Q&A with David Pickeral, Smart and Connected Transportation Industry Expert

Can you walk us through a bit of your background and how you came to be an expert in smart and connected transportation?

It’s evolved over 30 years, really. I started out in the Navy doing military logistics transporting ordnance and hazmat. After I got out of the Navy in 1993, I went to law school, and my first civilian job was for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. That was the real clincher that got me into transportation, and I’ve been in some species of urban transportation ever since.

I practiced law for a couple years in the government and a couple years in the private sector, then landed at the intersection of technology and transportation while working in IT/ICT for what was then Bell Atlantic, now Verizon Telecommunications. In 1999 I got an offer from Booz Allen Hamilton. While I never intended to stop being a lawyer, they wanted me to give consulting a try because of my military background and management experience. I ended up staying there for 10 years, co-founded their smart transportation practice, and evolved into what I am now – a business practitioner and strategist related to smart transportation. After Booz, I spent a little over a year at ICF International working on developing their airport and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) practice, and then led IBM’s global smart transportation business under their Smart Cities brand for five years until 2015.

How would you describe your current role in the industry?

For the past year and a half I’ve been doing private consulting, advising the investment community around the world, and working with about a half dozen startups dealing with things from smart cities and smart transportation to connected cars and vehicles. I’m watching the industry, and have been waiting for the convergence in intelligent transportation and smart cities that we see happening right now, which I call the “execution phase.” When I was at the 96th annual TRB Conference in Washington last week, it was really clear that amidst changing political systems domestically and internationally, there’s a new spirit of entrepreneurship and the desire to do new and different things – including public/private partnerships (PPP/P3). The floodgates have opened, and there’s going to be a tremendous amount of technological and societal change in smarter transportation and smarter cities together.
Smart CIties
What do you think has been the most significant change in the transportation sector that has set the pace of technologies and innovations to come for the next decade?

The real catalyst for change is not technology, but a fundamental shift in societal thinking. Especially in younger generations, the car is seen as a hassle instead of a source of freedom. We’re moving from a transportation asset environment to a mobility environment, and that change is being fed by what people today want. They’re looking for journey-by-journey planning based on any number of factors – the weather, their mood, what they’re carrying, who they’re taking with them. When it comes to transportation, they just want the easiest way to get it, pay for it, and go, instead of being tied to a car and searching for parking. We’re seeing this shift to a mobility focus all around the world. Densely populated cities in China, for instance, are looking at whether it’s really practical to build a bunch of superhighways like America or Europe did, versus developing better mobility options.

Right now it’s still in the app phase with Uber and Waze, which are using a lot of social data and crowdsourcing, but the focus of technology will evolve into larger scale IoT environments. Ridership and usage data will be captured from all over the place, stored in the cloud, and then consolidated, analyzed, and anonymized.

Conversely, what are the gaps that remain to be filled?

While we have a lot of government policies and officials saying that we need smarter cities and need to make transportation more accessible, many states still have very old style procurement models. It’s hard to buy mobility as a service when your procurement model is geared toward only physical infrastructure—pouring concrete and erecting steel—rather than the digital assets that will make these things smart. And that’s a chronic problem that they’re trying to overcome. On the technological development side, the problem is sort of the reverse. Technologists are pouring tons of money into research and development, and creating a lot of cool technologies without looking at the real needs of the population this technology will ultimately serve. Everyone has a “disruptive technology” these days, but how do you monetize and make it useful for someone?

Now, the rubber has to meet the road––literally––and both sides need to step into public-private partnerships. The government needs more rapid decision-making and to buy technology in a transparent way for public procurement, while tech players need to develop scalable, replicable, and extremely reliable systems that truly deliver value. There has to be a sustainable, executable business model for both public and private participants to actually get things done. And I think this could start happening at scale in 2017 because the technology is now real enough, and the governments are saying they’ve figured out how to work with these businesses.

What’s something new in the world of smart transportation you’re excited about?

The thing I find the most exciting is the idea that every person will be able to have a cache of secure personal data and data-enabled mobility that almost follows them around – in a good way. Instead of buying a car, people will be able to use shared cars, make payments, and move seamlessly across mobility with their own content and preferences. It is essentially global technology, scaled right down to the needs of the individual person. You see a lot of movies set in the future where someone runs out of a building to a line of parked pods, jumps into one of the pods, scans their thumbprint, and goes. That’s the general idea – you’ll be able to go anywhere, easily. People will be securely identified using biometrics, and can jump on the metro, into a shared car, onto a bike, pay a toll, and so on. Mobility will be transparent, whether you’re going across the Bay Bridge or across the ocean. Even passports, driver’s licenses, and other documents will become obsolete. It will be safer, secure, seamless, and more transparent. That revolution is pretty exciting and a lot closer, at least technologically, than people think.
What issues do you find are top of mind for your clients and partners as they take on 2017?

For the last couple of years, since the economy has been taking off around the world, investors have been comfortable with the idea of creating new technology – from apps to AI to analytics to IoT. Now, investors and the public are in sync – we actually need to start seeing this do something. The beta tests are over, the pilots are over, we need to see these technologies doing stuff on the ground. It’s a legitimate concern, but I think the people who are smart will turn that into an opportunity. It will take big government and big industry to really engage with entrepreneurial companies and do things that are executable. A perfect example is Google and what they’re doing with Waymo. Since Google has grown to be so large, spinning off Google X into Waymo to give it more autonomy and have it operate more like an independent startup is a good tactic. We’ve gone from the trend of seeing tons of acquisitions to now seeing more focused business units and spin offs that can actually get things done in an entrepreneurial way.

Are there any companies you think are ahead of the curve already or are simply a good role model for other companies in the industry?

Like I mentioned, I think Google and Waymo are a good position for the big companies to take. I’m also a big fan of Tesla – Elon Musk is going to be remembered as a big innovator of this century. He’s doing the end-to-end package, from software to hardware to analytics, and I think he’ll change the automotive industry. On a smaller scale, I’ve been impressed by a company in Australia called Localift. They’re tapping into real communities (schools, towns, neighborhoods, etc.) and developing a network of ridesharing based on trust, as opposed to hailing an Uber or Lyft from a stranger. I think that concept makes sense for a lot of people who just want to get around town or get their kids to soccer practice in their own communities, not fly all over the world and use the same app in dozens of different cities.

How do you see you see the industry transforming in the next five years?

The next wave of transformation in transportation will be Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). Personal transportation used to be about distinctive styling and the specific brand of your own vehicle. However, cars are going to eventually be like elevators or taxi cabs – you take the next one that shows up and don’t care who makes it as long as it’s reliable and clean—and it is the sharecar and other fleet operators that will become the customers for the vehicle manufacturers. The differentiator for consumers is no longer going to be the product (a car), but it’ll be more about a service. The PTV Group is one of the pioneers in this – they just recently announced a new product suite of component technologies for planning MaaS operations. Many of the big players in automotive are also making moves (BMW has ReachNow, GM has Maven, Daimler has car2go), so that evolution has already started, and is going to progress significantly within the next five years.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone who wants to break into the industry?

The classic piece of advice I give to business students is that technology is good and necessary, but it’s just the start. Technology is the known value in our industry’s equation. If you want to be an innovator, you have to understand what implementing that technology is doing in a larger sense. Pick a specialty you want to go into in the area of smart transportation, but then understand the broader technological, economic, social, policy, regulatory and operational implications of what you want to do, and develop a holistic set of knowledge that will let you apply it.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward

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