Sam Jordan in conversation with Ian Smith, Intelligent Transport Systems Expert

Transport & Rail

Beresford Wilson & Partners the leading executive search consultants for the transport & infrastructure, real estate development and renewable energy sectors begins our ‘Industry Spotlight’ series in which we meet with industry-leading professionals to understand their view of the industry, current challenges and the career development paths that they have taken.

Sam Jordan, Head of Rail & Transport, has developed a keen interest within smart mobility, intelligent transport systems and digitalization. His recent activity included meeting with ITS expert Ian Smith who was responsible for Dubai RTA’s smart cities strategic planning and delivery oversight form a transportation perspective.

Sam discussed some of the challenges and opportunities that exist within ITS and the Middle East transportation sector with Ian.

The Professional:

Sam: Ian, for the benefit of our readers, can you please give us an overview of the industry

Ian: Being a recognized Subject Matter Expert in Smart Mobility, Future Mobility and Smart Cities disciplines, which have significant overlap, and are in part a development of the more traditional Intelligent Transportation Systems industry in which I have played a key role in for over two decades.

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) involve the application of sensing, analysis, control and communications technologies to surface transportation in order to improve safety, mobility and efficiency. ITS includes a wide range of applications that process and share information to ease congestion, improve traffic management, minimize environmental impact and increase the benefits of transportation to commercial users and the public in general. As technology has significantly developed and progressed over the years, the industry has too. Encompassing new capabilities and trends along the way, these include future vehicle developments such as Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric (CASE), new modes of transport such as Personal Rapid Transit, HyperLoop, Aerial Autonomous Vehicles and Drones, and Micro mobility solutions.

SAM: Can you tell us about yourself and your background in the industry?

IAN: I initially studied computer sciences and electrical engineering with work in design, motorway and freeway schemes. I had a brief interruption in career development in order to study Master’s level modules in Intelligent Transport Systems.

My roles in the ITS industry have encompassed Design Engineer, Senior Consultant, Client’s Representative for Site and Scheme Commissioning, Technical Authority, and Senior Technical Advisor for numerous Departments of Transport and Government Agencies both in Europe and the MENA region. Most recently, I have been leading and developing an ITS Strategic Plan, developing a multi-modal and operational control center framework for smart mobility and intelligent transportation systems for a government transportation authority and authoring ITS and Smart Mobility governance, standards, policy and guidelines.

I have been a speaker and a panellist at the 26th ITS World Congress held in Singapore 2019, Intertraffic Amsterdam and Arab Future Cities Summit.

SAM: How does Smart Mobility work in the Middle East as compared to other international markets?

IAN: I would say that the MENA market compares favourably in many
aspects, such as its willingness to engage in innovation and future foresight
with a significant emphasis on pushing the boundaries and leading trends.

From a consultancy perspective, the market/region can be extremely challenging by comparison. The region has multiple influences from Europe, US and Asia in terms of standards and approaches and can mean that they can be conflicted in terms standards, policies and approaches either in the planning stages, strategic decision making or eventual deployment.

SAM: What are the unique challenges that you face in the region?

IAN: Such a diverse and multi-cultural workforce in the region creates an innovative environment and truly positive experience for most. However, the language and cultural amalgam require an extra emphasis on communication, emotional and cultural intelligence.

The project deliverables medium can also be a challenge when communicating concepts and findings; with informative infographics and short executive summaries preferred to large swathes of text, in a what would be considered in other regions a standard report format, this can prove to be a more significant challenge than initially thought when complex technical information is required to be presented. In addition to that, the MENA market can be challenging, by comparing from the project management and administrative perspective with consultancy frameworks.

SAM: What are the areas of growth opportunities you see for the sector?

IAN: There are multiple areas where both short and medium-term growth can occur in the MENA region. With different areas applicable to each constituent country or geographic location dependent on where they are in their own transportation route map.

Public Transport (PT): Enhancement and efficiency of operations is an area for growth, including the application of ACES to PT with Demand Responsive Public Transport already being trialled with conventional vehicles.

Finance, Legal and Private-Public Partnerships (PPP’s): Opportunities for growth in this sector will occur as industry 4.0 technology deployments bring about further challenges in terms of data privacy, Legal implications and safety liability.

SAM: Has COVID‑19 affected the industry? If so, how and what changes do you see as a result?

IAN: A Current COVID-19 pandemic is a global event without precedent. The crisis is as much an economic crisis as it is a public health emergency and coincides with record low oil prices, on which government budgets are based, certainly in the GCC. The transport sector and the organizations and companies are impacted as much as many others. Due to lockdown, social distancing and the enforced shift to a digital workforce, there has been a fall in demand which will mean a reduction in operator and transport authority revenue and financial performance. Which will lead to reductions in annual transport spend. Medium-term funding of capital infrastructure projects may become limited and more challenging.

However, transport has a vital role in keeping essential goods and workers moving; it will have a crucial role in the recovery, especially if Governments prioritize infrastructure investment as an economic stimulus and a means of reinvigorating the economy.

SAM: What advice or recommendations would you give to someone looking to enter the industry?

IAN: Previously, the route to the ITS industry came from a predominantly civil engineering path via transport planning, transport studies.  As the industry has advanced from road infrastructure-related ITS towards Smart and Future Mobility, Smart Cities, AI, Machine Learning and Data Science – Electrical Eng. and computer science has become a preferred introduction to the sector.

It is essential to understand the first principals & foundations of transport and traffic engineering—also, in-depth knowledge of the fundamentals of smart mobility and ITS.

I strongly recommend an education degree either through Civil Engineering, Computer Science or engineering and even graduates to complete MBAs in the transport industry. I would also recommend to the students to join professional bodies such as the IT, CH, CIHT, local US ITS chapters, headed up by ITS America and online there is ITS America, ITS Singapore ITS Australia.

The Person:

SAM: What are the pros of ex-pat life?

IAN: The opportunity to live, work and engage with multiple nationalities and expand cultural awareness and emotional intelligence. The MENA region is also an excellent base to travel further afield and visit other countries and cultures.

SAM: What are the cons of an ex-pat life?

IAN: I personally don’t see too many downsides, missing family and friends from back home and sometimes not being able to attend events and gatherings you would normally be able to attend is part and parcel of the ex-pat life.

SAM: What are your hobbies outside of work?

IAN: I have many interests outside of work, and I like to vary them and partake in different activities, scuba diving, kickboxing and cycling, to name a few.

SAM: Who is your biggest inspiration?

IAN: My Father’s hard work ethic and phenomenal awareness of the sport, current and cultural affairs, history and geography have always inspired me to continually read and further my knowledge of the world around us.

This concludes the industry spotlight. Thanks, Ian, for taking the time to speak with BWP, very much appreciated and a pleasure.