Telstra Purple participated in a Department of Transport (DoT) innovation challenge to help give Victorians confidence in returning to public transport following the state’s 2020 lockdowns.
DoT had already embarked on a major innovation initiative before COVID-19 arrived. So, when everything suddenly changed, the department did what every innovator does in the face of dramatic market upheaval.
"We pivoted," says Lisa Chan, DoT Director, Product Innovation. "We shifted to focus on the challenge of finding a way to provide reassurance for public transport users to return to the network as we emerged from lockdown."
On the journey that followed, Telstra Purple set itself apart as a hub for managing and integrating various technologies and stakeholders vital to the project. The result was real-time public transport information service RideSpace, visually showing passengers how busy trains, platforms and stations will be, helping them plan ahead and avoid congested periods.
An Innovation Challenge
In March 2020, the team opened an Innovation Challenge to put a broad problem statement into the market: How can technology be used to give passengers confidence in a network that may have capacity constraints given a pandemic scenario?
A total of 41 organisations applied, 22 participated in the pitch process and six vendors were chosen to participate in trialling several concepts to test viability.
“There was quite a program of work. For example, we knew we wanted to collect passenger capacity information across the network, so how do we go about actually doing that?” says Chan.
“We worked closely with our chosen partners throughout the challenge. The concepts went through an iteration process as we pressure tested them along the way.”
Telstra Purple succeeded in delivering what the department was looking for during the pilot process, but also played a key role in integrating technologies across other vendors, too.
"Telstra Purple became quite pivotal," says Chan. "The team worked on how we would surface data collected across the network to make it accessible for public transport users. This required working with a number of other vendors and that sometimes required a delicate touch. Telstra Purple worked hand-in-glove with us to navigate that landscape and found pathways that would work for all.”
Navigating toward the solution
The pilot program was initiated in early August 2020 under the assumption that working solutions could be required by September/October– an incredibly tight turnaround.
The integration across multiple partners was not a typical scenario for DoT, so this ability to quickly get all key vendors working together was critical to the success of the RideSpace project.
“Vendors generally work in isolation from each other and then rely on internal department staff to manage connections,” says Chan. “But the unique situation with COVID meant we needed to develop and progress the solution within a short period of time. The only way to do that was by operating in an open co-creation environment.”
The project moved ahead with four vendors providing data for a central solution developed by Telstra Purple, where the data would be translated through the creation of an adaptive API to feed an accessible web application suitable for use through any smartphone or desktop.
Embracing this collaborative mode of work was critical to moving quickly towards a workable solution, and that required an environment of trust in all teams involved.
“Taking that approach of co-creation with partners is one of the key learnings we are putting forward to the department as a strength of innovation-style work,” says Chan. “Everyone working on the same team created exponentially better outcomes than had we been working with each vendor individually. It also allowed us to meet our extremely tight deadlines.”
The trust Telstra Purple built across all teams involved helped remove the fear of failure, allowing ideas to be tested and explored in truly creative ways. But Telstra Purple also enabled this to take place within a structured agile process, using weekly sprints and showcases. This process ensured high levels of creativity were maintained on the path to delivering a working product.
Once the pilots were tested and proven, the decision was made to move to a public trial for RideSpace, with the product delivered for public use in January 2021.
An MVP outcome
RideSpace hit the market as an accessible (WCAG 2.0 Compliant) web application with multi-lingual capabilities built on scalable Microsoft Azure architecture. Usable across all platforms, RideSpace keeps public transport users up to date with network schedules, as well as telling them how busy any given vehicle on the network will be.
In all, the web app helps passengers plan to avoid or alleviate congested periods. The network information is derived from an algorithmic model which estimates which trains passengers are likely using after tapping on and off at rail stations.
“We had an amazing response as soon as we launched,” says Chan. “Overwhelmingly feedback was along the lines of ‘Finally, we’ve got this information. It’s amazing! When can we have it for trams?’ We knew we’d hit the mark, which was fantastic.”
The aim now is to continue iterating and developing the project to reach more of the Victorian public transport network. Telstra Purple remains a part of the ongoing project, continuing to work in that co-creative environment with the Department of Transport and its team.