By Brian Cotton, Frost & Sullivan
On April 13 IBM announced the Smarter Traveler, a pilot service developed with Caltrans and the California Center for Innovative Transportation at UC Berkeley. On the surface, Smarter Traveler appears to be a smartphone app to help commuters avoid congestion before they actually begin their commute – but it delivers much deeper value.
More than just a navigational aide, it uses real-time data on road conditions to predict congestion and alert commuters of potential delays in their usual route. In the future, one can envision Smarter Traveler proposing alternative routes or even alternate forms of transportation with related data (such as arrival times of trains and availability of parking at the station). On the back end, this data can feed into a centralized traffic management system, to help transportation system operators understand, predict, and manage traffic across a city or region.
The true potential goes way beyond that. Smarter Traveler could be part of a public-private partnership model built into an intelligent transportation system (ITS) strategy that takes the problem of the congested city and benefits three stakeholder groups in the center of ITS: Commuters, regional transportation departments and municipal governments, and mobile communications service providers.
A Government Fix without a Tax Increase
Government would certainly benefit from the service. Using an ITS strategy to energize a city’s well-being by promoting a smooth, safe, and secure journey clearly helps the government fulfill its mandate. However, deploying an ITS can mean a large expenditure, often funded with public money. Nevertheless, city leaders are developing an appetite for public-private partnership models, and Smarter Traveler is the type of service that would be integral to such a scheme. Using the ITS, the government can not only extract data and intelligence from the service to better manage its transportation system, but also make it available to a communications service provider partner to run a Smarter Traveler service. The government can charge for this data and revert those funds back into the ongoing deployment and operation of the ITS, essentially fixing congestion without raising taxes.
An Instant Success for Cellular Providers
Cellular service providers play in highly competitive markets and a ‘hot’ service can mean multiple market share points. Using traffic data and intelligence provided through a government’s ITS, cellular providers could easily deploy a Smarter Traveler service to their subscriber base. This would undoubtedly need to be an opt-in service, giving the government and cellular providers permission to share ITS and location data on individual subscribers in order to address location privacy concerns.
Assuming a market is in a city with congested traffic, a Smarter Traveler app or service that eases the pain of the daily commute for millions of subscribers would be an instant success. A portion of this revenue could conceivably be shared with the government operating the ITS, funding the collection, processing, and maintenance of the data, which could make the system self-sufficient.
A Commuter’s Dream Come True
The commuter is the obvious beneficiary of a Smarter Traveler service. Apart from saving time and increasing safety, it has the potential to dramatically improve the end-to-end experience of the commute. Frost & Sullivan’s Global Urban Mobility tracking study shows that commuters around the world are least satisfied with the speed/time of their commute, with a root cause of insufficient capacity in the system. A Smarter Traveler service, delivered over a smartphone, can alert commuters to traffic jams and crowded trains, enabling them to adapt their commuting behavior to optimize commuting time. By suggesting alternate routes, it can also take the guesswork out of the commute, which is a commuter’s dream come true.
Smarter Traveler is a technology that can be a critical link in a public-private partnership, which delivers value to all parties in its ecosystem. I look forward to the day when it shows up on my BlackBerry.
Brian Cotton is a Vice President in Frost & Sullivan’s Global Information and Communication Technologies Practice, and is responsible for the Group’s North American Growth Consulting business.