Traditional thinking won’t work
This article was published in Bodyshop in May 2017.
Is a reluctance to share knowledge a UK issue?
Generally speaking, this is a global issue. Governments and organisations around the world are trying to decide which types of data are appropriate to share with the public and what risks, real and perceived, might be associated with opening up access to data. There are some very real issues at play, relating to costs, privacy, and security. Some locations are more proactive but in other parts of the world the viewpoint is that data should be monetised to maximise public good. There really is a great deal of variation across the globe.
Is it a ‘legacy’ thought process?
It seems as if the tide is starting to change in many parts of the world. The open data movement has been shown many times over to have an overwhelmingly positive return on investment. In the transport sector, this is especially true since they are such inherently complicated systems. Accurate data is critical to operating the system efficiently. The public needs to know which transport options are available to them, based on where they are at any particular time, in order to choose the optimal mode and route.
Transport operators can benefit from this as well by increasing the usage of their systems and even distributing the load across the system, if more data is shared. One of the key problems is, of course, that some of the operators are only looking at their own slice of the pie. The big picture of what the customer needs is sometimes missed as a result.
How can companies be incentivised to work for the ‘greater good’?
There is often an inherent fear about the possibility of losing proprietary IP. Private mobility providers are making significant investments in mining the data they have to predict demand, set real-time pricing, etc. In some ways, this data and their ability to mine it is theirmain strategic asset. OEMs are all scrambling to better understand customer behaviour via their connected cars and, increasingly, semi-autonomous vehicles.
The data generated is still viewed as proprietary and there are no current forums for sharing data between manufacturers, even for seemingly non-strategic data assets related to safety, such as hazardous road conditions.
There is still great uncertainty about how the market will shake out and so many are hedging their bets and being very conservative, holding on to all data assets in case of future opportunities. Some of this is likely an artefact of an immature industry, however.
Are there any good recent examples of where knowledge sharing has paid off, both for the industry and the individual companies involved?
There are many such examples. For instance, we worked with Arriva, one of the UK’s largest national bus operators, to make their data more accessible to potential consumers. They leveraged Ito World’s technology to get their real time bus data into one of the largest journey planning apps in the world, Google Maps.
By opening up their data, they significantly increased their reach and ridership. Many agencies and operators have opened up their data to the developer community. This typically results in more information being available to riders, helping them save time and money as well as having better journeys. Agencies and operators can extend their reach, improve the use of network capacity, and save money since they don’t necessarily have to build their own apps (developers are doing it for them).
From an overall economic perspective, opening data drives innovation and creates new businesses. In fact, Ito World, as global data aggregators, relies heavily on open data as the basis for our products. We would not exist if it weren’t for open data.
Do you see disruptors emerging and leaving more traditional companies behind?
I think the real question is about how new transportation alternatives will affect existing public transportation offerings. We’re at the beginning of the next big revolution in transportation. Things have remained largely static for the past 100 years, so this really represents a paradigm shift. We’re already seeing private sector businesses like Uber and Bridj, a Boston-based company offering on-demand bus services, augmenting public transportation.
New car sharing and car club businesses are entering the market at an incredible pace and, of course, the arrival of autonomous vehicles will greatly impact provisioning of transport services. It’s not clear to me that the existing incumbents (public transportation providers and automotive manufacturers) will be the most well equipped to leverage technical innovations to their advantage. In many ways, this is the classic disruptive pattern where it’s very difficult for incumbents to change their business and operational models to adjust to new threats and opportunities. We are seeing some transport authorities embracing new opportunities, such as partnering with ride hailing providers to solve the ‘last mile’ problem. We have also seen some experiments with delivering MaaS for an area while working with private sector partners.
Does MaaS work without open data?
MaaS describes the idea that we’re moving away from privately owned modes of transportation and towards consuming transportation solutions as a service. This will be enabled by blending both public and private transportation providers across multiple modes of transportation, and providing a single-access interface for managing trips. More open data will be key to making this happen.
Imagine being dropped off at a train station by a ride-sharing service. If the train is significantly delayed or cancelled, the promise of MaaS falls apart quickly. To have a seamless experience all the data must be accurate and timely.
On the current dataset for just the buses in Great Britain, we have made corrections, edits and enhancements that affect 60,000 journeys. In other words, if a MaaS provider were to have leveraged the raw open data, they would have had 60,000 opportunities to create a bad user experience.
How is the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) changing thinking?
The IoT has certainly created more value in data. Again, many industries participating in the IoT are not mature and sharing principles and norms have yet to emerge. I believe this will largely be driven by customer demands. For example, there is little value in having a connected home if you need 10 apps to manage all your connected devices. There must be some common knowledge sharing to create a seamless experience. At the moment, many industries are trying to figure out if the outcome will be a ‘winner-takes-all’ scenario, where one company dominates the industry and doesn’t have to share data. If a multi-player scenario is the dominant model, sharing makes a lot more sense. Until the participants see which way the industry is going they tend to hedge their bets, be conservative, and hold on tight to their data.
Will big data create a commercial argument for knowledge sharing?
Yes, but I would argue that there is already an incredibly strong commercial argument for knowledge sharing and open data. For instance, global management consultancy McKinsey found potential benefits equivalent to 4.1% of global GDP for open data across all sectors. TfL, for example, has opened its data and now has thousands of developers building solutions to improve the public’s travel experience.