Data sharing drives new service innovation in Japan’s travel sector

By | 3 minute read | December 3, 2019

There are many factors affecting the railway transportation business in Japan. One of the most important trends shaping the future of the industry are broader, fundamental changes in the way travelers in Japan get from one place to the other. We at JR West, the third largest rail transport network in Japan, have closely observed the rise of the mobility-as-a-service model, or MaaS, around much of the developed world.

The biggest factor behind the emergence of MaaS is the rise of the sharing economy, including ride-sharing and e-hailing services, bike-sharing programs, car-sharing services, and on-demand “pop-up” bus services. What’s driving this trend isn’t only shifting traveler preferences, but also the emergence of a new ecosystem of innovative service providers who are taking advantage of advancing technology and the availability of a richer supply of travel data to create a whole new class of travel services. In fact, it’s this new ecosystem that makes the vision of MaaS—the ability to create a seamless trip chains that involve multiple modes of transport—an attainable reality.

Sharing travel data to drive innovation

Here’s another important thing about the rise of MaaS in Japan: travel data—whether it’s schedules or storm-related delays—is the absolutely essential ingredient, the building blocks that make it all possible. We at JR West have a lot of this data. And we believe that by making available to creative service providers to develop new services for our travelers, we’ll be able to drive a much for satisfying experience for them.

Our IT subsidiary, JR West IT Solutions, is playing a central role in this transformation. As manager of the Railway IT Solutions Department, I’ve been involved in some of our earliest efforts. One of our most successful was a recent proof of concept (PoC) we did using IBM API Connect, a service running on IBM Cloud, to provide MaaS startups with access to our valuable data. We chose API Connect as our API management solution because it enables automated API creation, simple discovery of assets, self-service access for developers, and built-in security and governance.

New services mean happy travelers

We kept our PoC goals deliberately simple, focusing on our internal predictions of train delays. Using API Connect, we converted the delay information by using JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) to open APIs and published them to a small number of trial users. We showed how developers were able to embed these APIs into their applications to create new services, such as navigation systems for passengers, websites for events, and other capabilities that we see as helping passengers and tourists improve their travel experience.

Our PoC represented the first effort of any transportation company in Japan to open up its data resources to a community of developers, and also demonstrates our willingness to stay out in front. Behind our strategy is a simple belief whose evidence is in plain sight: lifespans are getting shorter and shorter not just for technologies, but also for services. We recognize that it’s not enough for us to develop our services by ourselves. We also need to be willing to tap into the innovative energies that are out there in the broader travel ecosystem. API Connect provides a fast path to doing that.

The benefits of leadership

Through our PoC, we’ve demonstrated that our internal data resources can be easily shared with third-party solution providers to create a whole new class of travel-related services. By being the first out of the gate with these types of solutions, we’ve positioned ourselves as an innovator committed to our passengers’ satisfaction.

As travelers increasingly rely on MaaS services to get them efficiently to their destination, the fact that our data is more likely to be embedded in these services is expected to increase the flow of passengers over our rail network.

Watch Daisuke Yamamoto talk about how JR West is adapting to the rise of MaaS.

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