People play a crucial role in achieving interoperability. They are the users, designers, developers and decision-makers who work with each other to manage the network. They are the ones who must use the available data and technology to provide outcomes. However, to ensure the right outcomes, people must be given the relevant skills and then empowered to make decisions.
As data and technology continue to change the way we work, traditional skills will need to adapt. Each role will need to be analysed and optimised. To overcome the ongoing digital skills gap and to cover a projected 83% increase in demand for digital roles in the coming years1), stakeholders must upskill their people to broaden the talent pool. This applies to roles in front-line operations and maintenance and equally to those needed to design, develop, and implement new data-driven solutions.
Different technologies, data sets and ways of working between organisations increase the complexity of skills required by the workforce. Additionally, decisions made by one organisation may have interoperability implications for another. Any differences in technology, rules and processes between organisations perpetuate this complexity. Consistent technologies and operating rules will prevent technology locks and improve the overall efficiency of the industry. For example, a single system would reduce workforce training requirements, lower operational costs, and facilitate labour mobility. To achieve this will require a clearly articulated pathway forward and collaboration between stakeholders.
It is essential to take a human-centered approach to interoperability because it addresses the way people interact with and use data, systems and technology. The aim is to ensure the system and user are optimally aligned – whether this is by designing the system to fit the user or designing the organisation to fit the technology. If a system is designed without considering usability, or if multiple systems are required to be used in different contexts, it can lead to errors, frustration and reduced productivity. By taking a people-focused approach, the system (software, equipment, rules, and processes) can be designed so they are easy to use, error-tolerant and more likely to be adopted, championed and used effectively.
Success lies in bringing together stakeholders early in the design process, prioritising communication, and collaboration throughout the development lifecycle, ensuring diverse and user-friendly solutions are created. As the transport sector becomes increasingly connected, a human-centered approach is critical to ensure interoperability.
In this publication, we delve into the benefits and challenges that will come with interoperability, and focus on the critical role data, technology and people will play in ensuring the journey is as smooth as possible. We also explore a selection of compelling case studies, provide insight into some of the long-term opportunities interoperable rail networks will present, and offer practical guidance on the best way to make a common platform a reality.