The last mile to the future

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By Felix Faassen

The last mile to the future

Trucks and vans that travel the ‘last mile’ to the end customer are increasingly causing problems such as pollution, noise, traffic jams and unsafe situations on our streets. Business as usual is no longer an option: we need to make our distribution more efficient and sustainable, everyone agrees. But for better coordination, goods consolidation and route optimisation, we do need access to finely meshed and real-time data, throughout the entire chain.

Cities cover only three percent of the earth’s surface and house more than half of the world’s population. The United Nations even expects no less than 70 percent of the world’s population to live in cities by 2050. Combine these figures with the rapid rise of the digital economy, where consumers are increasingly ordering goods and services online and having them delivered to their homes, and the challenge for people’s living environment soon becomes obvious. There are several initiatives for sector-wide digital collaboration, where the challenge is to connect different data sources and systems. The good news is that a solution is within reach.

Smart city
Digitization and urbanisation are trends that inevitably lead to the smart city. Making appropriate policies is becoming increasingly complex and smart technological solutions are needed to tackle the problems we face. With technology and real-time data, we can make our cities more efficient and sustainable. The same goes for the traffic flow, which benefits not only residents, but also commuters and businesses.

There is no lack of initiatives. We set up environmental zones and window times, place sensors that monitor traffic flows and air quality and we innovate at the junctions of connectivity, mobility, logistics, energy and water. Cities, however, are complex and chaotic organisms that are not always synchronized and work in accordance with our data models. The finely meshed data we need to balance logistics and liveability optimally is available, but the many smart systems and solutions are often developed in isolation. An overarching model for linking all data sources is lacking: the smart city needs an operating system.

Smart City OS
We all know how our smartphones work: you have an operating system (the OS), for example Apple OS or Android, and on top of that all kinds of different apps run, which communicate with that operating system. The OS ties everything neatly together and ensures that you don’t have to be a programmer to get the applications working on your phone. We also need an operating system like that for the smart city: it ensures that geospatial datasets from all sources, sensors and logistics systems have a place where they can be connected to all other data. This creates an ecosystem of inexhaustible information that we can put to work in countless ways for a detailed digital insight into the physical world.

An open standard
To lay the foundation for such an OS, we developed the OpenTripModel (OTM), an open standard to promote real-time data exchange in the transport sector. The initiative gained support in recent years and even attracted the attention of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Works (IenW), which supported Simacan in publishing the model and making it suitable for the exchange of information from governments to the logistics sector. Via the OpenTripModel, (current) information about the use of physical space, time and equipment can be exchanged digitally. This includes planning information, routes, truck positions, window times, environmental zones and can even refer to the current traffic situation or other standards such as GS1.

This makes the real-time data sources of municipalities, provinces and road authorities available to a variety of carriers’ systems. The OTM provides traffic management systems with more up-to-date and better data from the logistics sector, and for the logistics sector the OTM enables them to obtain traffic management information in planning systems and on-board computers more easily and quickly. On 24 November the OTM was officially transferred to the Stichting Uniforme Transport Code. This means that the foundation will guarantee the further development and adoption and is now the management organisation of the OTM. This gives hope for the data exchange in the transport and adoption of the OTM as the OS and precondition for the smart city.

Such an open standard also ensures that existing investments made by carriers can retain their value. After all, the model only facilitates the contact points where data can be exchanged between all the different systems and is completely vendor-independent. A vendor-lockin can therefore never arise: the OTM forms the basis for digital logistics collaboration with any party or supplier, regardless of the technology they use. And that is where the magic begins. Then you can tie all that data together and start using it within all applications running on the OS. This could be Simacan’s own Transport Cloud, for example, but that is not necessary: the data can just as easily be added to companies’ own logistics solutions, which suddenly have many more data sources at their disposal and can thus help optimise logistics in much more detail.

The profit for the logistics sector
The profit for the inhabitants of our cities, which can be achieved with such a finely-meshed and real-time image of traffic, is invaluable. But also the transporters themselves can make a big impact in this way. Trucks that deliver on time mean satisfied customers. And this satisfaction only increases if hauliers can indicate exactly when they arrive. After all, it means that the customer does not have to be home all day to receive his parcel.

In addition, it’s also about cost savings. If real-time traffic information is linked to the planning systems, it means lower logistics costs. Carriers no longer have to take into account uncertain factors in the planning for which they would otherwise have to reserve extra time. The planning horizon can also be brought forward, allowing for shorter time on the load and more efficient distribution of volumes. If you can get the fleet to work seamlessly together, for example by transferring part of a load from a delayed vehicle to another vehicle that still has time left, this means lower costs.

In short: if the transport sector can work better together, because the data from partners’ systems can be easily integrated into their own systems, that means gains in time, money and environment. The possibilities are endless.