Data: The fuel in the mobility startup engine

Data: The fuel in the mobility startup engine

That moment you switch from a smooth, uninterrupted drive to one characterised by slow-moving stops and starts is something all drivers can do without. To fix this 20th century anachronism, as well as other antiquated experiences, startups and companies are increasingly turning to data for insight, aptly described as “the next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity”.

Take traffic lights. They help us get to our destinations by directing vehicle flow in an orderly fashion, but the problem is they don’t always account for not-so-orderly driving behaviour. Which is why we still so often find ourselves tapping our fingers in yet another traffic jam.

However, through using and analysing real-time information, smart systems can monitor roads and synchronise lights according to volume. As pilots have shown, “adaptive signals,” as they are known, can ease congestion, speed up travel times and reduce the amount of emissions that are released.

The more data systems are fed, the more sophisticated they become. By adopting machine learning and predictive analyses, Oregon-based Connected Signals is able to tell commuters using its EnLighten app when lights will turn green. As its developers note, it helps modify behaviour to the benefit of all. An alert will, for example, inform the driver whether they will make a light or not, reducing their “natural tendency to speed up” when they see green.

After plenty of hype, data is finally being understood. It fuels innovation, speeds up mobility and is extremely valuable to everyone and anyone doing it right. Data is indeed black gold. Here are five key insights.

1. No value without context

Gathering data is one thing; an end user being able to interpret it is another altogether. It has to have context, says Guy Marson, founder of data science consultancy Profusion, as context helps how it’s organised and analysed.

For example, an app designed to monitor traffic flows and alert people to problems on roads is far more useful if it can automatically push congestion updates to an individual’s smartphone that are contextual to their particular schedule – leaving the office at 5pm – and location.

2. Collaborating sparks surprising results

Hackathons are an ideal platform for startup founders and business owners to make sense of raw data. As InMotion’s inaugural event recently showed – where participants were given a customer problem and asked to provide a solution to it – the best ideas come from collaboration, rather than the work of a single person.

According to Marson, events like hackathons spark cross-sector partnerships that can be extremely beneficial, especially if they lead to the opening up and sharing of datasets.

“Insights come from the most surprising places when you approach data with an open mind and allow it to reveal its hidden patterns,” he adds. “Combining data with public or commercially available sets can be of huge value.”


3. Creating knowledge and unlocking opportunities

Mark Bainbridge, marketing director at Black Swan and a judge at the InMotion Hackathon, says that connecting multiple datasets can “fuel a new knowledge-driven economy and be the key to finding and unlocking new opportunities.” For the automotive industry, he adds, this will transform the dynamics of how consumers engage with traditional car manufacturers.

Global revenue from car data could be as high as $750 billion by 2030

Part of this comes with automakers moving towards a mobility-first mindset. Financially, as a 2016 report by McKinsey & Company revealed, “the automotive revenue pool will significantly increase and diversify” as “data-driven services” begin to compete with traditional forms of income. It’s lucrative: global revenue from car data could be as high as $750 billion by 2030.

4. Preparing to fail

Just as car models can go out of fashion as new ones roll off the production line, platforms and products are also prone to being squeezed out of the market. While data is an indispensable investment, it doesn’t guarantee success.

“Data should be core to the planning of every startup, every brand and every business,” says Bainbridge. “But there’ll be winners who get it right, and casualties that don’t.”

5. Monetising the data and not the product

Ultimately, it’s important that those in the industry learn to adapt. One way to achieve this is by creating long-term value from data rather than focusing on an end product.

The likes of Infix and Waze sell data to governments and private companies. And TomTom, best known for its GPS navigation devices, has now begun to rely more on licensing its mapping and traffic services to automakers.


Sam Clifton
Venture Capital

Wider impact

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