Recent technology advancements have given rise to transportation innovations such as ridesharing, drone delivery, and self-driving cars. With each breakthrough comes a natural application to the citizen service work of governments. Ridesharing, carsharing, and bike-sharing, for example, intuitively fit within transportation, public works, and economic development plans. These touch on a region’s connectivity and accessibility. Drones can supplement or boost public safety services by delivering defibrillators faster to remote areas. Certain cars on roads today can communicate with surrounding infrastructure, such as with Audis “talking” to traffic lights in major metropolitan areas. This links traffic management systems to actual drivers with real-time data.
The challenge before governments is how to keep up with the speed of change, while safely incorporating new technologies and operational insights into their existing framework and processes. Governments are inherently risk-averse, and the speed of private innovation can be impractical for government agencies. This is particularly true in the area of infrastructure, which demands a more measured consistency.
Challenge Equals Opportunity
The good news is that this challenge presents an exciting opportunity for transportation departments to modernize. Data can positively impact these departments in the following ways:
1. Shift from Analog to Digital Assets
Adopting cloud-based systems along with a cultural mindset that includes data as a strategic asset holds many benefits for agencies. This shift allows governments to connect across departments and jurisdictions for streamlined workflows. It eliminates information gatekeepers and provides convenient self-service access to accurate data. Single-purpose, siloed tools hinder the connections that can provide efficiencies and insight. Moving to the cloud provides new opportunity for scale, speed, and cost savings that on-site, labor-intensive servers cannot provide. It also offers opportunities for increased security – an element of increasing importance with new cyberthreats coming to light each day.
2. New Core Competencies
Evolving human capital requirements include data literacy. In a context of retiring Baby Boomers and incoming millennials, this is a positive development. Opportunities exist to upskill all staff on accessing and using data. In a move from traditional operations to data-based decision making, data is not an IT-only function. All staff should be able to access and interpret data. This ability bridges staffing gaps and appeals to an incoming workforce that has aligned skill sets and is used to the speed and agility a data-driven enterprise enjoys.
3. Resource Savings
Simply put, data produces efficiencies in time and accompanying cost savings. In transportation, costly field studies and limited data sets can evolve to real-time analysis and “what-if” scenarios. Automation replaces the hundreds of staff hours spent on reports and progress measurement. Departments save both time and money when staff time can be reallocated to higher-level strategic priorities. In addition, working from static, stale information is replaced with real-time access to performance data. This enables mid-stream shifts and smarter resource allocation.
4. More Accurate Decisions
Data-driven decision making empowers employees to collaborate and innovate. When managers and font-line employees are connected through a central source of data truth, proactive, fact-based decisions replace reactive, inertia- and anecdote-based ones. Once-siloed departments benefit from multidisciplinary cooperation.
5. Public-Private Synergy
Enhanced relationships with the public and industry partners happen when departments provide external access to their data in consumable, contextual ways. This leads to a public perception based on fact and empowers and engages citizens. Actionable data allows private partners to innovate to solve problems in mutually-beneficial ways.
6. Economic Opportunity
When transportation departments adopt a data-centric context, government shifts to a more proactive role as an ecosystem enabler. Instead of limited public funding and a heavy reliance on federal support, data can facilitate public-private partnerships. In these partnerships, the department is a platform that enables progress, not the sole solution provider. In other words, rather than remaining a “vending machine” of services, transportation departments can monetize data and facilitate innovation.
While the data revolution can seem at odds with the pace of physical infrastructure development and the need for careful planning and consistency, the use of data can move the needle in transportation departments in beneficial ways. In the digital era, a strong digital infrastructure is just as important as government’s physical infrastructure. Modernizing transportation by attending to the digital infrastructure and adjusting internal culture accordingly will improve results – for the departments themselves as well as for the communities they serve.
Meredith Trimble is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a former municipal official and Town Council Acting Chair, who focused on strategic planning, annual budgeting, and bonded infrastructure projects. Her government experience also includes posts in both federal and state-level executive branch agencies: Associate Editor of the U.S. Federal Election Commission’s FEC Record; and Director of Education for the CT Office of State Ethics. In her current role as a Senior Content Specialist with Tyler Technologies, Inc., she writes content to help empower those who serve the public. You can read her posts here.