Future of Freight Timeline
The world around us, our customers, their workforces, and their shipping customers is changing at an unprecedented pace. That's not to say the backlog of work needing to be done isn't deep and overwhelming, but the looming question is if we are prioritizing the right things—to enable adapting to the changing environment and to ensure our collective success within it. Today, when we order last-minute online consumer good, we expect it to arrive quickly and on-time. This new level of service is requiring multi-century-old industries to evolve more quickly than they believe they are able to.
To support our partners' evolving needs and growth goals, we must mature our innovation culture, company-wide—leveraging our Innovation Lab to clarify, align, and validate our strategic priorities across all of our business verticals.
To inform strategic decision-making, discovery and prioritization of new opportunities for GE Transportation, now a Wabtec Company, and our partners, we created the Future of Freight vision timeline tool—capturing global economic and social shifts, known technology trends, and more. The content distilled into this tool is a tactical summary of many detailed industry reports, years of field studies, and the subject matter expertise of employees within our businesses.
The vision timeline is:
· Insight into the future of the freight industry and a lens to discover emerging product and service opportunities;
· A living document, updated regularly with new knowledge;
· A north star to regularly revisit and align all leadership levels and teams around;
· Ongoing guidance for new product ideas and budget prioritization efforts; and
· Fuel for future customer innovation and partnership conversations.
No tool like this exists in the wild—particularly in the industries we serve.
2018 was the year the Innovation Lab helped to aggregate and culminate years of research into a series of alignment workshops, to give cross-customer and cross-market visibility to each business unit and product team.
These business units and customer partnerships include more than 30 co-creation projects around the world: end shipper ordering and tracking experiences for pickup, tracking, and delivery of goods; envisioning what an autonomous sorting yard of the future would look like, with the road-mapped technologies and operational changes it would require; exploring what the evolution of self-driving ships and trains will look like and the new opportunities to inform onboard controllers when some manual tasks become automated; oceanic port and trucking app projects, to coordinate traffic; network movement and congestion planning applications with deeper and more accurate predicting of future events;
These individual projects and concepts predicted each began informing pieces of a much larger vision of what our shared future could become.
Through our innovation cycles, we found that each of these business units and customers had their own vision of the future. We were having repetitive or hyper-specific conversations with overlapping visions and an underlying sense of gaps. We needed to collect these independent and partial visions into one chart, to create a single, shared vision to align around.
In late 2018, the Innovation Lab partnered with an strategy agency with deep expertise in adjacent industries like aviation and autonomous cars—to organize a workshop with product owners across our business units and at a variety of leadership levels. This workshop invited participants to explore the future of the freight industry, the types of markets and opportunities that exist. Everything we've been learning and coming to understand about our future operating environment and the volatile shifts around us have begun to be captured into a larger industry roadmap of change called the Future of Freight vision timeline.
This was an intentional strategic pivot from taking itemized product direction from customer ticket lists and sales requests, to looking ahead to guide a greater innovation strategy by asking how we, GE Transportation and our upcoming Wabtec partner, could and should fit into the future and inform near-term product roadmaps.
How we intend to use the vision timeline:
1. Observe, Value, and Prioritize Opportunities — from the perspectives of our customers and our own goals.
2. Define Scope, Dependencies, and Incremental Wins — including minimum, near-term value, and the long-term opportunity.
3. Determine Funding and Ownership — of projects themselves, but also supporting durable teams and common efforts and standards.
4. Understand How "You" Fit In — to see business/team/product commonalities and support our central vision.
We piloted this timeline as an opportunity discovery and strategic prioritization tool at an executive leadership meeting in December of 2018. In this workshop, product leads and business unit leaders used the timeline to discover new, forward-thinking business opportunities, back-cast dependencies, and generate more accurate rough-order-of-magnitude estimates of scope. We also identified gaps being ignored in resourcing today that could have prevented us from reaching our goal destinations. A set of new opportunities were prioritized to explore and advance in 2019.
To support our strategic priorities derived from the Future of Freight vision timeline, it will also be critical to see and support upstream dependencies— technology and other changes that must be implemented as well, to capitalize on an opportunity. Learn what other tools and technics we used to keep us the most updated, here. Hyper link
In parallel with the operationalizing of this tool, we partnered with Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to illustrate milestones within the vision timeline. The students created a virtual reality planning interface with a 3D, interactive map to support future planning stories in an immersive virtual reality demonstration. This VR experience shows what a future workplace may look like, the tools new planner may be using, how they may interact with one another, the data visualizations they may learn from, and the new value they could unlock.
A culture of innovation.
The Future of Freight vision timeline is now a critical cog within our greater innovation cycles. Through each independent project, we can continue to advance our industries with net new ideas, discovering and tapping into needs that aren't known yet, then using end-customer validation cycles to prove our concepts before funding new work-streams. We're regularly folding new learnings back into the vision timeline—a growing, maturing, and managed body of insights—to strengthen each new conversation and explorative concept we participate in.