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Johannesburg, South Africa, 2016
By Harry van Huyssteen, Custodian: Transport Forum at T-Systems South Africa
 Big Data could help to solve SA’s public transport woes
 It has four key applications: planning commuter networks, predictive analytics, responding to events, and personalising experiences
 By starting small, surfacing basic information, we could evolve in scope and sophistication

In the field of public transport, South Africa is battling some unique challenges: the legacies of historical urban planning programmes, complex inter-relationships of formal and informal travel systems, fragmented and disconnected bus, train and taxi networks, and a middle-class stubbornly insistent on using private cars.
Overcoming these challenges is proving to be a slow and painstaking journey; but it’s one that could certainly be accelerated by smartly applying technology.
Big Data, in particular, has the potential to ease the transit flows for millions of daily commuters, and unlock huge economic value.
In fact, there are four key areas in which Big Data can be applied to SA’s public transport:
• Planning urban commuter networks… geolocation technology can reveal essential information on where people are, where they’re going, how long it is taking them, and so on. With this information at your fingertips, it's possible to plan public transit systems that match customer needs. Detailed information reveals insights at a very granular level – like the number of train carriages required at certain times of the day – to ensure the optimal allocation of resources.

• Predictive analytics/maintenance… Sensors embedded in physical equipment stream data back to a central hub, giving authorities insights into key metrics – such as commuter volumes at certain times of the day, or average waiting times. On physical equipment, maintenance-oriented sensors give us an early warning of when components are likely to malfunction – improving uptime and reducing the chances that commuters are left stranded.

• Responding to events... Data-gathering becomes highly-useful when responding to accidents or incidents. Alerts can be automatically dispatched to police and emergency services, who can speed up the process of clearing the incident and get traffic moving once again. Alternative routes can be suggested to travellers via mobile alerts, or digital signage, for instance.

• Personalised service… Though public transport has traditionally been a not-for-profit service rather than a revenue-generating endeavour, tailored digital marketing is an opportunity for operators to grow new revenue streams. As Big Data enables a sharper understanding of one’s customers, information alerts can be targeted at only those who would need to know about a specific issue (rather than bulk SMSes to a broad database of commuters).
For South Africa, the opportunities we find in each of these four areas may not exactly follow the case studies and examples from other parts of the world. But there are certainly some ‘quick wins’ that could be achieved. Imagine, for example, a taxi system that uses basic sensors, linked to an SMS platform, to keep commuters updated.
For the time being, we need to get to this ‘first level’ of Big Data maturity: simply surfacing information and presenting it to those who need to know. In the taxi example, this could result in fewer people arriving late for work each day (one of the most basic, most persistent problems with our informal transport networks).
In a similar way, rail and bus operators could begin their journey with sensor technology and Big Data analysis for just those most pressing issues… the components that fail most often, or those that take the longest to fix and cause the most disruption to customers.
With some of these basics ‘in play’, we could then turn our attention to the higher-level issues that Big Data could solve, such as pulling together schedules and real-time data from various public transport operators – busses, taxis, trains, ride sharing, car-pooling, and more – to present commuters with an integrated view of transit networks.
As businesses, we’ve certainly bought into the benefits of Big Data, for understanding our customers’ needs and tailoring our offerings. But in the realm of public transport, we’ve been slower to see the potential for Big Data in improving the daily commute for millions of South Africans.
With the decades-long flock of people from rural to urban centres continuing, and congestion levels in major metros reaching epic proportions, the reality is that we have to swiftly and decisively start finding solutions.
Big Data is central to finding strategies that work, to address our unique transport challenges.

T-Systems in South Africa:

Communications Specialist
Thamsanqa Malinga
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 +27(11)2547400 (Phone)
+27(0)810138430 (Mobile)
About Deutsche Telekom

Deutsche Telekom is one of the world’s leading integrated telecommunications companies with around 151 million mobile customers, 30 million fixed-network lines and more than 17 million broadband lines (as of December 31, 2014). The Group provides fixed network, mobile communications, Internet and IPTV products and services for consumers and ICT solutions for business customers and corporate customers. Deutsche Telekom is present in more than 50 countries and has approximately 228,000 employees worldwide. The Group generated revenues of EUR 62.7 billion in the 2014 financial year – more than 60 percent of it outside Germany.
About T-Systems

Deutsche Telekom considers the European business customer segment a strategic growth area. Deutsche Telekom offers small, medium-sized and multinational companies ICT solutions for an increasingly complex digital world. In addition to services from the cloud, the range of services is centred around M2M and security solutions, complementary mobile communications and fixed network products, and solutions for virtual collaboration and IT platforms, all of which forms the basis for our customers' digital business models.
With approximately 47,800 employees worldwide, T-Systems generated revenue of around EUR 8,6 billion in the 2014 financial year.
Since the inception of T-Systems in South Africa in 1997, the company has cemented its position as one of the most successful T-Systems companies outside of Europe. A leading ICT outsourcing service provider locally, T-Systems offers end-to-end ICT solutions in both the ICT Operations and Systems Integration markets. Their extensive portfolio of services covers the vertical, horizontal, IT and TC space. T-Systems South Africa’s head office is located in Midrand with another major office in Cape Town, and 20 further representative offices in locations throughout southern Africa.