IT/OT convergence and the future of transportation

Is the integration of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) imperative to the future of the transit industry?

In a recent survey of railway operators by ABB and Microsoft, more than 200 respondents from around the world confirmed what many such as I have suspected: asset management is becoming increasingly important in helping transportation organizations meet their financial and operational goals. With the pressures to improve safety and reduce costs, some 88 percent of those surveyed identified asset management as a priority, and two-thirds believe it has become more important over the last 12 months.

Furthermore, the expanding availability of sensors adding intelligence to geographically distributed assets has increased the importance of integrating IT and OT to improve asset management. As part of the digitalization era we are also seeing new protection and control devices for railway applications launched in the market that are compliant with the same global communication standard that’s used within digital substations, where primary equipment (OT) is easily connected with IT. More than 75 percent of survey respondents believe that IT/ OT integration would be valuable in improving the connection of disciplines across the enterprise. And, they believed that it would provide additional benefits, including improved safety, increased reliability, better use of capital, more efficient operations and maintenance, increased staff productivity, better visibility across the organization and improved long-term planning.

Interestingly, a majority of those surveyed (60 percent) see asset management as more than just a tool for avoiding excess operational expenditures; they see it as a means to improve long-term planning for capital expenditures. By integrating IT and OT applications, rail organizations can have greater visibility not only into the age of assets, but their condition, as well as type and intensity of use. Therefore, they have more up-to-date information to guide long-term asset replacement planning.

This phenomenon isn’t isolated to the rail industry. As the survey revealed, transit operators (bus, metro, light rail and commuter rail) all have public safety as one of the main tenets of their organizational mission statements, so a strong asset management program is imperative. This may be even more imperative with the increase in e-mobility devices (e-buses, e-bikes, e-scooters, plug-in electric vehicles, etc.) in transportation – especially e-buses. According to a recent Navigant Research report, overall global revenue for e-mobility devices is expected to grow from $25.6 billion in 2016 to $62.2 billion by 2025. And, electric buses are poised to become the highest revenue-producing e-mobility technology within the next five years.

If you are in the transit industry, are you looking into e-buses? How long do you think it will be before asset management programs supported by IT/OT integration are imperative for these assets as well? When that happens, will you simply fine tune the asset management system you already have, or are you going to look outside for a new tool?

Let me know your answers to these questions in the comments below. Or, if you’re going to be at InnoTrans, come by ABB’s booth (Hall 9 / 310), and we can discuss it in person. I hope to see you there!

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About the author

Thierry Lassus

I work as Head of ABB’s Sustainable Public Transportation initiative ( Rail, Road, Water) and Managing Director of ABB’s Sécheron in Geneva. I joined ABB in 1999 and have held various positions within the company . I have a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Nottingham University and ESIEE as well as a Business Academy degree. At ABB we have always been at the forefront of developing state-of-the-art and cost-efficient solutions that meet our customers’ needs and enable a greener future for all and I am pleased to contribute to this vision.
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