Thursday, 28 July 2011

Inrix purchase of ITIS

Interesting news today, as Inrix announce their $60m/£37m purchase of ITIS.  I first worked closely with ITIS when they were launching the first RDS TMC service (for Toyota around ten years ago).  Having been involved with them in one way or another pretty much ever since, I'm glad for Stuart et al to get a good price for the business.  And I think it's a good thing for the industry because too many different outfits chasing the same money wasn't sustainable.

From what I've learnt, Inrix is a good company with very clever people who have good business ethics.  And companies able to provide services across country borders is essential for the future, given that all the car firms and nav manufacturers (the main users of the data) are multinationals.  Up till now, too often that's not been the case, and although international information provision has been improving, this will speed up the process considerably.

Given what I've seen in the US and Britain, though, I think the British technology is more advanced than America.  (Caveat - at the moment, it's only a gut feeling and I need to go away and do some proper research before I make an idiot of myself.)  Having been stuck in Friday rush-hour in LA, and have witnessed North America's most congested road (apparently), which is the 404 in Toronto, I know how hideous the traffic can be there, compared with the M25, M6 or M1.  But I remember being surprised how poor, in comparison to the British equivalent, the flow data was for Toronto when I analysed it 18 months ago or so, so I suspect the ITIS know-how and algorithms will help the North American driver.  However, as I say, I write 18 months behind any Canadian advances, so ought to go away to do some proper research before returning to this subject.

What I can say is that having spoken to managers of Traffic Management Centres in America, they all face exactly the same challenges as their British counterparts!  So I think the future sharing of ideas has to be good for the industry.

The interesting thing is that American businesses now dominate the UK market, with Inrix buying ITIS and Trafficmaster already in American venture-capital hands (OK, there's TomTom too, and but they're not a British company either!).  So this sharing of best practise, should - if done properly - be good for drivers both sides of the Atlantic, and indeed both sides of the road.

About me

How does one become an "expert" in traffic?

I always wanted to be a professional cricketer.  But the more I played, the more clear it became that my chosen profession didn't want to choose me.  I've become an enthusiastic follower of the game instead.

As a kid, the other thing I loved was the radio, and I always fancied playing songs for a living.  Listeners to "Junior Choice" in the mid-to-late 70s would have heard that seven-year-old Paul wanted to be a DJ when he grew up, prompting Ed Stewart to ask if DJs ever grow up.

But I did, and I did become a DJ, but by the time I'd started playing songs, I'd (through growing up) become keen on news as well, so trained as a journalist alongside fantastic reporters such as Damian Grammaticas, Vicky Young and Chris Hogg.  They ended up as high-profile BBC reporters, whilst I moved into the commercial sector.  I started working on the Virgin Radio Newsdesk, which at the time was provided by a company called Metro, which was primarily a traffic news company, providing reports for radio stations.

From my seat on the newsdesk, I used to watch the traffic reporters and editors gathering information, and I admit I got frustrated at their lack of journalistic technique.  I used to moan to the then Ops Director, a brilliant bloke called Jag, that they could do so much better.  To cut a long story short I ended up taking a job running the information gathering and operational management of the traffic team.  I thought I'd do it for six months to gain some management experience.  That was early in 2000.  I'm still doing traffic.

Somehow, I've been part of the executive of the Travel Information Highway, been contract manager for the BBC travel contract, run a company providing the radio station for the Highways Agency, sat on a committee looking at in-car traffic and travel provision post FM switch-off, travelled the world talking travel, finding myself in traffic management centres as far apart as Perth, Western Australia and Kansas City, Missouri.

Somehow this cricket-mad, radio freak has become an expert in traffic information.