What’s in a name? I remember not being too bothered when Marathons became Snickers although I did prefer Opal Fruits to Starburst – neither really changed, apart from the name and packaging. I lined up against Mo Farah recently at the Great North Run and he has decided that now his track running career is over he will revert to Mohammed Farah, but he was still the same person. When I say “lined up against” I really mean that I also took part in the event but was about half a mile back at the start.
I have been thinking about the name/phrase/label “ITS” recently and how relevant it is now that we have things like Mobility as a Service (MaaS), Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV), Smart Cities and Intelligent Mobility. Does this signal the end of ITS?
I like to keep things simple and when I get thinking about something I keep on asking “But why?” – which used to drive my Mum mad. So when I thought about the “why” of ITS, I kept coming back to “managing the movement of people, goods and data” and doing so safely and ever more efficiently. It has to make a difference. That has worked for me for some years and I think it still holds true. The “what” comes after the “why”.
I was asked to explain what ITS “does” to our Company Chairman 10 or 15 years ago. I said we collect data (from wherever we can and that is an ever expanding source), then we work out what it is telling us about what has happened, what might happen and what we could do about it, and then finally we tell people. And that worked for him as he could see that’s how a set of traffic signals work and also how a complex control centre is able to provide useful information to many, many people through apps, websites and roadside signs. I often mull this one over to test whether it still holds true.
Sometimes the answer to what makes a difference doesn’t involve technology at all – it may be that people just need to talk to the right people, about the right things, at the right time.
So when I was taking some time out, running along a beach in Northumberland preparing for that run with Mo, I kept testing all this in my head, wondering whether ITS is still a relevant name for what we do. I concluded that yes it is. Using that simple “why” and “what” it seemed to me that we will continue to see new services, new technologies and new labels but the “why” and “what” will remain. It is a bit like a shop window where we might see a new display that is, say MaaS or Smart Cities, but inside the shop and the shelves are full of what we recognise as ITS. We might just use those familiar things in new or different ways.