IBM Sets Its Sights on Transportation Industry Efficiency

ARMONK, NY — IBM this week has released the latest in its industry frameworks series a set of software solutions focused on making individual sectors more efficient and less carbon-intensive.

The latest framework targets the transportation industries, specifically airline and railways, and seeks to streamline the industries' abilities to move large numbers of people and goods around the world with minimal delays and minimal waste.

There are five key features of the transportation framework, including:

• Modernizing reservation systems;
• Optimizing assets, whether aircraft, locomotives or shipping facilities;
• Improving operations and logistics

These two industries are ripe for increased efficiency, although for very different reasons. The airline industry is responsible for roughly 2 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, and has set a goal to reduce its CO2 emissions by half before 2050. Airlines and airports have also been testing a number of environmentally friendlier fuels and flight paths, as well as efforts to make airport operations more efficient.

On top of climate impacts, the recent explosion of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland had many travelers and some thinkers espousing the benefits of rail or non-airplane travel.

With passengers and companies shifting transit and shipping to rail -- rail travel is more energy-efficient than trucks, and passenger travel by train emits three to ten times less CO2 than car travel, according to IBM -- there will be an even greater demand for more efficient operations in the rail industry.

Among the new capabilities on offer from IBM's transportation framework are:

• Predictive maintenance, utilization and productivity of the train cars, tracks and equipment;
• Scheduling and dynamically rescheduling of trains' movements;
• Scheduling and optimizing assignment of crews to trains and staff to stations
• Surveillance of tracks and infrastructure

Over the past 20 years, IBM has created more than 20 frameworks for specific industries, and in a recent interview, IBM vice president for solutions and software John Soyring explained the three main drivers for singling out industries that are ripe for innovation, summed up thusly:

1) Is there a change coming, and a catalyst for that change?
2) Is the industry creating an open industry standard?
3) Is there an opportunity for IBM to bring value to their clients, and to make product sales in a market where they hadn't had much presence before?

Soyring specifically singled out transportation as one of the two biggest areas in need of an efficiency overhaul.

"If we can sync up when trains arrive and when buses depart and create a single pass to go on all those, it makes it much more attractive to take public transport and reduce the number of private vehicles on the road," he explained, citing the company's work in Singapore as an example. IBM has also applied its technology to Stockholm, Sweden's transit system, with impressive results: After six months of a pilot program, traffic in the city was down 18 percent, and public transit and bicycle use were climbing rapidly.

"One of the big themes across the industries [that IBM has developed frameworks for] is a transformation from being reactive to being proactive," Soyring said. "Fix it before it breaks by predicting when it's going to break."

The IBM industry framework, then, offers a kind of blueprint for companies that want to boost their efficiency.

"There's a methodology called pattern technology -- it's observing and saying that, for the most successful projects, are the people in the projects using the same technologies or processes?" Soyring said. "Basically, that's what we've been doing for industry -- we've been looking for those patterns and then we write them a prescription. 'Take those products and prescriptions and put them in place this way.'"

More information about IBM's transportation industry framework is online at IBM.com.

Train photo CC-licensed by Flickr user Mike Snell.