Smart road transport is a digital transformation priority

Road transport is a core system of the global economy. In the UK, it accounts for almost 90% of all personal transport and inland freight movements. Despite meeting human transport needs for so long, road transport now has to prioritize a digital approach to be suitable for the future.

The road transport system was shaped with the advent of the motor car at the beginning of the twentieth century. It evolved into a highly complex matrix. There is an array of physical components, including the road network, vehicles, drivers, roadway signage and infrastructure. This hardware has to work together with a set of principles and procedures that govern the operation, including the framework of laws, regulations, customs, protocols and licensing.

This complex and fluid system has to be coordinated and synchronized, often in real time.

Changing demand for road transport

Since 1950, road transport in the UK has increased by a factor of 8.5. Forecasts suggest that increases in population, growth in economic activity and higher mobility expectations will drive levels of demand the existing systems cannot meet. The current pandemic has added to the demand for road capacity, through the drive towards Internet shopping and the consequent increase in home deliveries.

This increase in demand for road transport has not been matched by a corresponding increase in capacity with an increase of only 1.3 times since 1950. The result has been increased congestion leading to frustrated road users. Rising levels of traffic delay feature not just in large cities but also in the core motorway network and in small towns. This congestion costs the UK economy around £20BN per year.

Increasing environmental concerns mean that we cannot address increasing demands for travel by simply building more roads or adding more vehicles. Instead we need to find ways to reverse the environmental impacts of the last 100 years.

The road transport system must take account of these new challenges and address them with new approaches, including electric vehicles and increased use of cycles and vehicle sharing.

An evolving system

The mechanical, electrical, human and analog approach of traditional road transport systems begins to look challenged faced with future traffic loads, new travel paradigms and environmental concerns.

Governments and private organizations are increasingly turning to digital technology to deliver the full impact of the transformative changes that will be needed across vehicles, travel options and infrastructure.

Digital initiatives have already made great progress:

Smart connected vehicles. Computers in cars first appeared in the late 1960s as electronic fuel injection systems began replacing mechanical carburetors. Modern motor vehicles feature multiple systems, connected and interconnected for synchronization and updates. Additionally, vehicles are being increasingly connected to the Internet, delivering a range of services, from infotainment to satnav and other driver advisory systems, and vehicle telematics.

Smart motorway systems use active traffic management (ATM) techniques to increase capacity, using variable speed limits and hard shoulder running during times of high demand. Roadside sensors transmit status data to a central command center, run targeted analytics and then make adjustments to traffic control signage as needed. Benefits include smoother traffic flow, more reliable journey times, fewer road traffic collisions and reduced noise and vehicle emissions.

Charging at point of use promotes efficient levels of road use and is often implemented through digital solutions. Many cities have implemented congestion charges. Some schemes use differentiated pricing depending on certain parameters such as day and time.

Car sharing has been successfully used as a way of implementing personal transport strategies without the burden of ownership. Digital telematics data can be used to determine the appropriate charges, which can be levied by the minute, hour or day.

Are we there yet?

Although digital is moving the road transport system forward, we are not there.

The components of the road transport system require a high degree of coordination and synchronization. Yet for years they were treated as islands instead of parts of a comprehensive system, where existing components operate independently with little or no interaction with one another and without a link to the higher process chain.

No single technology or approach will achieve the goals for the integrated whole. The greatest impact is likely to come when technologies and other measures are thoroughly integrated. The integration of these process islands is critical to deploying advanced services such as autonomous vehicles.

As with any move towards digital, cybersecurity will play an important role in maintaining the integrity of systems and their ability to provide trusted services to users. This will present an ongoing challenge.

Orange at the heart of the transformation of road transport

Orange remains at the heart of the digital transformation of road transport and continues to help many organizations implement digital strategies to meet their next-generation requirements. Orange expertise in innovations such as cloud, mobile, video, analytics and cybersecurity provides the platform to help customers integrate previously independent systems and digitize legacy system approaches.

We have extensive experience across multiple organizations covering many requirements:

Connected car: Providing services such as eCall and infotainment for a number of vehicle manufacturers.

Telematics: Helping fleet users manage fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions, schedule maintenance, manage rental agreements and improve eco-friendly driving behavior.

Location services: Answering the question of “Where?” can help organizations optimize their supply chain operations. In a just-in-time world, knowing the whereabouts of goods in transit allows advanced processes like work order triggering to be implemented and enables resources to be used more efficiently.

Smart motorway services: Implementing environmental monitoring solutions to initiate condition monitoring and predictive capabilities and deliver more efficient operations and resource utilization.

Autonomous car: Orange is helping a system vendor realize its ambitions towards the development and deployment of autonomous driving solutions.


The road transport system is under pressure to adapt to a more challenging set of demands, including keeping the traffic flowing while meeting new environmental and social needs.

Care must be taken not to undermine the core foundations of human expectations, which could encourage resistance to important changes.

Digital has the potential to help the road transport systems in this evolution, but solutions must be centered on an appreciation of the systems’ inherent blend of physical, digital and human interaction.

Learn more about data analytics and IOT from Orange Business.

Gordon Loader
Gordon Loader

Gordon Loader is a specialist in Digital Transformation, with a consultative approach to solving customer business challenges and delivering positive business outcomes.

Gordon has been most recently focused on the Internet of Things and Big Data and Analytics as foundation elements for the data-driven business, enabling organizations to build competitive advantage through informed decision making and fast execution.

He devotes his spare time to family and friends and enjoys keeping abreast of developments in the worlds of business, technology and finance.