Delivering Future Transport through Data

Posted by Jess Thorpe | 13-Jan-2021 15:37:48

Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, transport companies were each carving out a path to data maturity. Today, this journey has accelerated, with an unprecedented collapse in passenger numbers forcing a shift in strategy and speed of delivery.

Data leaders across road, rail and air convened virtually to explore the findings of new research by Cognizant and MuleSoft, in partnership with Nimbus Ninety, that explores what is driving data strategy across the UK transport sector.

Ronnie Abraham, Head of Manufacturing, Transport and Logistics at Cognizant, highlighted key findings from the whitepaper, Delivering Future Transport through Data . A bold vision is an essential starting point for change, and despite a tumultuous year, ambitious data strategies exist across transport, a sector that has until recently, been somewhat insulated from the degree of data-powered digital disruption experienced in other industries.

COVID-19 has certainly forced a refocusing and reprioritisation of strategy, yet the barriers to data modernisation are the same across modes; access to data, volumes and organisational structure.  Extracting data from legacy systems is fraught with challenge, whilst data is increasing in size and complexity, with non-traditional sources such as lidar, radar and high-definition video increasing. Getting real value out of data, once it's available, requires different ways of working across organisations and teams. 

The whitepaper highlights which aspects of transport are already data-driven, and where opportunities for innovation exist. There are five distinct dimensions of data maturity, with the first three stages, Quality, Accessibility and Availability, falling very much under the jurisdiction of the CIO to drive forward, with stages four and five, Insight and Literacy, requiring deep level attention from the business.

Data has been a critical weapon in managing the health crisis, ensuring the safety of the workforce, many of whom are frontline in transport and travel, and responding to new passenger expectations and behaviours. But what will travel and transport look like in a post-COVID-19 world? What have operators learnt from this crisis that will enable them to build a more resilient business? Data leaders from road, rail and air transport highlighted the following themes:



The crisis has transformed data culture almost overnight. The flaws in relying on historic data to make today’s business decisions has been deeply exposed by a pandemic that few had planned for. Whilst companies are still building architecture to fulfil their data vision, the culture has shifted in favour of data - and this is an opportunity not to be wasted. 

What does good data culture look like? It’s about trust. Being comfortable with making decisions with data direct from the source, rather than reproduced over slides, establishes where data has come from and enables people at all levels to challenge long-held assumptions about the business. Finding the right balance between governance and self-serve capability is key. Federated analysts or communities of experts across the business are the most common way to embed data culture across transport operations.

With traffic and travel drastically reduced, data has underpinned decisions about how to maintain operations whilst optimising costs. RPA and data intelligence tools have been critical in finding efficiencies and surfacing the answers to complex new business questions that arise as travel guidelines rapidly shift. At the same time, forward-looking operators are using this decreased period of demand as an opportunity to accelerate aspects of data strategy that would have previously taken months.



Making the right data sets available is critical but so is attention to quality, and how this is managed depends on the degree of data maturity. Centralised data and data science teams can assure data, but embedding trust in the data requires data champions within business units. This takes time, education and a strong change management focus.

To create the ‘Single Version of the Truth’, test with a simple question such as, “what's the cost of something?” to explore how the query is answered. Then create the right KPIs to drive data standards. Whilst challenging, the shift in mindset to a ‘what if’ simulation mentality, has contributed to an increased demand for and trust in data. Maintaining this trust however, requires a forensic focus on data quality.



Sharing data has accelerated and benefitted many industries as a result of the crisis. Transport companies are well versed in this to some extent, with standardised data shared regularly within modes, particularly air transport. 

Developing API and data governance is an important stage of data maturity, either to share data across the industry, between regional business units, or to bring in data from non-traditional external sources. Operators are exposing data and capability to APIs with benefits to network services, route management and people management.



Even with vaccine hopes riding high, the new world of travel and transport looks very different. Operators have to experiment to understand new attitudes to health and travel risk, and this is where data will differentiate. There will be new sources of data to consider, such as passenger temperature data or antibody test results, which need to be stored and managed.

Whilst 2020 has been a difficult year for travel, there is room for optimism. Rigid six-month programmes to implement change are no longer the norm. Operators have used this crisis to build resilience and flexibility, and this fundamental work will be vital in servicing the pent up demand for travel that could drive recovery in 2021. 


This event was held in partnership with Cognizant, a digital and technology solutions provider and consultancy.

Topics: Event reports

Written by Jess Thorpe

Jess leads on the research and content for Nimbus Ninety, searching out the latest trends and disruptions affecting our dynamic community of disruptive leaders.

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