Free Ideas for the Transportation-Consulting Industry

Alan Belniakbusiness, Marketing, technology9 Comments

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I think marrying existing technologies today to seasoned industries will refresh the outlook on those industries and potentially breathe new life into them. I describe four business ideas and how certain technologies can be applied.

The Background: I’m a Recovering Engineer

In a former career, I was a transportation engineer for a consulting firm. The firm served a mix of public, private, and institutional clients, and their services ranged from transportation planning, traffic engineering and design, permitting, land development, and environmental services. Put into layman’s terms: when that empty lot got turned into a usable site at the end of your street, I worked for a company that helped get those plans and permits and meetings taken care of.

I enjoyed what I did, and moved onto other things, and now I’m here. But, I still can’t stop thinking about that job, and every so often, I’m struck with a business idea or technology application. Below are four of those ideas, and they focus around marketing, content creation, and value addition.

Idea 1: A Geographical Mash-up of Completed Projects

map mash-up of business locations

What about a map of the US (or other locations) with typical Google push-pins of where project work has been completed? A little fly-out that reads something like client name, type of work, length of permitting, point person, construction cost – you get the idea (see example, though that’s just regular data from Google maps). Put the information that matters in that fly out. Link out to pictures of the site. Bonus points for ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures. And show videos, too: interviews with the site owner, or a neighbor, or the lead design engineer talking about the site challenges.

The developers (the engineering firm’s clients) could use this as a marketing tool as they court other site owners. The firm I worked at could use it as a marketing tool to attract more clients. Heck, the firm I used could use it internally, for when other projects are starting up nearby, as a way of doing some due diligence. I got this idea from a Mashable! post referencing a digital/dynamic yearbook for Colgate University.

Idea 2: Ebooks

Chutes and Ladders (via http://www.flickr.com/photos/shawnblog/1003517590/)

Ebooks aren’t new, but they’d be new to this company. What about an ebook that shows the timeline of a permitting process for a ‘typical’ private development project? What about calling out the typical hurdles and where that process might go awry, and how seasoned veterans of the permitting industry (this is where a very soft sell comes in) can help get it back on track? I even thought of a design in my head as I drafted this: a Chutes and Ladders  approach. Or how about an ebook that talks about the interplay of the multiple permits for airports? Or a comparison of a ‘typical’ residential development approval versus a Massachusetts Chapter 40B approach? The point is to provide content that has value to help cement a position of thought leadership. Give (and demonstrate!) the impression to others that you know what you’re talking about.

Idea 3: Video

When I was a transportation engineer, we used TLAs like it was nobody’s business. We threw around so much jargon, it was hard to keep up. Many industries are like this – this is nothing new. What about a glossary of these terms for the layperson? The beauty of this idea is that could be an ebook (see above), or a video of someone explaining them. YouTube is the second-most used search engine right now. Load up a video, tag it appropriately and provide the right meta data, and score some juice in Google.

An extension of that is the following: One of the terms used in traffic engineering is ‘level of service’ (LOS). It denotes the quality of traffic flow, and follows a typical grade school (US) report card system: A is great (free-flow), and E is at capacity (traffic jam). F is failure (more demand than capacity). Why not show what level of Service is? Record a few sessions of intersections or freeways or side streets where there is LOS A, B, C, D, and E conditions. Add an audio track that describes why. Not only will this get Google juice, but this can be used in client meetings and public meetings to show what some of the analysis actually means in the real world (it is often very tricky to describe to the public). It can be used over and over and over again.

Idea 4: Augmented Reality

Yelp using AR (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ascentstage/3889127599/)

This is similar to my Google maps idea, but on steroids. Augmented reality is – in a nutshell – the overlay of digital data on a digital device screen, combined with a ‘real world’ view through the device’s camera.  Mashable! has not only a good definition of this, but a static screen shot and an embedded movie of this, in action.  What if a mobile phone app (iPhone or Android, maybe?) were made that let a user (say, a prospective client) to drive through a town to see all of the other work this firm has done?  Similar to Wikitude, maybe, but just for developments?  As the view changes through the camera and onto the screen, up pops little digital tags of the work that the firm has completed, with links out to a deeper description of those projects.

A second version (or same version, but with permission/user controls) could be developed for internal employees, as they go out to do site visits and site reconnaissance. Knowing what’s around (this time, not just work done by this firm, but maybe data pulled from the Town’s/City’s municipal database about other projects) could make any report and research that much more rich and detailed. The app could be sold (to make a profit) to other engineers/engineering firms. The app could be given away to prospects (as a source of lead generation). Update: I had this idea a few months ago, and never wrote about it. Just yesterday, ReadWriteWeb published an article about SAP doing something very similar. So, I had to get my post out for fear of looking like copy cat. 🙂

So, How about You?

Here are a few closing questions (more than usual) to hopefully make you think for a moment. Do you work in this industry? Can you see this happening? Or, have you already? Can you apply these ideas to your industry? Can you think of another technology application and apply it towhat you do now to put a different face on it?


image credits: richardmasoner on Flickr ; shawnblog on Flickr; jntolva in Flickr





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