means the team can efficiently send a large amount of communications in a targeted and personalized manner. Smart Comms makes it fast and easy.

Mapping land assets

David and Simon both agree that the GIS mapping feature is another highly useful tool in Borealis. In the U.S., for example, the team can now map all CN lines and facilities within each Congressional district.

These maps allow the team to show members of Congress exactly what CN infrastructure is found within their district borders. Being able to speak with this level of specificity is a significant asset and builds credibility and trust with key officials.

Demonstrating the value of engagement efforts

Thanks to Borealis software, the Public and Government Affairs team is able to easily share details of all its activities with CN leaders and colleagues, enabling them to appreciate the team’s contributions in supporting company objectives.

In just a few clicks, the team can show engagement levels on specific issues and the effectiveness of their efforts. Being able to gather data and share weekly, quarterly and annual metrics allows the team to demonstrate that it is closely managing relationships with key stakeholders.

Simon has also created weekly reports that are automatically generated and sent to the Public and Government Affairs team. At a glance, they can monitor the evolution of the relationship with their most important stakeholders and more proactively manage ongoing and complex issues.

If the team wants to drill down on any particular point, Simon has his own much more detailed versions of these reports that he can instantly pull up to answer their questions.

A clear overview at all times

Simon uses a number of views and dashboards in Borealis to analyze the activities of not only the Public and Government Affairs team, but also the Media and Public Inquiry Line teams.

At a glance, he can see total annual communications for current and past years, communications per category and communications by team. He also uses pie charts and line graphs to better understand current areas of focus and trends over time.

Proactive, needs-oriented support

As someone who builds relationships for a living, David is well placed to evaluate the support his team has received from Borealis.

He qualifies the support as outstanding, saying that Borealis is both proactive and responsive in meeting CN’s needs – whether it’s asking questions to better understand how the team functions and operates, or tweaking the software to enable mapping districts and populating certain U.S. lists.