Making conferences lead to good business


This is the time of year when conference plans are being finalized, agendas locked in and speakers contacted. This year seems to be busier than ever. As I was wading through the emails, texts, phone calls and notes that I have accumulated on my desk, I began to see why there is an increase. As I have touched on in past articles, we are speeding toward solutions. Most of these solutions have a problem that they are aiming to solve. However, few bridge to other solutions or address multiple problems. For example, at the 2015 Las Vegas International Consumer Electronics Show, several automobile manufacturers are unveiling new technologies including autonomous vehicles, and new and improved in-vehicle systems. These innovations may satisfy consumer demand for the latest, greatest technological innovation, but how will they interface with mobile payment systems, connected cities, or even other autonomous vehicles?

Just a few years back, we had high-level conferences on broad topics. Tolling, ITS, and transit all had their conferences, as well as state DOTs, DMVs, county and state government. Today, in addition to these conferences we also have specialty conferences, with topics that have been broken out into more detailed sessions to provide solutions to today’s pressing problems. Some examples are: all-electronic tolling, tolling enforcement, reciprocity, managed lanes, highway financing, mileage-based user fees, connected vehicle, connected cities, in-vehicle technology, mobile commerce and mobile payment systems. So, why are there so many specialty conferences? Most are driven by technology and business rules. Is the new technology too complex to discuss at a higher level? Are the business rules that we have all used independently for so many years too complex to work across multiple states? Maybe we are still missing some other conferences. How are the new technologies going to evolve? A transportation system or even a vehicle will need an upgrade path. Currently, even cell phone connectors and Bluetooth versions are outdating our still drivable vehicles. Federal money and grants are usually available to build and install the infrastructure, but we lack funding for maintenance, operation and upgrades.

Specialty conferences still need to happen; however, we need to bring these discussions and solutions back to the bigger picture without being so disruptive that we start over. When do we get the key players together for the overall solution? I hear this sentence a lot: “When we deploy our solution, everyone will have to use it.” Is this wishful thinking, or is this truly how our transportation systems will progress? If you look, commercially most providers have reluctantly learned to get along. Cell phones work between providers, your credit card works on Amazon and Apple Pay. How did they get there? How are they sharing data and financial networks? How did they resolve the hundreds of issues unique to each industry? Maybe we need another conference to get the players together to talk about the vision for 2020 and 2025, and explore real solutions for combining efforts and resources toward a common end game. Between our industries we have the financial and technical capabilities to not only solve today’s transportation needs, but to set in place a sustainable blueprint for the future.

JJ Eden, is the director of tolling at Aecom,

Illustration: Ian Parratt,

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