Operations transparency: Acting on public transportation data

Everyone knows just how challenging the public transportation industry is proving for operators. Few industries face the same confluence of challenges that is cooking up a perfect storm - increasing congestion; capacity and budget constraints;...


Everyone knows just how challenging the public transportation industry is proving for operators. Few industries face the same confluence of challenges that is cooking up a perfect storm - increasing congestion; capacity and budget constraints; aging infrastructure and workers; and increasing competition. 

Like many in other sectors, the industry players face fewer options than before. Many have realised they need to find new efficiencies to allow for any significant improvements, so they are seeking full transparency around the different functional operations groups. This Operations Transparency (OT) requires managing rolling stock, infrastructure, facilities and equipment with more transparency and accountability than ever. 

Perhaps more than most industries, the nature of today’s public transportation industry makes the need for OT clear. Clearly, technology plays a critical role in optimising visibility and efficiency to improve execution. OT uses real-time integrated data collection and analysis for unprecedented visibility into daily transit operations for higher levels of decision support. 

So why aren’t more organisations using it? Part of the reason for this is the ‘who, when, why, what’ exercise that is needed beforehand. For OT to work, the business needs to know what management information to collect, as well as how, and where to do so. It is this that gives the all-encompassing view. Sadly, this is in stark contrast to what most public transit operators have today. 

But those who do, can boast full, real-time, contextual visibility across service execution management, resource and asset management. They have the ability to integrate with other interfaces so administrators and operators can gain actionable insight to drive business outcomes. They hold the key to smart decision-making through coordination and collaboration across multiple departments enabled by integrated processes, tools, as well as technologies.

There is good news for those public transportation organisations that have made investment in SES, EAM and ERP systems. It is very likely that they have laid the groundwork for OT through this investment. For them, to improve customer satisfaction and on-time performance, the next step is to implement an OT framework to realise the full value of this investment.

Our experience with the transit industry reveals that there are several elements that should be in place for public transit authorities to move toward OT. It starts with the identification of all the operations data that needs to be collected and/or integrated together to provide the right visibility leading to the right decisions. However operations and the data that goes with it are often disconnected. Organisations need both an awareness of what data to assess and a means of consolidating this data. An operations data collection framework can capture, manage and analyse data

They also need to standardise processes, procedures, management practices and controls. OT represents a very different way of working for public transportation organisations. The data and the collection framework are only as good as the processes that establish and clarify how operators can most effectively act on data insights. 

They also need to examine the human side of things and consider a cultural change. Although easily taken for granted, the human element of OT transformation is central to its lasting success. Historically, the industry has not had access to this kind of technology. Now that it is available, the challenge is to help workers break old habits when new systems are put in place so organisations can gain the most value from their technology investment. No-longer will it be possible to rely on gut-reaction decision-making. A data-driven, predictive management style will be needed.

The volume of activity in the sector has reached unprecedented heights. In the European Union there were 60 billion public transit trips in 2008, which equates to 120 public transportation trips each year for every person. In Asia, the Tokyo Metro, the world’s busiest subway, hosts 8.7 million riders every day and more than 3 billion passenger rides annually. In the U.S, transportation infrastructure includes nearly 151,000 route-miles of bus service and more than 7,000 miles of fixed rail transit. With these volumes of activity, managing and analysing data to create competitive advantage is a ‘no-brainer’. Operations transparency is where I expect to see this taking place over the next few years.

Posted By Rajesh Ramamurthi, OT Architect, Accenture


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