South Africa’s transport sector goes digital to create value


The Huawei Connect 2021: Transportation Summit took place on October 12 at Huawei’s offices in Sandton. The theme was Dive into Digital, specifically aimed at digital transformation South Africa’s rail, port, air and road sectors.

South Africa’s various transport organizations are not often seen as synonymous with innovation and technology, but if the country’s supply chain industry is not to stop, this is exactly what ‘they must become. They will one day be the technological powerhouses that are key to the digital transformation of the supply chain industry. Cloud-based Internet Protocol technologies already exist and have been implemented in many countries, allowing their transport systems not only to survive, but also to thrive.

The digitization of the transport sector in South Africa is the solution to meet the growing demand for freight and passenger transport in the face of rapid population growth and increasing urbanization. The transport sector must heed this call for digitization over the next five years to ensure that transport is a catalyst for economic growth through smart infrastructure, integration and technology.

Rail must be at the heart of any digital transformation of supply chains, relieving pressure on our already overloaded road network, Huawei chief representative Thomas Snyman said at the summit. He listed a number of challenges and problems existing in the existing rail communication network in South Africa which can be solved through smart technologies.

First, obsolete signaling systems have become the bottleneck of rail systems. High-speed passenger transport and cargo reloading place higher demands on the reliability of railway wireless networks and signal stability in high-speed operations.

Second, the signaling system depends on excessive ground devices, with a proportional increase in investment and maintenance costs. The existing trackside devices are old, so some features are no longer available. In reality, only low-speed and voice services are currently supported, which greatly affects the efficiency of line maintenance.

Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) COO Tshepo Kgobe

Through partnerships between the private sector and government, smart mobility will make it easier and faster to travel, allowing the sector to make the most of the freight economy. However, no transport system can function in isolation – intelligent mobility requires an integrated transport system connected to all modes of transport, not only for commuters but also for freight.

A fully connected rail, road, air and port system can be achieved through unified data sharing using smart technologies such as cloud computing, big data and the Internet of Things (IoT). This could improve efficiency, ensure greater safety and security, and deliver a better customer experience at a lower cost. External rail services should focus on improving reliability, passenger convenience and information gathering, thereby improving the overall passenger travel experience.

A 5G network will be an essential element to enable an integrated transport system. Its higher speeds, lower latency and scalability will allow better communication between all modes of transport. These are being implemented around the world, for example, Huawei recently signed a cooperation agreement with Vodafone and Hungary’s East-West Intermodal Logistics Services to build Europe’s first smart rail hub, using a 5G private network for internal communication and management of technical equipment networks.

With this foundation in place, traditional transportation companies can provide advanced tools and technologies for which there are many possibilities for the future. One possibility the summit was informed about is artificial intelligence, in which sensors are embedded in end devices that “talk” to each other, rather than concentrating them in a cloud-based solution. Potential applications for railways include more intelligence in locomotives to increase safety, automatic inventory replenishment to increase efficiency, wear detection, and automatic repair planning to reduce operating costs. immobility.

A secondary benefit of the digitization of rail will be to ease the pressure on the roads. A 2019 GMA study found that by 2025, Gauteng’s roads will be so congested that highway traffic will slow to 10 km / h, explained the chief operating officer of the Gautrain Management Agency (GMA ) Tshepo Kgobe. This means that it would take a freight truck four hours to travel from Pretoria to downtown Johannesburg.

Some of the deficiencies in our current road infrastructure have been identified: traffic management cannot monitor road conditions; drivers are unaware of upcoming road conditions to take avoidance measures; and traffic lights cannot flexibly adapt to traffic volumes. Additionally, current technologies for identifying traffic violations can often be thwarted by fog, strong lights, or low-resolution cameras associated with high-speed drivers. Yet by introducing advanced technologies connected to fast networks managed by intelligent algorithms, we can reduce congestion, identify areas requiring maintenance and improve road safety in real time.

If our ports falter, so will our economy. This is very important and it underlines the importance of integration. Almost all of the resilience of the South African economy over the past year has been attributed to the commodities boom and the silver from metals that we have been able to ship overseas. Yet our ports have been forced to declare force majeure twice in the past three months, which also has an impact on rail performance.

A presentation at Huawei Connect 2021: Transportation Summit

Rose Moyo, senior ICT specialist at Huawei, listed three elements of a digitization strategy for ports:

  • Operational automation, which takes advantage of ICT technologies such as autonomous driverless cranes
  • Visualization of services with real-time asset status, universal container tracking and visual optimization
  • Mobility in the workplace, the need for which has been accelerated by the current pandemic, requiring internet access everywhere

When it comes to a port, there is a tsunami of data coming from things and people across many different places. The problem is how to consolidate all this data into something useful as an application. Automation requires an end-to-end solution – it creates a bottleneck if a single process has to be manual. Delays are synonymous with inefficiency and wasted money.

This approach requires considering a port not as a geographical entity but as a larger logistics hub, with the circulation of intelligent digital information at its center. For example, retailers need to know exactly where their products are at all times in order to plan their marketing and save time and money. This can only be achieved when all aspects of logistics are linked – port, rail, road and sometimes air.

Given South Africa’s strategic position – with a long coastline, numerous ports and a conduit to neighboring landlocked countries – investing in the digitization of our transport sector will have a disproportionate impact on GDP.

In a port environment, opting for fiber connections is a challenge and the requirement is therefore for WiFi. Increasing efficiency is at the heart of a digitization strategy in a port environment, and this is achieved by breaking the vertical silo approach in favor of a single platform with shared aggregate data, better done with a cloud-based platform.

Each of the Summit speakers highlighted the primacy of four key pillars of a digital transformation strategy: people, processes, technology and security. Technology leaders in the transportation industry must embrace forward thinking for execution and delivery. We need to act quickly to create an agile culture in which we deliver quickly and iteratively, while maintaining a laser focus on the customer and ensuring employees stay engaged and productive.

The technology component of transformation must focus on building a strong database to generate valuable business information. Platforms need to be agile and able to seamlessly connect to ecosystems, including supply chain partners and customers. Infrastructure needs to be modernized while leveraging cloud applications as much as possible to increase speed to market.

Finally, everything must be built and deployed with a secure mindset to face the growing threat of cyber attacks and enable the adoption of cloud technologies.

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