Transport underpins everything we do. Our daily commute, weekly shop, routine business trip, visit to friends and family, and annual holiday, all depend on transport. For many, the machine we drive is integrally associated with our views of ourselves, and others’ view of us. Transport is one of the key economic and operational sectors in any developed economy. In the UK, transport directly contributes around 6% of gross economic value added (House of Commons research), directly employs 1.4m people, and is the lubricant for the bulk of the economy.
Even in the digital age, delivery of a product ordered online generally relies on an inefficient internal combustion engine based on a nineteenth century design. But in the next ten years transport patterns will change as drivetrain technology overcomes both fossil-fuel and human-intervention dependency, and demand for previously-unseen benefits from the transport transformation take hold. Transport is undergoing one of the most radical upheavals of any industrial sector, and the stresses and strains of this upheaval manifest themselves in a plethora of issues and controversies, ranging from industrial disputes to radical technology development, from restructuring huge manufacturing systems to conserving scarce resources, and from integrated transport systems to individuals’ bicycles and roller skates.
In the last few weeks alone, we’ve seen Ryan-Air tell 400,000 passengers of cancelled flights, the Mayor of London accuse Volkswagen of contempt for Londoners, Monarch collapse, Stagecoach lose the South West Trains franchises to First Group and MTR, Volvo launch a new car brand, train companies face new requirements to remove diesel engine units, and the postal unions clash with Royal Mail management.
Such issues present huge opportunity for organisations navigating the changes well. They also present immense potential for misunderstanding, misreporting and therefore conflict. In the IT industry, when Microsoft needs to improve its software, users receive an ‘update’, yet when a car maker needs to improve its product users receive a ‘recall’. When Jaguar Land Rover recently increased in-house production of engines rather than buying them from another manufacturer, the move was reported as “Fears for jobs as Jaguar cuts contract”, not “Jaguar invests in increased production”. Even well informed industry observers could be excused for fearing there’s a chaos of disorganisation and conflict in the industry rather than feeling reassured there is a managed progression. So what are the key issues, and how can clear strategy and communications help?
Recall, or Update?
We believe organisations must get their strategy and communications on transport right, even if they are not typically ‘transport’ organisations. To manage the issues and opportunities developing in transport, insightful strategy and clear communications are key. We’ve identified ten key issues impacting the transport sector:
1. Decarbonisation – the ongoing quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport
2. Air Quality – the health imperative to reduce concentrations of oxidants of nitrogen and of particulates in the air
3. Electrification – the accelerating trend towards electric vehicles and electric re-charging points
4. Infrastructure – an array of key construction projects targeting increased connectivity and economic growth
5. Congestion, efficiency and productivity – the interlinked challenges of increased congestion and static productivity
6. New entrants– non-traditional competitors threatening established business models
7. Disruptive technology – new technologies creating new channels of communication, distribution and delivery
8. Safety and Services – changing expectations of safety and service in transport operations and services
9. Trade and Jobs – the battle for growth and employment
10. Transparency, ethics and trust – the increased risk/reward profile resulting from technological and social change.
These ten issues affect all organisations, not just those directly engaged in transport. They have the potential to render your car, your fleet, your business model, and even your industry, obsolete. They offer the potential to transform productivity; to create life-changing disruption, as well as life-changing opportunity. And social media have the potential to amplify the effects. They are each therefore worth making a plan for. Yet many organisations treat transport as an activity outside their operation, not fully realising that their own activities require transport, their own business models are dependent upon actively managing transport, and their own risk-reward profile (and therefore shareholder value) is inextricably linked to transport. Every organisation involved in transport needs a strategy to mitigate the risks and capture the opportunities, and a stakeholder engagement plan to ensure this is achieved.
The second article in this three-part series will focus on five very tangible ‘hard engineering’ challenges shaping whole economic sectors today: decarbonisation, air quality, electrification, infrastructure and congestion, efficiency and productivity. The third and final article will focus on five ‘softer’ issues that are only just beginning to re-shape the global economy: disruptive technology; new entrants; safety and services; trade and jobs; transparency, ethics and trust. We will argue that all organisations, not just transport ones, should be analysing these issues, and finding engaging and creating ways to communicate about them to their staff, customers, investors and stakeholders.
——— Written by Darran Messem, Former Director, Madano, sister company of NATIONAL Public Relations