An interview with Ito’s CEO, Deborah Kobewka

CEO, Deborah Kobewka has long been a champion of data-driven innovation. With a focus on steering sustainable, social change through our pioneering transit intelligence solutions, she brings a fresh perspective and approach to our sector. We had an opportunity to sit down with Deborah and discuss her journey, the growth trajectory of Ito and the thinking shaping the future of public transport.

Joining Ito was a natural alignment of personal and professional interests. “Ito’s strong mission and vision greatly appealed to me,” she explained. “We have an intense focus on climate issues and aim to be part of the solution. At the heart of all we do is the belief that public transportation needs to be safe, efficient, sustainable and equitable. Improving the passenger experience is key to reducing carbon emissions and congestion.”

“Our groundbreaking data services and analytics provide critical insights for transportation planners, policymakers and the public to make informed choices. We help them to optimise their public transport information and systems to encourage ridership. Being part of the climate solution and contributing to the smooth functioning of public transit systems makes Ito an exceptional organisation to belong to – not only for me, but also my team.”

With a career rooted in data and analytics, Deborah has always appreciated the strategic value of data-driven decision-making. Applying her healthcare and pharmaceuticals experience to public transportation, she emphasised the crucial role of data in addressing complex issues and driving innovation.

“Healthcare and the Pharmaceutical Industry, in particular, have a deep respect for data and analytics, using it in all their processes to inform critical decisions. I see parallels there for the transit sector, which hasn’t yet tapped into the full potential of data and analytics as a transformational force for optimising services and improving passenger experiences. Ensuring the availability of mission critical data analytics to the transit sector is really important, and I believe Ito has a crucial role to play in this.”

Our vision is to transform the future of transport through innovative transit intelligence, helping our customers to solve challenges and facilitate a global preference for shared mobility, with a positive impact on communities and the climate.”

Reflecting on Ito’s evolution in recent years, Deborah highlighted the substantial investment in our product portfolio, focusing on new product development and technology.

“With this investment, we’re now reshaping our overall strategy and enhancing our commercial capabilities. Part of this includes geographic expansion outside the UK, exploring the North American markets as well as key parts of Europe."

“As our business scales, we’re also committed to strengthening our support to our employees by investing in new leadership across operations, commercial, finance and HR sectors.”

Ito continues to enjoy deep and longstanding relationships with customers, something Deborah is proud of.

“We have excellent customer loyalty, maintaining relationships with significant blue-chip customers and national governments. This loyalty is founded on our determination to solve customer challenges. Our niche capabilities in transit data and analytics are well-recognised by our customers. We work closely with them to focus on their business issues, which I believe fosters strong partnerships. Our excellent team always goes the extra mile, driven by our mission and vision. This enthusiasm creates a fantastic environment for promoting customer loyalty and ensuring we do the best job possible for our customers.”

Addressing the varying challenges faced by customers across different sectors, Deborah highlighted Ito’s universal commitment to delivering unparalleled data solutions and support.

“Our goal is to provide accurate data that enables them to tackle their issues. We have a unique capability to aggregate and transform large volumes of complex data from diverse sources and formats into accessible, user-friendly information. These tasks, while crucial, can be challenging and time-consuming for our customers and are not their core business. Understanding these problems and applying our expertise to solve them is our main focus.”

Deborah strongly believes that people are at the heart of a company’s impact and prosperity. “Success hinges on understanding customer needs and having the right talents and capabilities within the organisation to meet these demands. Importantly, it’s about having a team that is committed to the company’s mission, especially during periods of change and scaling.”

People’s physical and mental wellbeing are a priority, especially in the context of a remote working environment where the boundaries between work and personal time tend to blur.

“While back-to-back meetings may seem productive, they aren’t always beneficial for our overall wellbeing. Taking suitable breaks and embracing initiatives like our ‘Value You’ day encourage a more balanced approach, ultimately leading to enhanced productivity.”

The importance of relationships and understanding of interpersonal dynamics are key learnings from Deborah’s own experiences in a large family, as one of six children. These insights have shaped her life and influence her leadership style, fostering a cooperative and mutually supportive environment at Ito, where effective communication is key to ensure everyone is heard and understood.

Deborah also places high value on creating a working environment where everyone feels welcomed and supported. “When I reflect on my career, I see that we’ve made vast steps forward in terms of making the workplace more diverse and inclusive. Of course, there’s always more that can be done. It’s important to think about all the individuals on our team and create opportunities and the conditions for success for everyone,” she noted.

This commitment to inclusivity extends to the company’s work arrangement. “We are a remote organisation, which works well in a company of our size and enhances our team’s work-life balance. I do, however, recognise the benefits of a more hybrid work environment, particularly for younger team members who want to learn and develop their skills alongside colleagues in a traditional office setting. It’s essential for us to create opportunities for people to come together regularly, so we can continue to build strong relationships across our team.”

Ito is poised for exciting growth opportunities. Deborah explained that we, as an organisation, are always thinking about what the future might look like and how our portfolio could evolve and create more possibilities for our customers.

“As a business, we have a multitude of avenues to explore for expansion, whether it’s through product extensions, increased investment in product development, or tapping into new customer segments and geographical markets. With our data and analytics expertise, we continuously strive to stay ahead of the curve. This includes exploring advancements in predictive analytics, AI applications and expanding our portfolio to meet evolving customer needs.”

In the next five to ten years, Deborah envisions significant changes and opportunities in the mobility sector. “I anticipate the public transport market will continue to grow, driven by government incentives supporting public transport and climate agendas. Post-pandemic recovery initiatives and substantial investments in transit modernisation point towards sustained growth. As we increasingly apply technology in this sector, data will become even more instrumental in informing the decision-making process for solution creation. Our ongoing innovations in transit data management, support and service align us perfectly with the needs of a rapidly changing world.”

Deborah’s personal connection to public transport services is a reminder of the positive impact that accessible, efficient transportation experiences can have on individuals and communities alike.

“I’ve always used public transport a lot,” Deborah revealed. “Way back as a student in Brighton, I don’t know what I would’ve done to get around without buses.” And since becoming a commuter herself, she recognises the convenience and efficiency that public transport offers. However, living in a rural environment, Deborah acknowledges the need for innovative solutions tailored to rural communities. “We need to come up with creative solutions for rural communities, like demand-responsive transport,” she added, highlighting the importance of inclusivity in transit planning.

As a global traveller she reflected on memorable journeys made on buses and trains in China, India and across Europe. Closer to home, public transport holds a special place in Deborah’s heart.

“I have had the pleasure of many great experiences while exploring the UK. Travelling to Cornwall reveals breathtaking coastal scenery, while journeys to Scotland offer captivating landscapes that leave a lasting impression.”
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