The world around us, our customers, their workforces, and their shipping customers is changing at an unprecedented pace. We're all doing our best to keep up and to race ahead, but the reiterated pain from our partners and their customers is that of uncertainty in what to work on next. 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. Within freight and transportation industries, there are many carriers and contributors, including railroads, seafaring vessels, ports, trucks, distribution centers, and other partners who support the global movement of goods. 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. Our culture needs to inspire, guide and support our partners' culture and initiatives.
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.
Synthesizing with TEAGUECapturing insights from previous workshops.
Organizing InformationMapping insights captured along a timeline.
Timeline DevelopmentBuilding the Future of Freight vision timeline.
Future of Freight Vision TimelineA timeline visual including eras of innovation, trends, technologies being created and emerging opportunities.
December 2018 WorkshopFacilitator explaining the vision timeline developed.
Teams Doing ActivitiesWorking in teams to identify and scope new opportunities.
2019 PrioritiesPrioritizing the opportunities to work on in 2019.
First SCAD PartnershipShowcasing Ross in virtual reality to our executives.
Second SCAD PartnershipShowcasing the future workplace and displays for dispatchers.
Revised Innovation ProcessMoving forward every engagement insights and solutions will fold into the Future of Freight vision timeline to make sure we are continuously aligned and keep enhancing it. Thus making this timeline a living and growing body of work.
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. Since 2016, we've been shadowing customers across modes and nodes, hosting innovation workshops across customers and business units, creating and validating proof-of-concept new products, evaluating and advancing existing products, and helping to build out a centralized design system to unify and improve the end-user experience across our product catalog.
These business unit 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 roadmapped 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; new customer service models, as technological and operational changes are adopted; and new visualizations of rich historical, real-time, and forecast data with remote team collaboration tools. 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.
"Our collective ability to realize a positive future depends on our collective ability to imagine it." — from Stuart Candy's TEDxChristchurch talk, Whose future is this?
In late 2018, the Innovation Lab partnered with TEAGUE—a Seattle-based 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, backcast 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. Our 2019 priorities reveal multiple, shared dependencies. It may often be the case a dependency itself is not an opportunity, but investing in it may unlock many opportunities of variable return—including those we may have previously omitted due to a cost/revenue (ROI) imbalance— essentially getting a new opportunity "for free with purchase" when we support the dependencies of other opportunities.
The learnings from this workshop are now being folded back into the Future of Freight vision timeline to carry forward as a tool we use recursively, to inform future funding and alignment discussions, validate customer problems and make strategic decisions.
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. This experience is an example of a story we can tell within the vision timeline—to draw a vertical line in the map and as the question, "If we assume everything on the left has happened, what does the world look like now? How do we work? What success metrics are no longer relevant and what is our new definition of success?" These compelling value conversations can roadshow at customer events and in front of our own executives, to inspire teams to ask for more and see what they are building together.
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 workstreams. 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. We're listening and co-creating with each of our partners across land, sea, and sky to dream together and make tangible steps toward what was previously an unfathomable and unwieldy charter.
At the end of February 2019, GE Transportation split from the parent company of GE (General Electric) and became part of the Wabtec family of companies. The initial planning, production, and piloting for this project was under the GE Transportation brand but now continues to be operationalized under the Wabtec brand, owned and evangelized by the same Innovation Lab team.
Wabtec Corporation is a leading global provider of equipment, systems, digital solutions and value-added services for freight and transit rail. Drawing on nearly four centuries of collective experience across Wabtec, GE Transportation and Faiveley Transport, the company has unmatched digital expertise, technological innovation, and world-class manufacturing and services, enabling the digital-rail-and-transit ecosystems. Learn more by visiting the company's new website at: www.WabtecCorp.com