The future of public transport is digital, with both passengers and transport operators having great expectations for the growing Internet connectivity available for their vehicles.
Transportation operators are expected to provide high-quality services, while simultaneously operating with greater efficiency and maintaining safety and security standards. Because of the great expectations, I believe transport operators must identify the path to digital transformation.
I recently addressed subject matter experts across North America on the topic of a digital strategy for central communications, laying out four steps: 1) identify today’s challenges, 2) anticipate tomorrow’s opportunities, 3) review a technology roadmap and 4) set an implementation plan.
- Today’s Connectivity Challenges
COVID-19 has added additional steps to everyday life. I spend much of my week identifying how I can help transport operators reduce friction by streamlining passenger information, making sure riders get the right information at the right time. The number of onboard devices or systems requiring Internet connectivity is increasing, with transport operators looking to improve communication channels and the flow of real-time information for passengers and staff, and to remotely monitor and manage their vehicles by intelligently predicting and pre-emptively resolving issues.
Disparate and disconnected onboard technologies exist due to a lack of cooperation (amongst vendors and the operator’s internal teams) and lack of adherence to standards (amongst industry). For example: We have seen it done before when the customer experience team invests in one solution and the IT team invests in another.
When forecasting for future technologies that require connectivity, whether it be business-critical, mission-critical, and safety-critical – especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – the challenge is looking at the big picture 5, 10, or 20 years down the road.
- Tomorrow’s Opportunity
Part of the purpose to drive digital transformation forward is to address the need for interoperability. I find each department within a transport agency relates to this word – it is a word that drives the sustainable agenda.
Operators have multiple needs today and those needs will increase as digitalization and passenger expectations increase at their own rate. Adding features and functionalities to a vehicle (typically a rail vehicle, like a commuter or intercity train) are the way to meet those expectations, yet without a healthy, fast-beating heart (like a central connectivity platform), the features will fail to satisfy. When it comes to future technologies, full return on investment begins with the health of your foundations – your Central Connectivity Platform.
Some benefits of a Central Connectivity Platform:
- Curbs the chances of RF interference to other systems
- Limits the number of roof penetrations reducing the risk of water ingress
- Reduces number of devices and hardware footprint due to a higher spec’d device for virtualization, alleviating space constraints
- Requires fewer cable runs for power and RF harnesses, allowing for better cable management and preventing out of duct runs
- Reduces operating costs including software licenses, support fees and cellular data costs
- Allows for Single Sign-On capability for all onboard system monitoring needs, as well as opportunity for a single cyber-security platform
- Brings a high degree of scalability
- Technology Roadmap
Multiple onboard systems make up the digital ecosystem, all requiring some form of connectivity, leading to the need for a vehicle-wide technology roadmap. It starts with mapping out existing onboard systems, factoring in space, power requirements, and roof infrastructure.
The process continues with planning out space, networking, and standard requirements for future technology, taking in to account integration with the existing infrastructure – what can be moved, shared, or replaced? Cross-reference where applications can be combined to reduce the number of system devices and make better use of available bandwidth. Factor in the bandwidth needs of that application and determine if they are better served by the introduction of a dedicated trackside network as a future state technology, built with the aim to meet future high bandwidth demands within a closed private network.
The technology roadmap is a necessity that will drive the digital transformation.
- Integration Plan
Once the challenges are identified, opportunities are listed, and the roadmap is developed, the big picture will stare you right in the face, moving you onto an integration plan.
The level of integration will vary from something as simple as plugging in an Ethernet cable, to the virtualization of an existing solution on the central device allowing for the complete removal of the original hardware without any loss in functionality.
I sometimes compare the concept of central connectivity to an office on wheels: All business systems are connected to one network infrastructure via their respective outlet, resources are shared, and the network is centrally managed. That is the same role as the central connectivity platform.
You would not use a decentralized approach in an office environment, so why would you consider it an environment that is infinitely more complex?
Understand the value in investing in a solution that can meet the specifications required for central communications. Realize the benefits that powerful onboard connectivity, coupled with a secure reliable communications link, can bring to the vehicles.
With one eye on the bigger picture, make a decision today that will set you up for success in the future. What that means is, start with making a quality investment – one that is sustainable, flexible and future-proof.