Dreamforce 2017 - “Government gets Uber-ed all the time”

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez November 6, 2017
Australian Minister for Transport and Infrastructure NSW discusses at Dreamforce how the department is using technology to keep up with changing demands.

NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Andrew Constance
NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Andrew Constance

Australia’s Transport for New South Wales (NSW), which includes the metropolitan and suburban areas of Sydney, is undergoing a technology and regulatory change driven program to ensure that cities in the region can benefit from the latest advancements in on-demand services and autonomous vehicles.

According to Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Andrew Constance, this is necessary because “government gets Ubered all the time”. Constance was speaking at Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce event in San Francisco this week, where he gave some insights into the changes that are happening within the department and the impact on citizens’ journeys.

The department is standardising on Salesforce platforms to drive many of the changes it is undertaking.

Part of NSW’s agenda has been to update regulations for point-to-point travel, which it saw as necessary to accommodate demand ride-sharing services, such as Uber. The new regulations have been introduced in a phased approach and focus heavily on passenger and driver safety, yet allow for disruptive new services to operate.

It was also recently reported that Uber was in talks with the New South Wales government to subsidise trips for Sydney residents between their homes and public transport hubs. An Uber spokesman said the plans for a partnership to “fill the gaps” in areas with limited public transport were “probably the most positive signs we’ve seen across Australia”.

Speaking today, Minister Constance said:

Government gets Uber-ed all the time. Uber operated in NSW for two years in breach of our passenger transport app. Two years. And so what we did, which was different, was that we reformed the entire point to point transport market. Hire cars. Buses. Taxis. Community transport. Ride Sharing.

And we have now laid a regulatory framework that will allow mobility as a service to work into the future. Even the taxi industry is now becoming innovative. By stripping out red tape, changing compliance, using technology, makes this change. We are only really getting started.

A demonstration was given at the Dreamforce discussion of some of the things that Transport for NSW is introducing to better its customers’ experience, using the Salesforce platform. One of which is the creation of a new messaging service called RITA (real-time, intelligent, transport assistant).

RITA uses Salesforce’s Einstein natural language processing engine to enable a chatbot that interacts with citizens that need advice about their journeys. This not only gives travellers recommendations for their journey based on the best route available using public transport, but it also recommends on-demand services offered by NSW. This also takes a huge load off of NSW’s customer service agents.

For those planning the network, the data collected is fed into the Salesforce IoT Cloud, where users can then monitor the movement of travellers throughout the network - whether that be by train, tram, ferry, bus or on-demand services. An enormous amount of data is now being collected to capture, analyse and take action.

For example, the NSW marketing team is now using this data for personalised journeys, which provide customers with notifications in the channels that they use the most. Einstein automatically optimises the communication and it can automatically detect sentiment, so if there’s anything negative, it automatically creates a case in Salesforce Service Cloud.

Bringing everyone with you

Minister Constance said that there is a recognition within Transport for NSW that the community needs to be treated as a customer. And there are plenty of changes happening in the technology industry that will further enable this. He said:

The reality is that transport is a technology business. And what we needed to do, was bring people with us. So the introduction of our travel card gave us all sorts of rich data. Many in the transport department didn’t even know what questions to ask when we started to get this done. Customers want a number of things - they want a personalised service, they want on demand services, they don’t want timetables.

And with the advent of mobility as a service, the advent of automation -autonomous vehicles are here. The reality is that they are here. We have got to make sure that we are well advanced. My aim is to make Transport for NSW the number one jurisdiction in the world for technology and transport.

NSW is also running eight major on-demand trials across suburban and metropolitan Sydney. However, the Minister is all too aware that establishing effective change isn’t often about the technology itself, but bringing the people within the organisation with you. And NSW has worked hard to ensure that this is the case. He said:

The big thing is that when we established our technology roadmap, we asked everybody in the department to contribute. It didn’t matter if it was a train guard, a bus driver, an executive within the agency, everyone had to input. Because to have cultural shift within the agency, everyone has got to shift with you.

One of the key challenges is that industry is full of engineers, not futurists. We’ve got to try and push that. Autonomous vehicles are going to change everything. We won’t have drivers licences, we won’t have accidents. We are going to see an enormous change and we we’ve got to make sure that government is not behind that process.

From a government perspective, you’ve got to take everyone in bureaucracy with you. We’ve got a skills deficiency in transport. So we are relying on partnerships. It’s really important to go and engage with your frontline staff on what technology can do for their lives.