Why you can't have smart mobility without comprehensive analytics

Whenever I participate in working groups at our Readiness Workshops, I usually hear a lot of conversation around data. But by itself, data is just a series of numbers. Smart cities use analytics to turn data into compelling stories.

We’re not talking about running a few queries. We’re talking about a comprehensive analytics strategy. Council Global Lead Partner SAS has put together a helpful primer as it relates to mobility, one of the top pain points of cities — inspired, in part, by her participation in a mobility session at our Readiness Workshop in Fairfax County, Virginia, last week. It serves as both a checklist and a motivator. Did you know traffic engineers can spend more than three-quarters of their days crunching data and preparing reports? Wouldn’t your city be better off if they were spending that time developing actual solutions? — Kevin Ebi


By Lee Ann Dietz, SAS

Like many communities, Fairfax County, Virginia, a community of more than 1 million residents, is developing a mobility strategy to ensure that the community continues to be livable, workable and sustainable. Meeting today’s varied transportation needs includes addressing:

  • First and last mile transportation
  • Congestion relief
  • Safety
  • Mobility needs of underserved populations, including the elderly and disabled

Smart cities and communities also want to consider these issues:

  • Helping citizens maintain a healthy lifestyle, and providing transportation options including pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure
  • Serving citizens who aren’t part of the connected economy, and focusing on residents with limited or no access to smart phones, credit and debit cards and access to the internet

It’s challenging and it’s complicated further by the proliferation of transportation modes and services: public transportation, taxis, shared mobility services and privately-owned vehicles. With the increase in connected vehicles and the acceleration of semiautonomous and autonomous vehicles, smart cities and communities must manage this mobility ecosystem or literally risk gridlock.

How do we move forward?
New and improved capabilities for addressing these challenges exist. Sensors on vehicles, crowd sourcing, data sharing and other apps provide streaming data in abundance to help understand on a near real-time basis what is happening on the roadways.

Increased computational power and connectivity coupled with streaming analytics capabilities (including artificial intelligence and machine learning) offer transportation agencies the means to analyze this data and push data-driven decisions to the “edge” to achieve better outcomes. Point technologies offering adaptive signal timing and phasing, HOV/HOT fare optimization, smart parking, to name a few, are offered today.

We need to connect the dots
But the problems faced in a complex transportation network require more than these unlinked point solutions which continue to generate information in silos and don’t consider the relationships between transportation issues. Moreover, many of these solutions stop at the city or county line. Smart cities and communities need a flexible data management and analytics platform, integrating data created by transportation networks and solutions in order to optimize them.

The benefits are clear. Transportation engineers spend an inordinate amount of time (up to 80%) preparing data. This cuts into the time they could have spent generating insights.

The appropriate analytics platform also provides insight to engineers and management, with functionality that enables easy-to-use self-service analytics as well as more complex forecasting, optimization and data mining capabilities. Finally, to be truly valuable, analytics models must be moved from development and testing into production transportation systems and processes. With the right foundation, this deployment can be seamlessly integrated and adopted within minutes.

Forward-thinking infrastructure and transportation agencies have recognized the need for this technology, data and analytics integration. Far more are pinning their hopes on off-the-shelf solutions and hoping that the integration will sort itself out later. A comprehensive smart mobility strategy includes a reliable, scalable and trustworthy analytics platform to bring these solutions and data together.