Operations Transparency to Solve Public Transportation Challenges

Nov. 11, 2011
Public transportation: Facing challenges and change.

Around the globe, public transportation administrators and operators are facing up to the challenges created by the impact of increasing congestion; capacity and budget constraints; aging infrastructure and workers; and increasing competition.

The volume of activity in the sector has reached unprecedented heights across the world. In the United States, transportation infrastructure includes nearly 151,000 route-miles of bus service and more than 7,000 miles of fixed rail transit. The European Union made 60 billion public transit trips in 2008, which equates to 120 public transportation trips each year for every person. In Asia, the Tokyo Metro, the world's busiest subway, hosts 8.7 million riders every day and more than 3 billion passenger rides annually.

Given these current financial, social and environmental realities, the public transportation industry is faced with the challenge to find new efficiencies to allow for transformational improvements. In order for public transportation authorities to provide quality, reliable, convenient and safe service, they need to gain full transparency around the different functional operations groups within an organization. This operations transparency (OT) requires managing rolling stock, infrastructure, facilities and equipment with more transparency and accountability than ever. This situation is exacerbated by two often contradictory and competing influences: rider expectations and limited resources.

This landscape faces several fundamental challenges:

  • Infrastructure: The poor condition of this key area of transport needs significant investment to maintain a state of good repair
  • Operations: Companies are increasingly managing shrinking budgets at a time when they must meet or exceed service reliability and quality
  • Demand: Increasing urban population has a direct impact on capacity and service quality
  • Fuel Costs: Rising fuel costs continue to impact bottom line at a time when organizations are seeing more demand for public transportation
  • Cost Optimization: Many are seeking ways to extend vehicle life to rethinking capital improvement initiatives
  • Sustainability: A focus on green transit is an increasing priority but implies higher maintenance costs
  • Security: The pressure and scrutiny to meet safety and security requirements is only increasing

Operations Transparency: Taking visibility to the next level

The nature of today's public transportation industry makes the need for OT clear. Technology plays a critical role in optimizing visibility and efficiency to create ever-increasing levels of service execution in public transit. It requires managing operations through improved integration of service execution systems (SES), enterprise asset management (EAM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems — putting technology at the core of this approach. OT uses real-time integrated data collection and analysis for unprecedented visibility into daily transit operations for higher levels of decision support.

Successful OT requires knowing what management information to collect, how, and where to do so to ensure a holistic view. This is in stark contrast to what most public transit operators have today. The value of OT is not simply in having a new view of operations. Rather, it is in how transit administrators and operators act on data to drive whole-life optimal asset management. By doing this, they can make improvements that can help revolutionize public transportation for administrators, operators, workers and riders alike.

It does this by providing full, real-time, contextual visibility across service execution management, resource and asset management, and the ability to integrate with other interfaces so administrators and operators can gain actionable insight to drive business outcomes. The key to smart decision-making is coordination and collaboration across multiple departments enabled by integrated processes, tools, as well as technologies.

A true, cross-enterprise view of operations through OT is important when transforming today's transit challenges into competitive advantages. With a true vision of the current state, public transportation authorities can make strategic, efficient and cost-effective inroads to an improved future state.

Moving forward: OT steps for success

Success requires a fundamental shift in how transit authorities think about managing operations. They must move from what needs to be done, to a high-level view that accounts for organizational interdependencies and overarching business goals.

Operators must overlay their focus on tasks, actions, and who will do them — with analysis that drills down to understand and probe causes and effects. It is a new focus on relational data over transactional data — a shift from reactive to proactive decision making. OT helps transit organizations to:

  • Analyze transactional data in real-time in its original context to achieve new visibility
  • Make informed operational decisions among field and back office managers
  • Drive predictive whole life management of all operations assets to maximize value
  • Enhance personnel productivity and efficiency
  • Break down information silos that exist across departments and business units
  • Reduce technology integration cost of ownership
  • Enable new insights into cross-fleet integration
  • Support long-term planning and capital expansion

Many public transportation organizations have laid the groundwork for OT through their existing investment in SES, EAM and ERP systems. However, to improve customer satisfaction and on-time performance, transit authorities must implement an OT framework to realize the full value of their investment.

There are several elements that should be in place for public transit authorities to move toward OT:

1. Awareness of the interdependent data necessary for operations visibility

It is vital that organizations identify all the operations data that needs to be collected and/or integrated together to provide the right visibility leading to the right decisions.

2. The essential foundation for OT is the right data

Data collection in a proper technological framework can prove challenging. Often, operations and the data that goes with it are disconnected. Organizations need both an awareness of what data to assess and a means of consolidating this data. An operations data collection framework can capture, manage and analyze data.

Many transit authorities rely on multiple systems to store different types of operations data. What's needed is a single EAM operations platform leveraged to its fullest and integrated with an ERP platform.

3. Standardization of processes, procedures, management practices and controls

OT represents a very different way of working for public transit authorities. The data and the collection framework are only as good as the processes that establish and clarify how operators can most effectively act on data insights.

4. A cultural change at every level of the public transportation organization

Although it is easy to take for granted, the human element of the OT transformation is central to its lasting success. Historically, the industry has not had access to this kind of technology. Now that it is available, the challenge is to help workers break old habits when new systems are put in place so organizations can gain the most value from their technology investment. Furthermore, the organization-wide transition from a "seat of the pants," incident-based management style to a data-driven, predictive one will require a keen and comprehensive change management focus.

Many transit companies have one or many of the above mentioned technologies in place and are making efforts to progress in each of the four elements described above. However, the high performers will be those that embrace the concepts and technologies to transform themselves on the way to supporting a customer centric business based around smarter infrastructure.

Rajesh Ramamurthi, [email protected], is an OT architect with Accenture and Scott Tvaroh, [email protected], is a global EAM lead with Accenture.