Having spent some time recently at the interesting convergence of people and vehicles known as AltWheels, I’m wondering how transportation and local manufacturing will mesh. A great deal of our transportation infrastructure deals with moving goods from centralized factories to distribution centers, retail outlets and consumers. Some think a radical decentralization of this existing process will be too inefficient, but I’m old enough to remember personal computers being seen as inadequate for the serious work of mainframe computers. It took about a decade for personal computers to supplant mainframes for new application development. Most of the mainframe companies were acquired or went under. Today, IBM has a thriving mainframe business, albeit one that runs Linux, an operating system designed for personal computers.
As with information systems, transportation systems are deeply intertwined with human activities so the most significant opportunities for improvements tend to stem from process reengineering. IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative recognizes the need to rethink existing processes:
Traffic systems are part of a larger system
Rethinking how we get from point A to point B means applying new technology and new policies to old assumptions and habits. It means improving the drivers’ experience, not just where and when they drive. And it could lead to advances in the cars we drive, the roads we drive them on, and the public transit we might take instead.
and their blog also has a Transportation category. Often the most significant barrier to process improvement is that people don’t recognize some of the terrain they are acting in and can’t align themselves with other participants in their ecosystem. Clearly, social networking is helping to break down these barriers - Twittering Things will only accelerate the evolution.