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Business intelligence, data communications, smart card technology... there are a whole range of opportunities opening up for VARs...

Business intelligence, data communications, smart card technology... there are a whole range of opportunities opening up for VARs and resellers in the transport sector

The transport industry, despite a 'stick-in-the-mud' reputation, is a rich seam for the latest IT products. Internet, e-mail and mobile phones are standard while accounting and payroll packages, word processing software and personnel record systems are now commonplace.

Business intelligence software vendor Business Objects provides front-end analytical tools for a variety of sectors, one of the largest being the transport sector. Approximately half of the company's overall business is dealt with through the channel sales model. Product marketing manager Richard Neale remains optimistic that there is a range of opportunities.

Business intelligence
The best opening for VARs, according to Neale, is the large growth area of the Extranet, whereby business intelligence is shared between companies as part of the supply chain management system. "It is becoming imperative that companies run these operations more efficiently and therefore this is a burgeoning area for a VAR wishing to enter the transport sector for the first time," he says. "Return on investments are quick and easy for both the customer and the VAR."

Indeed, current research from the Meta Group has indicated that only five to ten per cent of all UK desktops currently have access to business intelligence, and companies collecting and exploiting data is seen by many as having significant corporate potential. Information seems to top the list as the greatest need within the market and this is no more clearly illustrated than in the boom in mobile-enabled applications, such as WAP phones and PDAs. Many employees have decided to beat the rat race and go mobile or become home-based. This has obviously increased demand for mobile applications, many designed by vendors for the logistics and distribution areas.

Data communications is big business within the transport sector, and when it comes to issues such as delivery times many organisations are vying against each other. Ian Thomas, marketing manager at network satellite operator Inmarsat, confirms this, saying: "In transport is an almost insatiable hunger for solutions. Within the freight area, for example, there is an ever-increasing pressure on margins, prompting the need to seek out further value-added services which can be passed onto customers.

Global Positioning Systems is currently a much-hyped topic within the freight arena as it relates directly to the exact timings and positions of vehicles. In the UK, there is reasonable coverage across the country from terrestrial networks, but there are patches that remain uncovered and a GPS facility can come to the rescue.

Smart travellers
Multiple application smart cards, essentially pieces of plastic containing an embedded microprocessor, offer potential to a huge variety of applications within transport. Non-contact smart cards allow public transport users to pay for fares quickly and conveniently by passing their card in front of a reader. This has a significant impact on the speed at which travellers can board trains and other forms of transport, as they neither need to search for cash or queue to buy tickets, nor do they need to have them checked manually or via a slot machine at a barrier.

As smart cards are more than capable of carrying multiple applicat-ions, analysts believe there is strong potential for transport companies and organisations to partner with complementary businesses to package attractive offers and services. GlobalPlatform members Gemplus and Motorola are involved in a smart card project called c-Travel. The purpose of the project is to provide a solution for corporate travellers to easily book travel worldwide.

Public relations
Regardless of continuing publicity concerning the failure of CRM projects, customer services continues to be a hot topic within organisations such as rail companies which have suffered severely from safety and ticketing issues.

According to Dave Smeeton, key account manager at Swallow Information Systems, there is a phenomenal growth in the 'customer feedback' area of CRM. This growth, claims Smeeton, has been prompted by the boom in customer services in general. "Customer services has taken off as one of the biggest areas in transport technology," he says. This, he claims, is in part due to the spate of incidents the rail industry has witnessed over the last two years.

"Now it seems all the rail companies are looking at ways to better serve their customers and keep them informed of service, safety and ticketing issues," he says. "How well these firms are performing in the view of their regulatory bodies is of utmost importance now. A wealth of opportunity is opening up for the average VAR and reseller."


Contacts
Business Objects: www.businessobjects.com
Inmarsat: www.inmarsat.com
Gemplus: www.gemplus.com
Motorola: www.motorola.com


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