One vendor or a cadre of suppliers?
The situation regarding onboard IT solutions a few years ago was one or several vendors that supplied silo-systems, that didn’t communicate with each other. It was natural to start out that way. Then, as possibilities and demand increased the degree of communication between systems, the need for another type of solutions arose; the vehicle network. This evolved from connecting a few units with each other and then to the world and by doing so, realizing that the benefits were considerable from having direct communication with the onboard systems and between the onboard systems. Since the first steps, it has developed into a full-fledged network, where all systems in the vehicle are interconnected, connected to the FMS and CAN and connected to the back office, workshop and basically to any unit with an internet connection and a secure login.
To reach this far, it has been necessary to spend considerable resources and time to develop workarounds for non-standard solutions, to be able to connect them to the network. The proprietary silo-solutions have been a hindrance for the evolution of the connection and interconnectivity onboard. Now there are solutions available for almost all silo-systems to be connected, typically provided by Integrators, which are companies specialized in developing solutions for integrating all types of equipment into one network. The good thing with this is that the awareness of the need for standardization has spread throughout the industry, and that there is a growing consensus of the importance of a branch standard. With the founding of the European standard organization ITxPT (Information Technology for Public Transport) and its ever-growing ecosystem of standardized solutions from a continually growing number of companies, the evolution of onboard IT systems took a new path. All ITxPT solutions are interconnectable in a plug-and-play manor. This means in the long run, as silo solutions and old non-standard solutions become more and more scarce, the need for a typical integrator role, might decrease. What will increase instead, is the demand for pieces to connect to the growing puzzle, and the possibility for new and old, large and small players to supply these pieces on equal terms, to great benefit for the further evolution of onboard IT solutions, with more possible suppliers and more possible solutions. It will bring with it the possibility for Operators and Authorities to pick-and-choose ever more cost-effective solutions.
Next phase of the evolution
The next phase of the IT evolution might just be on the verge of emerging, where the importance of the integrator role decreases with standardized solutions and a waning demand for integration add-ons. The information exchange between units is then managed by an information interface where it is clearly defined what every unit will receive from other units, and in turn is obligated to provide for other units.
There are three important parts in what an interface like this should contain.
- Access to communication. The unit gets access to the network, with all the communication facilities.
- Access to information. The unit gets information from other units in a standard form.
- Information to other units. The unit needs to supply information in standardized form to the supervising unit, to be transmitted to other units.
This interface will be developed and refined, until probably one day the integrator role might be obsolete. We are just in the beginning of this new phase, so it will be a while before it is fully in place. For it to work, models of responsibility for each player are vital. Everyone involved must know what to expect from others, and what they in turn are expected to deliver. This new situation opens up for all different roles and sizes of suppliers to contribute to the growth and development of the common ecosystem of public transport IT environments. It is the standard that makes it all possible. Just like any app supplier for mobile devices can add their own solution to the ecosystem of Apple or Android, the same is now true for public transport IT solution suppliers.
Benefits reaching beyond public transport
Recently Ruter, the company responsible for Oslo’s mass transit, busses as well as subways, embarked on a new journey, to make valuable information from their busses available for solutions way beyond the scope of public transport. They are not only aiming to build a more efficient and flexible IT system for operating their buses, but they want to provide the Norwegian capital with data for new smart-city applications and services.
Ruter plans to kill two bird with one stone. By implementing an open standard IT-platform based on ITxPT (Information Technology for Public Transport), they integrate all onboard silo-solution based systems as well as provide the city of Oslo with smart-city application data.
From the ZCNet article about the project:
“This means that from having closed, vendor-dependent systems where the data’s kept internally, all the data from the entire transport fleet will get out into the public space. All environmental sensors on board the bus, like traffic speed, light, noise, pollution et cetera, will in principle be publicly available,” Ruter CEO Bernt Reitan Jenssen told ZDNet. “So instead of five vendors providing seven systems, this will turn into a fantastic platform where new services can be created. Not only for our needs tied to the buses themselves, but also for many other needs that aren’t related to mass transit at all,” he added.
This example shows what amazing opportunities that are at our hands right now, and what potential the development of the standardized IT platform has for our cities and communities. Shared information and data benefits us all, by making new solutions what we weren’t even considering possible a couple of years ago, available on a large scale. The more open and standardized the IT solutions get, the more we as a society can benefit from the innovations that come in the wake of making the data and IT solutions available for new players, inventing amazing new features.
We are indeed living in exciting times, where new possibilities evolve faster than ever, and IT solutions become increasingly user-friendly, cost effective and useful. The important thing is to find a way that doesn’t cost too much energy or money to keep up with the world, and hopefully also to stay in the forefront of technical-, environmental- and economic development. Whatever happens, we can be sure of that we can’t predict how the IT ecosystem will look ten years from now. Therefore, it is advisable to seek to implement as dynamic solutions as possible. Then you will never be totally off, even if you should be one of the unlucky ones without a crystal ball in which to see future of IT development.
The Busforce blog will now take a summer break. We will be back in August, and in the meantime, we wish you all the very best summer, with the hope that you get the chance to relax, enjoy the sun and recharge your energy for an exciting autumn, with a continued tireless work to improve public transport and our environment.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog post is the author’s opinion and doesn’t reflect the opinion of any other person or organization.