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Making the most of digitalisation

Melina Christina | 08 Apr 2016 | Comments

Until a decade ago, the majority of the world’s data was produced by scientific, industrial, and administrative sources. Today, most data is generated from the daily activities of millions of people around the world, through simple actions such as messaging friends on social media or shopping online.

Every sixty seconds, Facebook users ‘like’ around 4 million posts, Apple users download 51,000 apps and Skype users make 110,040 calls (DOMO, 2015). The amount of data generated has grown exponentially, with 90% of data produced over the last two years (SINTEF). For example, if we look at the internet, the first billion of connected users was reached in 12 years, the second billion in 5 years, and the third billion in 4 years.

Taking the local authorities and transport operators as an example, the valuable knowledge lying within the data and in particular the generation of readily accessible information has created the following opportunities:

Generating value: e.g. live bus arrivals allowing passengers to use their time more effectively, real-time parking availability reducing the time drivers spend searching for a parking space etc.

Doing things more efficiently: e.g. use of digital payment which has reduced cost and process time at stations

Generating new capabilities and insights: e.g. passengers having easy access to more travel options due to journey planning apps, giving passengers more control of their journey

However, many cities have not made the most of the vast quantity of data they already have. Work still needs to be done in terms of combining and analysing data from separate organisations, implementing open data policy, and exploiting  private sector data (e.g. from mobile phone networks or logistic companies). There are numerous challenges and questions to address, such as what the value of opening up the data will be, what data access and usage rights are required, what skills are needed to become digital and what governance should be adopted (i.e. who owns or should own the data). All these challenges should not be addressed independently and answers to those vary greatly depending on the type of organisations and the objectives to be achieved. 

How network operators and local authorities can make the most of the data currently available, in a secure way, and still satisfy their customer needs is a critical question. Two key points to consider are:

1. Data interoperability is key to achieve the full benefits of digitalisation. An independent data broker role between different data providers should be used in order to link various internal and external data sets together. This role can be fulfilled by either the private or public sector. 

2. Local authorities need to understand the impact of new mobility systems which have developed as a result of digitalisation, in order to plan with them rather than compete, e.g. how Uber and Lyft have impacted the use of more conventional transport systems (e.g. bus networks) and to what extent.  

Taking this a step further, digitalisation gives us the opportunity to do things differently and truly respond to citizens’ needs, for instance, by  allowing car-pooling for commuting (e.g. Wayz-Up in France) or pop-up microbus systems (e.g. Bridj in the US).  However, these new mobility systems are still yet to be proved resilient, as demonstrated by the closure of Kutsuplus last year (on-demand bus service in Helsinki). This is partly due to the difficulty of achieving the right scale to make the economics of ride sharing really work (i.e. cost of the ride vs. benefit).

That said, it is evident that data can support transport planning and add significant value to our city infrastructure but the challenge lies in getting the balance right to ensure we are in a position to take advantage of this market.