Whilst smart city councils are major allies in the digital revolution, they’re not the only driving forces behind smart cities: public transport providers also play a key role. To help us understand the innovations our major cities are currently undergoing, we met Laurent Kocher, Executive Director of Marketing, Innovations and Services at Keolis, a company that specialises in urban mobility solutions. Mind the gap!
How did you come to be such a digital enthusiast?
In my job, I’m convinced that digital is a way to improve public services, particularly where mobility is concerned. It allows us to bring important, real-time information to clients, improve service through the various feedback we get, and conduct very precise analyses of our organisation. But not everyone has access to digital yet. We have a very wide audience, but not all end users have the same habits and patterns of use and we need to take into account these differences. The service needs to be adapted to people, not the other way around.
Companies like Keolis are changing the face of tomorrow’s cities: how would you define a smart city?
We have three distinct types of clients. First there’s our internal agent who’s in contact with the end users of our services. Then there’s the principal: the authority in charge of transport organisation. And then there’s the end client: the user. The autorité organisatrice de transports (transport organisation authority, one of the local government bodies implementing the 1982 law for the organisation of transportation in France, Ed) applies the local, regional or national policy with respect to transport. Keolis, as a service provider, tenders to develop a transport solution for the town in question. Within this ecosystem, it’s the role of the smart city to determine how technologies can facilitate urban progress and improvements. Our solution focuses on transport, but it’s not the only part of the equation. Smart cities are committed to implementing changes – to reduce traffic congestion or for environmental concerns – which are centred on the end user. Sharing information is key, so that end users can get the most out of public transport in towns. If an end user decides not to drive into work one morning, for example, we need to be able to tell them what the best solution is to get from A to B at a given time: ticket, season ticket, app, route, etc.
In your teams, who designs this innovative city of tomorrow? What are your sources of inspiration?
It’s a team effort. We try to create an increasingly horizontal organisation chart to ensure better inter-departmental collaboration, and always with a view to addressing end users’ needs. We then draw up and implement an effective strategy. We have engineers, communicators and marketing specialists who work together. Innovation can only thrive within a decompartmentalised organisation. We work in an open source philosophy, so we share all our ideas and achievements with the community as a whole. The idea is that everyone then appropriates the ideas and improves on them. In Rennes for example, we provide data in an open data rationale that was instigated by the Council. A number of apps resulted from this and we worked with all the city’s digital makers to fine-tune these new services.
What are the biggest digital innovations Keolis has implemented?
I think it would have to be this open innovation approach. We relied heavily on the support of open sourcers to process the incalculable volumes of data from local authorities. We even ran a competition for young startups working on mobility issues in towns. That’s how we were able to display train times in the public transport network. The apps we developed were a huge success – over 40,000 downloads. The information shared can then be useful for other members of the ecosystem, such as estate agents. We also analyse the uses of all connected objects, from smartphones to watches and glasses. These are all potential ways of improving our service and we have to move with the times – but without overlooking the people who don’t yet have this sort of technology.
What does “Digital for All, Now” mean to you?
Everyone needs the right equipment in order to access the right, complete information. And that’s just what digital technology allows you to do!
Photo credits: Waiting, photo de Jens Schott Knudsen (licence CC by 2.0, Flickr)