Smart Leadership Maps Data & Analytics Success at Public Transportation Org

(Source: Rob Roemers, STIB-MIVB)

Q/A with Tina Rosario, Head of Data Innovation and Chief Data Officer, SAP Europe, and Rob Roemers, Head of Data and Analytics, STIB-MIVB (pictured here)

Rob Roemers doesn’t want to make things complicated. As Head of Data and Analytics at Brussels Intercommunal Transit Company (STIB-MIVB), Roemers has spent the last six years making pragmatic decisions to create a data-centric organization. Roemers likes to uncover trends in the data, then he scopes fast, smart wins that lead to solving bigger, harder problems. Find out about the business value approach he uses to work with executives and business leaders create faster routes to transformation at STIB-MIVB.

Tina Rosario (TR): Tell us about STIB-MIVB’s journey to being a data-and analytic-driven company.

Rob Roemers (RR): We see lots of competition coming at us from ride-sharing companies and new mobility providers, and we want people to choose public transportation and avoid automobiles whenever possible. Also, we balance that with being good stewards of the government funds we receive. Analyzing our huge volume of data and optimizing our processes helps us achieve both goals.

Our team realized that our data was useful for the organization, but we had to become evangelists internally. One of my first experiences here was when the CIO told us to cut our budget by half because he didn’t see the value of reporting data. We responded by creating smart use cases to prove data’s value.

An early project was to analyze the invoice flow between the bus supplier and us. We looked at which invoices were being refused, identified why, and found a fund of almost €500 in 10 months.

TR: What did your data landscape look like initially?

RR: We had an SAP data warehouse filled with a lot of data that shouldn’t have been in there. Since then, we moved to SAP BW/4 HANA and we’re more thoughtful about what we put in there. It’s much better for us.

Beyond the technology, we didn’t have executive support, but we rallied to gain support from business so we got bottom-up buy in.

TR: How did you work with company leaders to convince them that data is valuable?

RR: Our first efforts were around gaining support from business. We organized monthly meetings we called Data Labs with business leaders to show them our data and discuss how they could use it.

Our earliest project was to use data to improve activities at the ticket vending machines that are located throughout Brussels. Annually, we sell about €260 million in tickets and about 43% of the sales are from the vending machines so they are a huge source of income.

One project focused on finding out what was slowing the selling process. After looking at the data, we realized that the process of collecting subsidized tickets to approved customers was causing delays. We created a new process where we mail tickets to these customers and now purchasing tickets is faster for all customers.

In another example, we improved our remote monitoring of the vending machines by adding a data set. We had been monitoring the vending machines based on uptime. A public official sent us an email asking why the vending machines had been down for three weeks. Our data showed they were up and running. When we went onsite, some joker had put up a sign “Out of order” even though they were working. That incident led us to adding ticket sales data set. Now if we see a long gap within sales, we know to go onsite and check things out.

We’ve added lots more data sets around vending machines, and have a 360-degree view of everything happening with them. That project showed business leaders the value of data and got them excited about how they could leverage data better.

TR: Have you seen cultural changes internally since becoming more D&A focused?

RR: When we started the Data Lab community years ago IT pushed it forward and we had minimal interest. Now business is leading this effort and meetings have grown to 250-plus. Once business realized what we could do with data, they fell behind our efforts, and they are eager to do presentations, share datasets, and propose business activities where we work together on the data.

Executives are also using data where they didn’t before. We are looking at purchasing new electric buses, for example, and the executive team is using data to understand how many we will need. We are helping them answer questions like “For every diesel bus we retire, how many electric ones should we purchase?” Execs are also adding data in their presentations and reviewing data to rethink our procurement strategy.

Cultural change is definitely happening. We are able to invest in improving our data literacy, governance, and user training.

TR: Do people who take public transportation benefit from the D&A?  

RR: Absolutely! Here’s one example and we have many more. One of the main questions people ask is about the best time to take the metro. We started posting the time and days that the lines were most crowded weekly. As our data platforms improved, we started posting more often, going from weekly to once a day to by the hour. Anyone can go to our app and check out how busy the lines are during the day in near real time.

Since COVID, riders also wanted to know how many people are on the buses. We added another data set based on sensor data that lets riders understand how many people are on the bus so they can decide if that number is too high for their comfort level.

(Source: STIB-MVIB Real-time Occupancy Level)

TR: Are you integrating any transportation data from outside your organization?

RR: We have added weather and traffic condition data and hope to add more in the future.

TR: What data insights do you want to add in 2022? 

RR: I’m not looking at technical improvements so much in 2022. The main thing I want is our organization to get better at processes and improve our data literacy. We want to help users understand how to analyze the data. Our plan is to offer training so that people can process the analysis charts we provide and start to distinguish signals from noise. We want them to know how to look at a trend and what it means. For 2022, I want people to be savvier with D&A and start asking more questions about how they can use it in the business.

TR: Do you see any new D&A trends emerging?

RR: Data is hot right now, and everyone is interested in getting more out of data. I’m hoping that sharing data will be a bigger trend. Having a rail company tell me what they are doing with their data, for example, sparks ideas for me. Together, we can help each other and provide more value to our customers.

TR: What is one tip you would give to other leaders trying to make more of their D&A environment? 

RR: Getting fast, early wins makes a huge difference in helping people understand the value of D&A. What worked for us was creating a methodology where we asked a business group to give us all their data. We’d come back to them and tell them things they already know and insights they might not know. We then worked together to find out what information is in the data, make sense of it, and suggest clever stuff that helped the business. We start small and build a business case step by step. I see lots of people starting with a huge focus, but taking smaller steps from the beginning is the best plan for making the program successful.

Being a D&A leader is about much more than knowing technology. Read my blog post, A Data & Analytics Roadmap for Less Complexity and More Agility in 2022” for best practices, tips, and resources to help you meet and exceed your D&A goals and objectives. Follow the tag and my profile to stay up to date for future blog posts.