At the Collision Conference that took place this month in New Orleans, we heard topics ranging from the future of marketing, what we can do to increase cyber security, what venture capital looked like this year compared to last, and more. A few sessions stuck out to me because of their extreme relevance now and in the very near future – one with Ryan Popple of Proterra on autonomous and electric buses and one with Jamie Miller, CEO of GE Transportation regarding how the rail system is becoming smarter.

Previously the SVP and CIO of GE, Miller stepped into the CEO position of GE Transportation in late 2015. Well-versed in strategy and operations, she believes that “both industrial products and digital solutions are equally important.” That sentiment rang true in the discussion at Collision.

Sensors and nodes are everywhere in our transportation ecosystem, all around a train and its environment, gathering an unprecedented amount of data that allows us to establish a vision about how freight transport can be fundamentally rethought. This allows us to make trains run faster, more reliably and in more predictable ways.

For future-forward industrial companies, monitoring data isn’t a new science. The difference is that with a more mature IoT infrastructure and increased mobile capabilities, the volume and variety of data have increased allowing them to look at it in new ways. To put that in perspective, GE monitors 17,000 locomotives in 23 countries from one location in the U.S.

What the increase in data sophistication allows for is real-world improvements. In rail, one of the largest costs they incur is the asset or locomotive. If that asset isn’t running, it’s costing revenue. Using data, rail operators can predict mechanical failure and even avoid it through preventative maintenance processes. This enables them to more simply schedule time in repair appointments based on the severity of the issue. They can also see what exact part needs to be repaired so that only the affected components are worked on. This process decreased dwell time, or amount of time the asset sits idle, by 50 percent for GE.

The digital railroad or the intersection of hardware (the locomotive) and software (each of the systems collecting and drawing insights from the locomotive) allows operators to leverage their assets more efficiently, with better turnaround time, more reliably and more predictably.

This application isn’t only true for rail. It could just as easily be digital aviation, digital trucking, digital maritime. This is why data analytics is critical to the future of how people and things move.

Check back for next week’s blog, where we’ll cover what we heard from Proterra at Collision.

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