In November 2014 I was lucky enough to be invited to Minsk to visit the IBA development centre. I visited with the Ovum analyst Peter Ryan, who was over from Canada and possibly not feeling quite as cold as I was, after arriving from the Brazilian summer.
One of the projects I remember most from that visit was the ticketing system for the Minsk public transport system. IBA designed a complete solution for the bus and metro network that would comprise the cards, the card readers, the recharging systems, and all the software needed to make the system function. It was far more than just a software project and really showed how companies need to approach business solutions rather than technical challenges.
But the most interesting thing about the public transport system was not how it was delivered; rather it was what could be learned after implementation. Suddenly Minsk City Authorities had access to information on every bus of metro ride taking place across the entire city. When, where, and how journeys were being made was suddenly all being recorded and could be analysed.
The reality was that the data created by the software and hardware system was probably worth more than the system itself.
I was reminded of this when I saw in Forbes that commuters in Stockholm, Sweden, will soon be able to access similar data on the travel patterns in their own city. With the data on Stockholm travel passing through a Big Data analysis engine, it should be possible for commuters to see what will be happening on the public transport system two hours in the future.
This ability to predict the future will allow customers to change behaviour and avoid hot spots. Naturally this will change the predictions, but the system will be able to revise predictions in real-time.
Some commuters have complained about the move away from paper tickets and cash payments, but when anonymised commuter data can be collected and analysed in this way, new benefits become clear. I know that I would love to be able to see how the transport system will look where I live, even just one hour in the future.
Companies with Big Data expertise and city governments have the power to make the life of commuters so much easier – let’s hope more cities copy the example of Stockholm and Minsk.