‘Leadership Circle’ brings together transportation, tech visionaries

Posted on November 6, 2013 by Scott Belcher - Also by this author

At ITS America, we are all about using technology to solve America’s transportation challenges. As federal and state budgets shrink, traffic gets worse and our roads and bridges continue getting older, we decided it was time to rethink how we address our nation’s transportation goals for the future.

Out of this thinking, we created the ITS America Leadership Circle. This unique group brings together transportation and technology visionaries from the public, private, and academic sectors as thought leaders on behalf of ITS America and the broader transportation community.

Led by Dr. Peter Sweatman, director, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, we convened a two-day forum in Berkeley, Calif., this past August to focus on an in-depth exploration of the shared transportation ecosystem in which every one of us is engaged.

The mandate at the beginning of this forum was to be open, willing to take risks and think freely, and from the beginning, it was the type of conversation that you wouldn’t normally hear. The typical barriers and silos that exist between private and public sector officials immediately fell away and within minutes, collaboration and disruptive thinking were underway.

From this meeting, the ITS America Leadership Circle released its second forum report in October, entitled, "Creative Disruption: Exploring Innovation in Transportation," which I encourage you to read as it lays the foundation for breaking down existing marketplace barriers that are keeping the ITS floodgates closed.

The report captures the insights and key takeaways from the forum, which included sessions on creative destruction, disruptive technologies, urban mobility, industry trends, big data challenges, connected vehicles, and infrastructure and emerging freight network needs.

The report discusses the latest innovations and the evolving role of the transportation technology ecosystem, but we concentrate on the necessity for developing new problem-solving business models that will accelerate investment in ITS technologies. The Leadership Circle set its focus for 2014 on three major areas that are essential to our nation’s ITS future: connected vehicles, data collection and the national freight system.

Connected vehicles are on the cusp of being a national reality. Later this year the U.S. Department of Transportation is set to make an important decision about the future of connected vehicles, widely seen as the next major breakthrough in vehicle and pedestrian safety. While most of the research and regulations have been focused on the Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) component, the Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) component will be critical to growing the system to its true potential. We are currently working on a strong business case to move infrastructure deployment forward by using a start-up business model approach that will have great potential for return-on-investment.

Another area that the Leadership Circle will take a hard look at is data collection. There are many governmental bodies, institutions and companies that are collecting large amounts of data, but it’s an expensive process, and in many cases, there is no access to it for the transportation community because it is proprietary information. With modern computing power, however, there is huge potential for using large amounts of data to solve our existing transportation problems and accelerate the process to improve safety and efficiency on our roadways.

The Leadership Circle is proposing a standardized national database that will provide information to the transportation ecosystem at less cost to the private sector, public agencies and university researchers. Think of the innovation that could be generated from this collective body of knowledge, and as the old adage says, “knowledge is power.” The Leadership Circle plans to work collaboratively with agencies and others to release that data and begin the framework for a universally accepted and united data structure.

Finally, the Leadership Circle plans to target the commercial vehicle industry to roll out ITS technologies that will improve safety, congestion and efficiency. We believe this area is ripe for new technology-based solutions and, quite frankly, it has the potential for the most immediate cost-savings for operators coupled with a high return-on-investment for prospective investors. From our standpoint, commercial vehicles are an obvious choice for introducing connected vehicle and other safety and efficiency-based technologies that will reduce the congestion.

We have our work cut out for us. We are being deliberately ambitious. But, one of the most important truths in business is successful leadership isn’t about having a monopoly on great ideas. It’s about fostering an environment such as the Leadership Circle, in which great ideas can surface.

David St. Amant, president and chief operating officer of Econolite Group Inc., said the diversity of the group will be a key to its success.

“The expertise is coming from very diverse places. We’re talking about public sector versus private sector,” he added. “We’ve got academia there at the table. We’ve got small business, big business. We’ve got new innovators in the business and all of these conversations coming together; it’s absolutely changing the landscape.”

After witnessing the early stages of the Leadership Circle, I’m confident we’re on the road to success. If you would like to learn about ITS America and get more involved in shaping the future of transportation, visit our website at www.itsa.org.

About the author: Scott F. Belcher was appointed president/CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America in September 2007 after a successful legal and nonprofit management career, including more than 20 years of private and public sector experience in Washington, D.C. He holds a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia, a Master of Public Policy from Georgetown University, and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Redlands.

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