The Next Vantage for Transportation

In June 2022, North Highland connected with over 560 leaders across key industries—including financial services, healthcare, health and human services, life sciences, and transportation—to better understand the trends and challenges confronting today’s businesses as they navigate the end-to-end transformation journey.​ What we discovered is a desire to build more adaptive operations to power continuous transformation; a need for greater alignment across employees and leadership teams around transformation strategy; and opportunities to integrate data and analytics into every step for greater success. Amidst the transformation that is reshaping our economies and societies, every business has a clear path to a better vantage point. In this blog series, we'll uncover what it takes for each industry to maximize its transformation potential.   

As the post-pandemic era unfolds, changes in travel patterns and technological advancements are ushering in new passenger behaviors and expectations. Some of those behaviors and expectations are already here, pushing transportation agencies to get creative—and to do so quickly—just to keep up.

Strategic, proactive continuous transformation is now synonymous with survival; and no organization can sit back and wait to respond. So how do you position your transportation business to meet this mandate?

Our June 2022 survey of nearly 50 transportation leaders revealed three opportunities:  

  1. Become more data-driven;
  2. Establish an adaptive operating model; and
  3. Capitalize on the connection between the workforce and passengers to drive enhanced experiences for both.

In this blog, we’ll look at each of these paths to powering continuous transformation and show you the first steps to an elevated vantage point.


Over the course of a transformation—from defining and aligning on a strategy to designing and delivering on that strategy to measuring outcomes—transportation leaders have an opportunity to expand the use of data & analytics (D&A) capabilities at every stage in the process to maximize results.  

Data to define

Data is well utilized by transportation leaders in the early phases of transformation planning. Sixty-three percent of leaders say they utilize D&A to define a clear transformation strategy, and 52 percent cite D&A as a top factor they consider when designing their strategy. Over a third (38 percent) also believe enhancing analytics capabilities is a top priority when defining a strategy that will deliver a competitive advantage. Additionally, 67 percent of transportation leaders say data supports informed decisions about focus, investment, and resource allocation.

Transportation leaders also tap into data to forge early alignment in the transformation journey. Fifty-six percent of those we surveyed say they utilize D&A to make the case for change to align leaders around strategy. They also leverage data to understand employee and customer preferences when crafting transformation plans: 65 percent leverage Voice of Employee (VoE) data to understand preferences and 54 percent integrate Voice of Customer (VoC) insights as a technique to define a clear transformation strategy.

Beyond setting a strategy and building alignment, transportation leaders have an opportunity to apply D&A more intentionally to delivering transformation and meeting changing passenger needs. Only 15 percent of leaders say they use analytics as a technique in transformation delivery, and just 10 percent of transportation leaders believe data and digital capabilities offer value in transformation delivery, management, and measurement.​ Part of the challenge may lie in inadequate data capabilities, which 44 percent of leaders cite as a barrier to delivering transformation successfully.

Barriers to Transformation Delivery


From defining a strategy to measuring outcomes, transportation leaders have an opportunity to expand the use of data capabilities at every stage of transformation to maximize results. ​These are your first steps:

  • Establish a strong digital core to bring data, technology, and organizational capabilities together. For transportation agencies, technology continues to play a critical role in powering transformation. It’s even considered the most effective tool in delivering transformation strategies, according to 65 percent of those we surveyed. Now, industry leaders have an opportunity to maximize the potential of the technology architecture they’ve established by uniting it with D&A and supporting organizational capabilities. Together, these components of your business make up your digital core. With a strong digital core, you can best apply analytics and insights to transformation delivery, measurement, and adaptation.​ For example, your digital core can help you tie data from the back office to front-stage interactions. Through data blueprinting, leaders in transportation can identify the data that is consumed or created at every passenger or employee interaction. Then, you can map how to use that data to support operations, processes, technology capabilities, and more. This roadmap will allow you to tie back-office processes to front-stage interactions in better service of the passenger.​
  • Build data literacy and maturity across your organization. As per the Gartner® 2021 Chief Data Officer (CDO) survey, “poor data literacy is ranked as the second-biggest internal roadblock to the success of the CDO’s office.” Gartner's survey explains that “by 2023, data literacy will become essential in driving business value, demonstrated by its formal inclusion in over 80 percent of data and analytics strategies and change management programs.” With this in mind, it should be a priority for leaders to invest in continuous learning opportunities to ensure your people—beyond IT—understand how to extract and leverage the wealth of data they can collect. Teams across your business may be collecting some of the same data, or have access to insights that give more context to your own, so build cross-functional visibility and access to breakdown silos in your organization.


To apply D&A effectively throughout the transformation journey, transportation leaders must establish the right operational infrastructure. An operating model articulates how people, structure, processes, governance, technology, and data come together to make change happen and fuel continuous transformation.

Based on our research, transportation leaders acknowledge the vital role of operations in powering their strategies. Over half (54 percent) of transportation leaders say operations has a seat at the table when defining transformation strategy—15 points above the all-industry average. When defining strategy, 38 percent of leaders factor in operational inefficiencies and 31 percent believe it's a priority to modernize operations and/or operational infrastructure to gain a competitive advantage. When designing strategies, 73 percent of respondents said they prioritize operational needs.

Prioritize operational needs

As passenger preferences continue to reshape the transportation landscape (something we discussed in depth here), industry leaders are striving to build nimble operating models that allow the organization to adapt in very short order. In our recent research, 75 percent of leaders said the key to designing a flexible transformation strategy is by establishing an operating model that enables frequent, incremental change.

While transportation leaders acknowledge the importance of a flexible operating model in theory, putting it into practice might be a challenge. When asked what they expect to include in their 2023 transformation plans, just 23 percent of leaders believe modernizing operations and/or operational infrastructure will be a part of their 2023 transformation strategy. Even fewer (10 percent) anticipate that driving operational efficiency/optimizing costs will be part of next year’s strategy. Now, more than ever before, transportation leaders must put operational considerations at the forefront of transformation strategy.  


So, what can transportation leaders do to prioritize adaptive operations now and into the year ahead? Start small and consider methods that embed flexibility into daily working practices. ​These are your first steps:

  • Embrace the principles of agility. Your operating model sets the foundation for your organization’s ability to transform, and it must be able to evolve to facilitate new ways of working and meet new passenger expectations. In a landscape that will be intermodal, sustainable, and smarter than ever before, transportation organizations can accelerate operational effectiveness through a greater focus on agile methods. ​Right now, under a third (31 percent) of transportation leaders use agile methodologies and processes as a technique to deliver transformation strategy.​ Agile doesn’t mean starting a cumbersome, confusing new way of working, and its benefits are recognized far beyond IT. Agile allows you to build “forgiveness” into your operating model. It encourages flexibility and regular value delivery in routine working practices.
  • Support adaptability with the right metrics. Leaders in transportation can also leverage data and analytics to inform operational decision-making and test assumptions along the way to build an operating model that can support incremental, frequent change. To measure flexibility and adaptability in your operations, consider KPIs that offer a more effective proxy for market responsiveness (e.g., speed to market).


Unsurprisingly, transportation leaders recognize the value of passengers to their business: 73 percent of those we asked said customers, more than any other aspect of business, allow them to deliver value along the transformation journey.


That may be why 54 percent of industry respondents say they integrate VoC insights as a technique to define a clear transformation strategy.

But there’s a clear opportunity for the industry to put passengers even closer to the center of strategy, and consider them throughout the entire transformation journey. While 33 percent of leaders say improving passenger experience is a priority when defining transformation strategy, only 15 percent of leaders expect this to be a part of their 2023 transformation strategy.

And, only 27 percent of leaders consider passengers a priority when designing strategy. Additionally, there is an opportunity for customer care/customer service teams to be more involved in the transformation process—only 17 percent have a seat at the transformation strategy design table, according to our research.

Leaders in transportation can unlock the synergy and shared value between passengers and employees to drive elevated experiences for both. Creating a positive employee experience is the key to a positive passenger experience. The transportation industry's focus on service makes this all the more important, given that passengers are in such close contact with the workforce.

According to our research, an elevated employee experience in transportation may start with greater alignment and clarity from the top. Forty-six percent of leaders say they frequently struggle to align employees around transformation strategy. The top barrier to alignment? More than half of respondents cite a lack of clarity around strategy.  


Transportation leaders can focus on both passenger and employee needs to unlock the shared value that sits at the intersection of these stakeholder groups. Here are your first steps:

  • Align passenger and employee needs with design, systems, and scenario thinking. Transportation leaders should leverage a combination of design, systems, and scenario thinking —a mindset we call DSS Thinking to put passengers at the center of transformation strategy. Let’s consider that passenger behavior changes overnight, as it did in March 2020. Design thinking pushes leaders to experience passenger pain points and needs and integrate this critical information into the design of solutions. Systems thinking helps leaders consider the impact of passenger needs on the business and employees, along with the employee competencies needed to elevate passenger experiences. With scenario thinking, leaders explore future passenger needs, which are shaped by macro forces, to equip employees to support the delivery of exceptional experiences in a changing industry landscape.​ DSS Thinking builds intentionality into your planning so that your workforce (along with your operations) can transform and adapt for a range of possible futures.
  • Look beyond static Voice of Employee insights. AI-enabled analytics can help transportation leaders pinpoint the underlying drivers of employee sentiment and behavior by making sense of unstructured data at scale. With this insight, prioritize interventions, upskilling programs, and digital enablement initiatives that make employees’ jobs easier and equip them to better engage passengers.
  • Drive alignment with intentional change management. A comprehensive change management approach can help you engage employees and promote change adoption throughout the transformation journey, all of which lead to better alignment. At the heart of any effective change management program is a communications strategy that helps leaders reach employees with clear and transparent messaging, which is key to alignment. While fifty-six percent of leaders say strategic communications is the top technique for aligning employees, lack of clarity still stands in the way.