Innovation in Transport and Infrastructure – it’s not just for Uber

Organisations have long strived for being innovative in delivering products and services. However, the importance they attach to this is significantly increasing* and is particularly evident in the transport and infrastructure sector. The sector has been at the forefront of innovation with relatively new entrants like Uber having a transformational impact. However, what about ‘traditional’ transport and infrastructure providers and operators?

Traditional transport organisations have generally been slow to embrace innovation and reluctant to explore benefits from early adoption. Changes in physical infrastructure are costly and business as usual operations carry everyday demands and risk – often prohibiting space for new thinking. 

The transport and infrastructure industry is under increasing pressure to innovate in the way it provides services to customers, with advances in technology acting as a catalyst. For example, there is a seemingly constant news feed on autonomous vehicles. This concept was introduced just a few years ago*, but is now in advanced stages of implementation, with trials in 2017 being planned on public roads*.  This is an example of where development cycles and implementation speeds are increasing.

Looking forward, innovation will be applied to the way transport providers collaborate and share consumer data. This will considerably enhance customer experience during multi-model trips (taken by 70% of millennials even today*). 

Innovation means different things to different people, and by its nature, is difficult to plan for and predict. Industry experts differ significantly on where transport and infrastructure innovation will take us*. However those implementing innovation are finding that often it is as much about speed and quality of execution as it is about designing the next ‘big thing’. Incorporating innovative thinking into how changes are introduced accelerates results and lowers risk.

Irrespective of the strategic direction an organisation takes, market pressures and customer expectations will drive them to innovate in order to compete. It is critical that transport service providers are able to recognise, nuture and drive innovation, determining the right path for them.

How do organisations create the conditions for success?

Whilst each organisation has a different starting point, the key is to begin now. The competition is moving, and your competitive advantage won’t last forever.

A recent example in the UK is Crossrail, which ran a process to collect and share lessons learned. Its innovation programme realised between £2.7M – £5.4M of savings and benefits during the implementation phase. One of the key findings was that the team acknowledged this would have been even higher if innovation had been pushed harder from the start of the programme6. 

Drawing on these learnings, the Heathrow Expansion Programme has recognised the importance of innovation early-on. The scale of the programme, including on and off-site infrastructure development, surface access and transformational change is vast. For example, an additional thirty million people are estimated to travel to Heathrow by 2030*. Minimising disruption and ensuring safety are also critical areas to focus innovation.

One example of early innovation, is the decision to use logistics hubs to pre-assemble components around the country and transport them via consolidated routes to the airport. This will increase quality, minimise disruption, help expand the economic footprint of the investment across the UK, and reduce emissions through minimising transport, for example fewer lorries*.

Supported from the top of the organisation, Heathrow’s innovation strategy is to identify clear business challenges to focus on, and dedicate time, effort and resources to developing innovative solutions for the benefit of all. 

How can a culture of innovation be developed? 

Providing employees with space to think about innovation day to day helps creativity and the flow of ideas. Innovation ‘hubs’ or ‘labs’ can often help inspire creativity, share knowledge, and encourage collaboration. Whilst some are physical, others focus on regular insight, workshops, online spaces and collaboration support*.

Some of most effective innovation labs we have seen bring together people with different experiences and skillsets. An example of this the Inland Waterway Transport (IWT) sector that moves goods as an alternative to road and rail, providing reliability, energy efficiency and congestion reduction.  The European Commission is aiming to develop IWT and facilitate its integration into supply chains*.

An IWT Innovation Lab has been established to produce environmentally friendly technologies to support this. Current work includes upgrading vessels to be more environmentally friendly, sharing challenges and exploring state of the art technologies. Working groups are established to progress the best ideas, which has led to a number of solutions being implemented*. 

i3p* (Infrastructure Industry Innovation Platform) is another example of a cross industry innovation programme that is bringing together major infrastructure projects and their supply chains. The platform aims to foster a collaborative culture of innovation to create a space where ideas can be shared and developed in a structured way. Users can log into the platform and suggest innovative ideas that are shared with other members. Whilst not every idea can be prioritised by all participating organisations, the collaborative approach means benefit is still gained across the group.

Further innovation and collaboration is being driven by sharing data. Ordnance Survey (OS) has made location data available to developers to help create products. It encourages developers, innovators and entrepreneurs. Online forums based on this are sharing ideas and bringing developments to life. OS has set up challenges and programmes to address specific issues, and provided a physical location for like-minded innovators to work together*.

Making it real  

The transport and infrastructure industries have begun to embrace innovation. The best results so far have generally come from bringing diverse people together to work collaboratively, developing ideas focussed on specific business challenges.

Transport and infrastructure organisations can develop in innovation by learning from others, defining what innovation means to them, determining clear business challenges, driving senior buy-in and enabling a collaborative culture to develop.\

Media Enquiries
For more information please email


Sam Smith Manager