Anders Selling Secretary General of ITxPT

As the Secretary General of ITxPT, you would of course expect Anders Selling to have a strong interest in the professional side of public transport and digitalization. However, quite soon the image broadens to show a man with a true conviction for the big issues, like the environment, climate change, and how public transport can contribute to better the world. He’s also got a strong commitment for collaboration. – “ITxPT is an open organization, where IT suppliers, vehicle manufacturers, authorities and operators work together over country- and company borders. We have members from 28 countries, where suppliers, customers and competition all collaborate to develop the standards we need to strengthen public transport competitiveness and innovation,” he says.  

So, who is the Secretary General of ITxPT, Anders Selling? We started out with a short question and got a really long answer that in a sense reveals a lot about his conviction to make ITxPT the driving force in digitalization within public transport and beyond.

The ITxPT lab in Paris, with ITxPT staff. From the left: Anders Fromell, Anders Selling, Penelope Restivo, Emmanuel de Verdalle, Pascale Guyot, Victor Dardenne

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Well, I have quite a mixed background, mostly within the automotive- and vehicle industry, working with companies like SAAB, Volvo, General Motors, Audi, Jaguar and Land Rover. I started out as an employee, then became a management consultant, involved in some large-scale projects, like the Volvo Group acquisition of Renault Trucks, for example.  

But I think the interesting thing is, why would I move into public transport? To answer that, I think we have to look back at the recent 20-30 years. The auto industry has been exciting for many years, with almost constant growth and product development. Ever since I first started out in 1991, we have been talking about market expansion plans, we have moved towards higher complexity, quality, performance, electronics and software. 

And it has all been built on the same concept. Build as many cars as you can. Make the customers change cars every third year. Increase the price. Always more and more expensive. Fifty thousand Euro for a car was not so long ago, if not unheard of, at least not very common. Today, a price-tag between fifty to a hundred thousand Euro is quite common. 

And now, when we’re reaching the end of the road for combustion engines, which of course is a positive thing, we talk about that electrification will fix our problems. But we don’t know from where we should get the power and the batteries. Our streets are congested, and just take the difference between buses and trains, that are estimated to be in operation for 60-80% of the day, while cars are in service 3% of the available time. This is forcing us to rethink the business model as a whole. Should we really consume at this pace, and not even use the cars we build to their full technical potential? Here, public transport is an important part of the solution. 

With my background in the auto industry, I see all the challenges on the horizon, with our climate, with the environment, emissions, clean air, especially in our cities and quality of life in general. I was commuting between Volvo and Ljungskile [North of Gothenburg] for ten years, and I have never seen it as congested as it is now. It stands still. The same thing whenever I go to Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt or just anywhere. The train from the airport usually isn’t in any way perfect, but it is way better than going by car. Right now, we are challenging everything we do. Stuttgart, for example, in the middle of the German automobile cluster and the home of companies like Porsche, Mercedes Benz and Daimler AG. They are discussing a ban on diesel cars, although they are heavily dependent on the auto industry. 

So, what do we do? Luckily, we are in an incredibly innovative phase right now, with shared mobility, mobility as a service, electrical scooters, small startups mixed with giants like Google and the auto- and vehicle industry as well as public transport operators and authorities, and we all move towards something new. You can also say we’re in a searching phase. There is a huge number of new companies popping up, driving innovation and new business models. In Stockholm for example, you have ten different companies supplying mobility through electrical scooters. We don’t know where it’s going, but we do know it’s all built on mobility systems.  

And what is important there? Connectivity. We, meaning both humans and systems, must be able to talk to each other. To communicate. The receiver must be able to understand the data you send. For that to work, you need standards and common languages. That’s where ITxPT comes in. We have taken the first steps towards standardization and interoperability, for example by defining common data models and protocols. 

It is also logical that this standardization work happens within public transport, since it has been connected for quite some time, first through radio and later through digital networks. That is why I want to be where I am right now. This is where it’s happening.

So, how did you end up at ITxPT?

Short answer: I was recommended for the job. To give a little more elaborate answer, in 2008 ITxPT was a collaboration in project form between the founding companies, public transport authorities and operators, where UITP had the managing role. The project had the objective to enable interoperability between different systems in a bus. 

Over the years, the project underwent further development. A formalization process started in 2013, which ended up in the founding of ITxPT in 2016 as a non-profit association. At that point, they were looking for a secretary general, and through recommendation they fund me. 

At the time ITxPT had 27 members, and I started out working part-time to develop the organization. The most important work was to continue to develop the technical specification defining ITxPT. It had been a work in progress for some time, but it was important to set a more defined version of the document, so the work we did resulted in the release of ITxPT 2.0 in 2017. After that we set out to recruit members, by for example visiting exhibitions, and since then we have doubled the number of member companies every year. Today we are 130 members. 

Can you explain to someone who doesn’t know about the ITxPT organization, what it is? 

The most important function is that we deliver a specification that makes it possible for developers to create ITxPT compatible solutions. For authorities the specification makes it possible to demand interoperable solutions in the procurement process. 

We also supply technical support and compliance testing, which makes it possible for a supplier to become ITxPT labelled. It’s a certification process, and when a product is labelled, it shows that it fulfils the ITxPT demands. We have a testing lab, we can help a supplier to meet the compliance criteria, and we supply technical support. 

The third thing is that we are a community. With 130 members, we are a platform for networking between competitors as well as customers and suppliers. We have members meetings 2-3 times a year, that are highly appreciated and result in new connections between many public transport actors. Between the big meetings, we also have working groups where members work together to further develop the ITxPT standard. These groups also create strong bonds between members.

Why is standardization and ITxPT important?

We are right now going through something that already happened in other industries, like the mobile phone industry for example. Standards like Bluetooth and USB are examples that make systems and products from different companies from all over the world connect and operate together. Android is another standard, where service delivery companies can offer their solutions within a standard environment. 

The same thing is happening within ITxPT. The customer wants the ability to choose suppliers and systems on a broad and diversified open market with many suppliers, instead of a small market of proprietary solutions, where they become totally dependent on one supplier. To open up the market for a diversity of suppliers, an architecture with a standardized interface is needed. This increases competition. It also makes it possible to update, upgrade and add systems and services over time. Moreover, if all systems share connectivity, the hardware demand onboard the vehicle is reduced. 

Many authorities and operators are also appreciating the strategic value of open data more and more. For a PTA or PTO to be able to collect, store and process data about customers, mobility etc. becomes increasingly important. Here, standardization is key. Proprietary systems with proprietary data or incompatible data formats makes it hard or impossible to do this.

In this field, the Norwegian PTA, Ruter, in Oslo has come quite far. They express the strategic  value of ITxPT, since it enables them to develop and maintain databases to increase their overview and ability to monitor and control their operation. For them, this is perhaps the most important part of ITxPT, and since they are among the most advanced and innovative public transport authorities, there is reason to believe that others in time will be experiencing the same. 

What practical effect does ITxPT have for a public transport actor like a PTA or PTO?

That you have a standardized document as a foundation for a procurement process.

How do the roles of different suppliers of IT systems change as a result of ITxPT?

An important effect is that when you open up the architecture, you open a market. It makes it possible for smaller actors to offer services and technical solutions. In the proprietary world, the small actors don’t stand a chance. ITxPT promotes innovation.

How can I be a part of and contribute to the work within ITxPT?

By joining work groups and take part in the work to define specifications for future ITxPT releases, and to help define technical solutions.

How does the public transport industry view ITxPT? Is it altogether positive? 

There is a very clear optimism surrounding ITxPT, and a clear demand and need from both PTO:s and PTA:s. They express high expectations for the future. Among large enterprises within the technical sector, however, there is a hint of skepticism, but altogether most actors realize that the future lies in standardized solutions, like ITxPT.

How can I get help from ITxPT, and how do I contact you?

ITxPT is open for everyone. Any actor within public transport or mobility can become a member. You can find our specification which is publicly available on our website itxpt.org. You can also apply for labelling without becoming a member, since it’s not restricted to membership. However, as a member, you also have access to our community, to technical support and to our lab. 

What is the most common misconception regarding ITxPT?

A common misconception is that ITxPT is a project, when in fact it is a well-established international organization with members from 28 different countries. It is already implemented as a standard. This summer, for example 500 buses rolled out in Oslo with systems all based on ITxPT. 

We are under constant development, which means it is not a perfect solution. We front a lot of challenges, and we will continue to see many different implementations based on ITxPT. That, and the fact that we work towards a concept of plug and play, can cause certain misconceptions. It is important to realize that you need an actor to take on the role of the integrator, to secure the functionality of the architecture. ITxPT development moves forward through implementations by members, which in turn lead to new versions of the specification. Therefore, it will always be a certain need for integration during every implementation. 

However, it is important to remember that everything we do, we do in a dynamic with the market and our members, and it is of course a challenge to lead all the different wills, and turn sometimes quite diverging needs and demands into solutions that everyone can accept.  We haven’t “saved the world”, but we have taken a few important steps to enable digitalization in mobility. 

You mentioned the integrator role. Can you elaborate?

The integrator is a key role or function in an architecture enabling a multi-vendor environment, where you combine services and solutions from different suppliers. This calls for integration, which is why the integrator role is so important. The integrator role can be the PTA, PTO, a main supplier or a neutral part, responsible for the integration, but you can’t do a successful implementation of an open architecture without someone responsible for the integration. 

What are the most important tasks for ITxPT right now?

It is to create a clear customer focus. To understand and identify use-cases and the need for services to support. We need to engage PTA:s and PTO:s to find areas of use within their organizations for coming ITxPT versions. 

Until now, we have worked with a certain technical scope, but it’s time to evolve and make ITxPT multimodal by encompassing not only buses but trams, boats, trains and so on, to include all modes of transportation. 

We are right now working hard to create the roadmap for future ITxPT versions, and what they should deliver. It is also important to study different markets and highly innovative authorities like Ruter in Norway, RTA in Dubai, LTA in Singapore and TFL in Great Britain, to draw from their experience for other PTA:s to be able to successfully implement solutions, based on their work and their findings. 

How do you see the evolution of ITxPT in a longer perspective?
ITxPT has the potential to become a platform for standardized data for traffic systems, which encompasses all types of mobility services, not just public transport. 

What influence does ITxPT have on the world outside Europe?

We have seen interest from different parts of the world, like Canada, South America and Asia, and I wouldn’t totally discard the possibility that ITxPT could become a world standard, but I don’t see it right now, and it’s not something we focus on. We need to work on our own backyard, to improve the specification. We need to be as successful as possible in Europe. The current implementations are the most important right now. For the same reason, we don’t for the moment work actively to increase our number of members.

What would you like that everyone learned from this interview? 

That ITxPT isn’t rocket science, and that it has already been done in other industries. It is all about agreements and conventions between both competitors, suppliers and customers, where all come together to unite around standardized solutions for data communication. We move focus and competition from hardware- and system level to service level, where suppliers can deliver services to travelers, PTA:s and PTO:s instead of developing proprietary solutions for hardware as well as software. I would like for everyone to see ITxPT as an enabler of digitalization within public transport. 

Is there anything we missed that you would like to add?

It is important to state that ITxPT is an open organization that encompass IT suppliers, vehicle manufacturers, operators and authorities in the same organization, and that we are a collaborative community. It is important to know that it is founded on a modern, open and collaborative way of working cross country and company borders. 

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