Earlier today at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America’s annual meeting in Houston, IBM’s CEO, Sam Palmisano shared the stage with the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, and delivered the day’s keynote speech. We’ll have more insights and feedback from the speech in the coming days, but I want to call out a few of the key points as they underscore some of the thinking here around a path forward for transportation in America by applying a level of systems thinking.
From the speech:
Over the past year and a half, IBM has been working with cities and nations around the world to improve many kinds of systems and make them smarter – with particular success in transportation.
In doing so, we have learned that our transportation system isn’t, in fact, a system. It’s a collection of related industries, operating in close proximity to one another.
The opportunity is that as we think about transportation as a true system, we have the opportunity to reinvent transportation for the needs of the 21st century. But what exactly is a systems approach? From Sam’s speech:
- First, there must be clarity on the system’s purpose or goal – a vision of its end-state.
- Second, its elements must actually be connected – which is another way of saying, interfaces matter.
- Third, we must be able to know, continually and with confidence, the status of the system and its critical components.
- Finally, the system must be able to adapt as conditions change, often in real time.
Now, translating that for the transportation industry, here are some implications, in my own paraphrasing:
- A vision of its purpose. In short, a traveler-centric system that is oriented around people. Sam cited airline passenger rights and the livable streets movement as examples of this.
- Connected elements. The components of a transportation system – vehicles (in the broad definition), pathways and terminals – must be connected to the governmental agencies and regulations, manufacturers, and service providers to share data and information across the system. And ultimately, the human in the system must be able to connect with each other.
- Status is known. This is well-worn territory on this blog. As we instrument the system at all access points, collecting and analyzing the data, we begin to understand with confidence the status of the system – its health, its opportunity, its weaknesses, its strengths. All of this leads to better, more informed decisions by all parties.
- Adaptability. This is about scale. As demand and population grows, the system can’t just grow linearly. We need to find ways to do things differently. And we understand what to do differently through data. Data matters.
Sam closed with a clear call to action for all the participants in the ITSA forum. Actually, four calls to action. We’ll probe further on each of these in the coming weeks.
First, standards: We must establish agreed-upon data standards for transportation. This is long overdue, but I am hopeful that it will soon be accomplished. As we do, however, it is essential that those standards be open. That’s the only way to interconnect processes and data sets across the whole system. On this, you need to be an active voice.
Second, smart systems by design: In anything as complex, interdependent and fluid as the transportation ecosystem, the qualities we seek cannot be “bolted on” after the fact. We need to build in the key criteria of interconnectivity, system knowingness, analytics and security from the beginning, by design.
Third, moving to a true transportation system will enable – and require – far more collaboration: I’m not just talking about the familiar idea of “private sector-public sector cooperation.” A diverse, multi-stakeholder world requires all the parties actually working together, shoulder-to-shoulder on a daily basis. Yes, we all have particular responsibilities – to customers, to partners, to regulators, to citizens. But in today’s world, fulfilling those responsibilities requires that we also fulfill our responsibilities to the system as a whole. That will be transformative. But it will also require change.
And by the way, speaking of collaboration… let’s come together and use the next nine months to educate members of Congress on incorporating smart technology into the nation’s transportation infrastructure – in preparation for passing the full, six-year surface transportation authorization bill.
Finally, policy and ethics: From new models of technology… to the changing form of the corporation… to the changing role of the individual in modern life… to new expectations for sustainable living… we are entering a very different world. We must come together around clear guidelines on how to operate and manage our organizations and industry, from an ethical and societal point of view.