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The digital journey ahead for the transportation industry


I was excited to host the airlines and transportation industry panel at Knowledge18 this year, as this is a sector that is showing such a progressive and expansive level of digital services adoption. The session itself was entitled ‘Modernization and transformation of services in transportation and speakers included: Dean Underwood, head of technology services for Virgin Trains Andy Lawrence, head of production services at Maersk and Paul McDonald, head of technical operations centre for Emirates Airlines.

We started off by asking our panel about the trends now affecting their approach to Customer Service Management (CSM).

Detailing the work carried out at Virgin Trains, Dean Underwood explained how his team has worked hard to swap out existing CSM legacy systems and embrace digital services throughout every tier of his organization. As a Virgin brand, Virgin Trains has very high expectations of itself when it comes to CSM, so process excellence is paramount.

Explaining how Maersk has deployed a number of ServiceNow modules, Andy Lawrence said that a lot of disruption is happening in the shipping industry due to container services now being carried out in a market where rapidly changing customer demand can be much harder to predict.

Emirates Airlines’ Paul McDonald spoke of moving 59 million passengers in 2017 and said that this – on paper at least – makes it very difficult to completely personalize a customer experience.

For all these companies, the central theme reflected was that their relationships with IT providers – and all other value-chain suppliers they operate with – must now move from being ‘black boxes’ of silo-based systems, into a new era of ‘glass box’-powered information streams, where visibility and management is maximized.

A question of intelligence

Questioning how integration and intelligence technologies will now impact the transportation industry, our speakers looked at where advances in areas including machine learning will change the way their firms operate.

With four million containers being shipped around the planet, supply chain management is also undergoing digital transformation. Maersk is increasing its number of new ‘intelligent containers’ with sensors and other IoT device enhancements. Shipping ISO containers can be likened to a massive game of Tetris, so if machine learning can lead to operations being carried with a smaller number of moves then a greater level of efficiency is achieved. 

Similarly, in train management there is a massive management task involved in daily operations. Live data from customer seat purchases must be integrated with schedules, journeys currently in progress and other core operational factors in this always-on business.

We can also now look to new strains of data such as crowdsourced information from passengers themselves who, where they are willing to share the information, can help with train coach load monitoring.

Emirates Airlines is also changing the way it carries out flight team checks. The company is looking at how it can start to incorporate the use of drones to complement (not replace) the human inspections that are performed before every flight.

Other areas of technology implementation in the transportation industry include Business Incident Management (BIM). All three speakers recognized the need to keep people safe as the primary consideration throughout the transportation industry’s many channels.

If we think about the associated and ancillary functions that every company in the transportation industry will have to manage, such as payment, we have a responsibility to use technology to manage these elements of business and intelligently automate via machine learning them where possible. When we can do this successfully, transport companies can focus on transportation – not on paperwork and logistics.

The digital journey ahead for transport

Looking at the digital transformation journey ahead, all three speakers recognized the need for strong governance controls in environments where they will also have to apply the strongest change management functions possible to cope with constant demands and always-on performance.

Digital transformation its workflow is essentially connected to a fully-integrated backend. ServiceNow’s role in helping to facilitate and underpin the operations running these new digital transportation and supply chain management services is almost one of ‘gatekeeper’, in that we provide the intelligence to enable these firms to keep running.

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