Douglass Adams once said, “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression: ‘as pretty as an airport.’ ”
The same could arguably be said about most bus and train stations (bar a few exceptional examples). But what these travel hubs lack in aesthetics they certainly make up for in functionality, and it’s all down to digital technology. Imagine being a time traveller from even just one short decade ago. You get onto a bus and start digging around in your wallet for change, only to see somebody hop on and tap a piece of plastic with their watch before carrying on to find a seat. You’d probably think they’d gone mad until you realised that was their ‘ticket’, at which point your jaw would likely hit the floor.
We take these things for granted now because technology has become so ingrained into our lives – nothing seems unbelievable anymore. But if you really stop and think about how far we’ve come it’s hard not to be amazed. And this means passenger expectations have dramatically evolved. The digital experience people as consumers have in many of their interactions is seamless and personalised. It makes sense, then, that they would expect this same level of service from the technology they use on transport systems. Rising expectations of the digital experience is driving change in the transport sector, and it’s fair to say we’re on the cusp of an enormous transformation – let’s look at the story so far and where we might be headed in future…
Typically the most stressful part of any journey is buying the right ticket before the train leaves and not losing it before the ticket inspector comes around. Thankfully most places are starting to make that process more sophisticated, and technology now enables an extremely smooth ticketing process that makes everyone’s lives much easier. We first saw this years ago with the introduction of the Oyster card, which effectively enables people to carry a virtual ticket around on a piece of plastic in their pocket.
Today, that piece of plastic could be your phone or your watch, and we’ve worked with a number of rail and bus operators to help them implement the smartphone-based ticketing system many travellers use today. Increasingly, however, we are moving towards an ‘Uber’ effect in all areas of transport – a real drive for efficiency driven by tech, where the whole travelling experience will be seamlessly joined-up and personalised.
All rail operators want to get more trains on the tracks. Greater capacity means they can carry more passengers, more frequently, and ultimately provide a much better passenger experience. Few companies understand this better than Transport for London (TFL) – the busiest transport network in the UK.
TFL needed fast and reliable Wi-FI in its underground stations, which we were able to provide via 15,000 managed ports across 475 locations. Now its rolling stock can provide real-time condition-monitoring data – up-to-date information that alerts TFL to any parts that need repairing. And all of this happens while the trains are in service. The train sends data back to the asset management system in the depot which can immediately see what maintenance is needed and quickly get the relevant parts out.
This dramatically reduces the downtime of trains and helps increase the capacity of the network.
One of the most pressing problems on any transport operator’s mind is improving the safety and security of passengers, whether that’s on the railways, in the air or on the roads. We are about to see a massive transformation in passenger safety, driven by connected devices and vehicles and powered by the internet of things (IoT). Recently we’ve been working with DHL to develop a new kind of wearable technology that can help manage the welfare of its drivers, particularly their tiredness levels.
The device tracks vital signs such as heart rate and movements like nodding to determine when drivers are beginning to feel fatigued. But more than that: all of the data tracked using the device means DHL can determine when and why drivers get tired and take the necessary action to prevent future accidents. Driver tiredness is one of the biggest killers on the roads – almost 20% of all major road accidents in the UK are sleep-related, and 40% of those involve commercial vehicles. This technology has the potential to save lives.
Enhancing the passenger experience
I’ve talked about the ‘passenger experience’ throughout this article, and you could argue everything I’ve mentioned falls under that bracket. But I wanted to highlight a couple of cases that have had an all-encompassing impact in that area. Technology has enabled passengers to be much more productive on the go, whether it’s sending emails or collaborating with colleagues. And it’s all down to connectivity. Remember the days when you had to pull over to the side of the road to check a giant A-Z Map?
Well, thankfully things are a bit more sophisticated than that in 2017!
Take Virgin Trains as a perfect example; with the help of our journey planner software it can plan rail journeys quickly and accurately while easily determining the best possible fares for its customers. And travel management company Click Travel used a similar Fujitsu platform to back up its own journey planning system. The end result of this, again, is the ability for transport firms to provide a much better overall passenger experience.
Over at Heathrow Airport another transformation took place to help rebuild its Terminal 2 infrastructure. We implemented a brand new integrated network to enable better collaboration between colleagues across the site. As a result of this improved communication, passengers have seen a drop in queue times and a jump in security levels that have translated into a far superior customer experience.
Making it sustainable
Finally, we can’t talk about the way technology has transformed travel without looking at the positive impact on the environment and surrounding communities. Technological progress has the power to make the world a better place, but only if it’s done responsibly. A few years ago we were a gold sponsor for a Crossrail initiative called the UK Tunnelling and Construction Academy (TUCA) – an initiative designed to train approximately 3,500 people to work on the new transport system.
The purpose of this initiative was clear: equip people with skills that will not only enable them to build Crossrail to a high quality but also take on highly skilled jobs in future once this project is completed. It’s helping the UK skills base, contributing to urban regeneration in the area and providing thousands of young people with a solid future. If every travel operator – and indeed every business – in the world took this approach, the positive impact on society could be huge.
I could go on and on describing how travel has changed over the years thanks to technology. But what I’m really interested in is where we’re going in future. We’ve really only seen the very beginning of what’s possible when it comes to digital transformation in the travel sector – you could say this is the ‘stone age’ for technology such as IoT. In the coming years we are going to see this sector transform beyond anything we could have imagined even 10 or 20 years ago. Areas like connected, autonomous cars – where you carry your identity on your mobile device and use it to control your vehicle – will grow exponentially and become the norm.
The transport story so far has been an exciting one, and here’s to pushing things even further!
Check out our dedicated transport page for more insight around digital transformation in travel