2020 The Asterisk Year

We tend to think in nice round numbers, such as fives, tens, hundreds.  Despite being a nice round number, 2020 will always be the year with the asterisk.

Researchers will seek to account for the social, economic, and political events of the year by assuming 2020 can be “normalized”.   This is too simple a concept.  If the economy can be represented as a factory that can be stopped and started, then concerns over 2020’s prospects are unfounded.  However, this ignores the many activities that require multiple years to complete, such as capital programs, public services, or other planning and permitting activities.  The challenge will be to see how activities with longer horizons perform during 2020.  It may be many years to get to the new “normal”.

What is "Smart Transportation"

In talking about automation, emerging technologies, telecommunications, Internet of Things, we are witnessing the evolution of “Smart Transportation”.  And in many ways, they are correct, but for something to be smart, the implications that the current system is “dumb”.  I don’t think “Smart” describes the complexity of transportation.

Transportation began with a man/woman carrying something from Point A to Point B.  Seeing everyone in the tribe carrying their own materials, someone says “We could carry more if we lashed the object to a pole”.  Together, they can now effectively carry more.  The concept of efficiency, per-unit costs, time, etc., became more manageable as people understood transportation allowed for the construction of structures, the movement of food products, minerals, and ideas.

From a technology perspective, we harnessed the elements:  wind drove our boats, fire forged the metals that become bolt, nails, airplanes.  Over time, we learned to understand risks creating commercial laws/traditions that supported the movement of goods and people.  Eventually, humans learned to use boats, animals, sleds, wheels, air, internal combustion engines, etc., each innovation requiring new technological knowledge to be gained and shared. (The history of the wheel!)

In that perspective, in the year 2525, some critics may talk about how simple “our smart technology” will appear.  In their mind, today’s “smart innovations” will be the future’s “dumb” system that needs improvement.

 

Data as a Model – Football Yardage

Data is an abstraction or a physical activity. When describing data we are measuring one element that may actually have multiple variables that influence its outcome.

On Monday, the LSU Tigers will play the Clemson Tigers for the College Football National Championship. Before, during and after the game, reporters, fans, and announcers will compare many metrics. They will discuss turnovers, first downs, penalties, etc. but the most common statistic (beyond the score) will be offensive yards. Offensive yardage represents many things: the quality of the offensive line (or its lack of execution), each coach’s play-calling, and the quality of the quarterback/receivers play. For example, Joe Burrow’s highlight against Georgia represents a 71 yard pass and that is all. The duration of the play, etc., are compressed into one small data point.

1st & 10 at LSU 20

https://www.espn.com/college-football/playbyplay?gameId=401132981

(3:57 – 3rd) Joe Burrow pass complete to Justin Jefferson for 71 yds to the Geo 9 for a 1ST down

So, when you are watching the game, remember the announcers often describe an action by a single variable, one which is influenced by many things. And for some items, “data” fails to describe the variables that create these memorable moments.

GEAUX TIGERS!!

Eating Chocolates and Performance Metrics

We have all seen or heard this quote from Peter Drucker.

https://www.stonevp.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/measure-control.png

The focus on performance is a byproduct of a data rich world.  Deploying “the internet of everything”, provides the ability to improve system performance at a greater degree of granularity  if we all can agree upon the desired outcome.

A fan of slapstick/physical comedy, I always enjoyed this skit. Lucille and Vivian are unable to keep up with their chocolate wrapping assignment.  They eventually “hide the evidence” that the system is failing, as their confidence turns to panic. (The woman manager actually created a perverse incentive, i.e., no unwrapped chocolates. To avoid being fired, they actually do a worse job than being truthful about their work, or the manager observing to see if they were preforming as expected.)

The manager saw the chocolates were gone. She was delighted, but did not understand the system’s real performance. One could argue that her measurement tools were weak, but her eyesight was sufficient to allow her to believe that no other testing was necessary, the objective was met, no unwrapped chocolates in the other room. Lucille and Vivian do not confront the manager. Their mouths are full of chocolates, thus agreeing to be overworked yet again.


So, when examining ways to manage performance measurements, industrial processing does a good job of discussing flow charts, etc., but it may not necessarily capture the ingenuity of the work bench! And this is where the second Drucker quote serves as a useful counterpoint.

Lessons In Mentorship From Peter Drucker - Credera

But there may be a better quote… “just remember  performance measures are like a box of chocolates.”

Forrest Gump Quotes About Running. QuotesGram

What Attributes Are the Most Important When Starting A New Transportation Service

Many have postulated what generates transportation corridor development, especially regarding new service options.  Often, these discussions involve many users seeking someone to help them solve “their” problem. For example, the shipper will want service alternatives that are reliable and/or at a lower cost than their current operation.  Carriers want more cargo on their network.  Public sector groups want to see more economic activity,  expressed as freight traffic, through their region. (The same could be applied to intermediaries, such as labor, freight forwarders, brokers, etc.).  There seems to be no single word that encompasses the “why” regarding how transportation services start and continue over time. 

In organizing my thoughts on this topic, I came up with two alternative lists to distill what maybe needed for a transportation service to begin and remain successful.   I really don’t know which list is better, so they are presented here for your consideration. 

First, the 7 C’s.  (I was thinking of something catchy.  I think this works..)

  1. Capital-It takes money to get something started.  There are barriers to entry, costs of renting/purchasing equipment, etc., as transportation may require large upfront costs before the first shipment occurs.
  2. Carrier-A carrier (or multiple carriers) must be willing to offer that service, possessing the right equipment, skills, etc. to satisfy a shipper’s needs.
  3. Connectivity-The trade lane must service a network, or be tied to networks, so that the cargo does not stop at a midpoint.  For example, there are many ports in the U.S., but not all are served by multiple Class I railroads.  This could put these ports at a disadvantage for rail dependent cargos.  (There are other connectivity issues related to pipelines, roadways, shipper locations, channel characteristics, etc., so don’t think I am only picking on railroads!).
  4. Cargo-There has to be cargo operating in both ways (to spread out the revenue costs for the carrier) or someone is willing to pay for the empty movement, but cargo must be available and willing to pay for that freight service. 
  5. Collaboration-For the carrier, shipper and other engaged parties, the service must be seen as an important relationship, not a “one-off” item, to encourage shippers and carriers to be confident the service will continue into the future.  This may also require a champion to ensure that everyone is working toward the same goal. (Yes, Champion is a “C” word, but in this context, it is a visionary pushing for collaboration.)
  6. Costs-There is no free lunch.  Costs must be set at a level where carriers benefit while shippers receive their desired service levels, and where possible, there are little significant cost on other users/groups.
  7. Climate-Does the business climate support this service?  Can the service handle any disruptions or adopt to changing conditions?  Given discussions on resiliency, climate may be a good word when discussing risks outside of operational activity.

My alternative term is OARS (like row your boat?)

  1. Operations – The right equipment, permits, labor agreements, etc., to make a transportation service run,
  2. Assets – This category includes the actual transportation equipment and infrastructure (roadways, vessels, trucks, cranes, docks, etc.), and the labor (truck driver, train, customs, services…),
  3. Reliable– Everyone has to commit to making the service “work”, where service risks are minimized, and revenue streams can be managed so that everyone benefits.  
  4. Support– Everyone involved understands their role, and works to ensure the cargo, equipment, service, etc., work as expected.  In some ways, this final category may be the hardest to maintain over the long term as markets/costs, can change over time.

In reviewing these two lists, there exist many nuanced concepts, but one “C” word seems to be an unspoken, but vital, element: commitment.  This requires a commitment to provide the service (carrier), use the service (shipper), and to support the service (public sector/other agents). 

 

Don’t Tell Me!!!

Wise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it.
Benjamin Franklin

The older I get, the more I see this message true. It is easy to assume we are all experts. For a researcher, this is not a good attitude. We all know the one way to do any research activity (process, data, approach, etc.), but in doing so, we often forget the joy that comes from learning something new. It is in that learning, based on recommendations, comments, critiques, etc., that we grow as researchers. But it is in the teaching to others where we learn more.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Damaged Pizza and Potholes

In October 2018, I made a presentation on the challenges of funding highways in Mississippi.  As the Domino’s Paving for Pizza campaign started earlier that year, I suggested that Mississippians should only eat Domino’s pizza.  This would be a win for everyone, Domino’s sells more pizza, people have better roads without having spent money on highway/vehicle related taxes.  (I really liked the pizza/pothole meter, although think of what is happening to your car when you hit a pothole!)

Domino’s fixed two potholes in Jackson, but I am sure there are other potholes in Mississippi.