Transport for NSW: The Transport Digital Accelerator

By Stephanie Salter, Director, Transport Digital Accelerator

Stephanie Salter

Stephanie Salter

Establishing the Accelerator was a recommendation from industry during the 2016 Future Transport Summit. Transport for NSW invited industry to co-design the Future Transport Technology roadmap, outlining what technology and customer outcomes are the priority in the next 5 to 10 years. Its purpose was to enable Transport to innovate in the digital and technology space and better engage with Industry & start-ups.

Who’s Who at the Transport Digital Accelerator

  • I started at transport in 2017 to design and deliver the Accelerator as a Director
  • Brooke Knox started as Director of Partnerships in 2018
  • Chris Bennetts was the Executive Director & responsible for the funding & initial concept of the Accelerator

Transport for NSW are the architects of the first Government Transport accelerator model and our Accelerator is widely recognised as a model that delivers results. We facilitate direct collaboration between the public and private sectors, connecting teams from the NSW Transport cluster with industry, researchers, entrepreneurs and start-ups in the digital space.

TfNSW Accelerate

In the past when Transport for NSW procured products and services, there was a tendency to publish Requests for Proposals (RFP) or Requests for Quotes (RFQ) with a specific list of requirements. This restricted the ability for industry to come up with innovative solutions.

For this reason, we now use the Accelerator to help better define customer problems & collaborate with start-ups and industry to find the right solution. This allows us to collaborate to come up with ideas we hadn’t thought of and find new ways of solving complex problems.

We learned very early on that having senior leadership was critical for the success of the Accelerator. We are governed by the Innovation Leaders Panel, chaired by the Secretary of Transport, Rodd Staples & attended by Deputy Secretaries and senior executives across the Transport Cluster. It is this leadership that gives us permission to prototype, test and learn in a supportive environment. Their quick feedback is invaluable and ensures our work is aligned to our overall vision, customer needs, and priorities.  Without this type of support, innovation is virtually impossible.

At the Accelerator, we use human-centred design to first understand the problem we are trying to solve before coming up with concepts and prototypes that solve these problems. We are always negotiating the balance between customer needs, technology viability and business objectives. Each project we deliver proves that spending time to research these three things results in products launched into market with higher long-term success. By embedding the understanding of customer problems into our solutions, we are building products that meet a real need, rather than building products with technology…. for technology’s sake.

We have also published our human-centred design toolkit as a way to share our learning and encourage innovation across the sector.

We have had great success at the Transport Digital Accelerator due to a carefully crafted formula of People, Place, Process and Partners.

There are nine staff at the Accelerator. We have a mix of Service Designers, Innovation Program Managers & Partner Program staff. Our aim is to keep the team small and agile to allow for flexible and fast decision-making. We are empowered to run in an agile fashion, fail fast and learn, without negative implications. Our mission is to attract the best talent in industry. The opportunities are endless when you have a high-performing team motivated to deliver real change. Each staff member has a personal passion to make products and services better for customers of NSW public transport. This drive for change enables us to deliver quite a lot… with very little!

It was an intentional move to build the Accelerator space inside the Sydney Startup Hub. The building was established by NSW State government to encourage start-up jobs and growth. Physically working alongside diverse thinkers and emerging technology has greatly impacted our knowledge of the market & opened our thinking to new ways of working. It has also created new opportunities for smaller businesses to engage with a large government organisation as they have direct access to our team to discuss their business objectives and share innovative solutions.

We have also established a strong partnership programme which is delivering great outcomes for both Transport for NSW and our partners.

We have completed a number of trials/proof of concepts with our partners including:

  • Google Bus on Maps: a global first with Google to show bus occupancy in the Greater Sydney area, within Google Maps.
  • Co-development of enhancements to the Microsoft Soundscape App to enhance the travel experience for the vision impaired.
  • A trial with Cisco involving the installation of an IoT device to transmit real-time data. The project leverages IoT concepts to demonstrate how new data insights can be obtained through sensor fusion.
  • Co-development of a Customer Transport Simulator with PwC that provides a multi-modal simulation of customer journeys and network operations across the Sydney metropolitan region, allowing “what if?” analysis of potential future plans and scenarios.

TfNSW is in the process of completing trials with technology start-ups, including:

  • Hyper Anna – an AI data analyst tool that enables us to ask plain English questions about Transport data.
  • Building a decision support tool with Vizalytics Incorporated to provide train operators with greater insights into the occupancy of carriages to enable operators to make more informed decisions.

One of our most successful outputs from the Accelerator was the Mobility as a Service challenge. Following a three-month Accelerator programme to first understand the problem and frame an opportunity to market, we released the following Innovation Challenge: “How would you give customers optimal door-to-door mobility service options and seamless combinations for their situation, including the first and last mile?”

The Challenge has resulted in numerous collaboration projects between transport and wider industry. In particular, the following projects are currently in trial with both small start-ups and larger technology companies:

  • Tranzer by Sydney-based data analytics consultancy Lynxx is an app that allows you to plan, book and pay for all mobility options.
  • Whim by Helsinki-based Maas Global, covers all your journeys and provides a simple pay-as-you-go option for travel and provides a subscription model.
  • Uber is trialling new service offerings that link with the existing transport network.
  • Swiftfare Fleet is a local start-up that delivers a service to provide a booking platform and live vehicle tracking to transport operators (including regional and rural communities) to integrate easily with real-time apps and websites.
  • Skedgo is a Sydney-based start-up and a global leader as a MaaS enabler that will expand the number of transport options available for customers when planning their journeys.

In 2019 we hope to further grow our concierge service, creating a better front door for industry to engage with Transport & encourage innovation and growth within the sector.

Our partnership programme is also set to grow and deliver more innovative solutions out to market.

In addition, we are focusing our efforts in Regional NSW to help deliver better transport journeys aligned to customer needs.

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