First publishedin ITS International
Just prior to resigning as Conduent Transportation CEO, Mick Slattery talked to Adam Hill about the importance of digital and how tech can transform ITS.
"I am not a career public sector person,” declares Mick Slattery, chief executive officer of Conduent Transportation, at the beginning of his interview with ITS International. “I am not a career transportation person. I am new to this industry, effective August last year. At my core I’ve spent my career creating and launching new opportunities for clients that are tech-based.”
The company is a business unit of Conduent Incorporated, providing public transport and mobility solutions – and Slattery seems, on the face of it at least, like a bold hire. Most of the company’s customers are large transit agencies but for the best part of his long career he has been in consultancy. He spent 10 years with Accenture as a technology and strategy leader before moving into the Microsoft/Accenture joint venture Avanade, whose North America business he led, driving growth in cloud and digital.
Slattery is refreshingly open about his lack of experience in transportation and mentions that he is excited about his (relatively) new role on a number of occasions during a half-hour chat on the phone. In what amounts to a well-rehearsed pitch to clients, he says: “I’m a digital/tech/launch/create things kind of guy.” That therefore begs the question (he says): “So what the heck are you doing at Conduent?”
The answer, Slattery continues without missing a beat, is three-fold: “I love the message that we have to shape how people move through society; two, this space is ripe for digital transformation; three, Conduent’s message is to drive digital interactions between clients and their customers.”
During the recent IBTTA conference in Orlando, Florida, he was interested to hear how much discussion there was of digital and data. Transport is crying out for exactly this sort of approach, he believes – and so, it follows, does Conduent itself, which appointed him. “I don’t think everyone fully understands the capabilities we have,” he continues. “We haven’t been as effective in the past about telling our story.” There is a lot to say about Conduent’s electronic toll collection, public transit, safety systems and parking management – a business which has been going half century and has solutions deployed in 27 countries. He runs through a series of marquee statistics about the company’s place in the ITS industry (see Conduent Transportation in numbers) with obvious pride.
Slattery has an enthusiastic approach to life and work. He also has what politicians used to call ‘the vision thing’. He can see big pictures, talking in terms of safety, for instance, of how Conduent “can help organisations achieve their Vision Zero goals”.
The company is doing a lot of work in southern California, as part of an agreement with Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, including modernisation – based on congestion pricing - of the tolling system on ExpressLanes in LA County to help reduce congestion and improve safety along the I-10 and I-110 corridors. It would certainly be quite something to significantly alter driving habits in LA, a place which has been seen as the ultimate ‘city of the automobile’ in the past century.
He thinks it’s more interesting to broaden the discussion out from simply dynamic tolling in LA to talk about congestion in urban areas more generally. “It’s a hot topic in New York, LA and most major cities,” he points out. To solve congestion, there needs to be more thought around getting people who use toll roads to find somewhere to park once they reach their destination, “to figure out the last mile”.
He warms to his theme. “Congestion is as much about parking as dynamic pricing. These are all part of this process of solving transit management. Enabling travellers to make choices will inherently help us solve some of the problems we have.”
He is very big on the idea of choice. All of us are increasingly used to the idea of being ‘nudged’ towards certain behaviours, for example in music or entertainment online. Advances in technology mean that transit organisations can be influencers in similar ways. “My smartphone does all kinds of influencing of me, every day,” Slattery points out. The apps we routinely use today show us options, offers and data pretty much most of the time. Show the traveller the options and they will take decisions – and those decisions may in effect arise from questions that we might not even have asked in the normal run of things.
Going back to his original point, he adds: “Dynamic pricing is absolutely an element of it – but it’s about all the elements that go into that traveller’s journey.”
He concedes that, while many people talk a good game on the importance of customer experience (CX), some companies may just be paying lipservice to the idea. “It’s possible,” he agrees. Talking at the Global Cities Makers Forum in Paris earlier this year about how to improve people’s journeys, Slattery said: “Different travellers want different things. Some people want to get on a train and relax. Some people want the comfort of their own car. Some people would prefer to be driven in a taxi. And it depends on where they’re going and what they would like to get out of a trip. The biggest way to make a dent is to bring the travel providers together with the travellers and make sure the travellers can understand what experiences are available to them: How long will it take? When can I leave? How much will it cost? The more we can have that conversation together, the more I think it’ll be easier for travellers to solve their needs.”
He recalls the Paris discussion. “My point was that it’s a very individualised thing. Some people want to drive, or be driven, some people want to take the scenic route, and some couldn’t care about any of that – they just want the lowest price. When you talk about enhancing the CX, it will vary from person to person.” There are fixed economics associated with large-scale infrastructure, and these may not dovetail with exactly what a given traveller wants on any given day – although it’s a fair bet that public transport frequency will be high on the list of most people’s desires. “Travellers are going to determine their options and won’t always choose the same thing every time,” he says. “Different cities are going to have different needs.”
Asked how worried he is about US spending on roads, Slattery answers modestly: “I’ll leave that to the experts. But it is apparent, for sure, that investment is required in our infrastructure. He acknowledges there are “some big challenges to solve”, with cost high on the list – in particular, how infrastructure is funded. “It’s hard to use gas taxes when electric vehicles, as a percentage of road traffic, are expanding,” he says. “It’s hard to use taxes on vehicles when people are moving to shared.”
Part of Conduent’s role is to work with transit agencies to encourage greater collaboration, particularly across multimodal transportation. “There are things we can do today to make the CX better,” he continues. “If there’s a challenge to solve around CX it’s about how we work together to share data. Providers must be clear about capacity, travel times and fares, especially when fares are dynamic. There’s not a massive incentive to share data widely at the moment.” The rise of Mobility as a Service will bring more impetus to the debate, he thinks. “I’m very excited about how we can fill in the gaps. There are interesting opportunities.”
Slattery is not short of confidence: summarising what qualities he brings to Conduent, he says he is “someone who has created the future multiple times in the past”. He has “synthesised technology with challenges to create new solutions”. He was involved in the early days of interactive TV and e-commerce – he knows what it’s like to be ahead of the curve. And there is something else that comes from his time in consultancy. “I’m used to working in a client-oriented culture,” he adds. “I wake up every day thinking how to earn the right to serve my client. What I bring is maybe the perspective that is not constrained by the history of how various agencies have acted in the past. I like to ask the question ‘why?’”
What do clients think of that? “They lean forward and want to engage,” he confides. They recognise that things are going to have to be done differently in future, he suggests.
Conduent Transportation is not going to be siloed under Slattery – a desire which in part reflects, perhaps, the breadth of his own interests. He has a masters from Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Notre Dame. But as a youngster, he was keen on a range of subject areas. “I was going to be either a forest ranger, a marine biologist or an electrical engineer,” he recalls happily. That’s quite some spread of future careers. The latter won out because his teachers were able to give him more information on that than the other two, and he was good at maths. “It’s problem solving, creating solutions,” he says. “I love that.” By the time he got through four years of it, and had the chance of doing a masters, he decided there were other things he might love more; hence, consulting. “It’s practical,” he says. “It’s fun!” It is frankly hard to imagine Slattery being less than enthusiastic about anything. Committed to work though he clearly is, Slattery has a proper hinterland involving love of family and the great outdoors (in particular golf and skiing) at his North Carolina home.
He is also on the board of directors for the Central and Western North Carolina chapter of The Make-A-Wish Foundation, whose mission to help terminally-ill children must put everything in perspective.
At one point during the interview with ITS International, his phone line drops out. When he comes back on the line, he seems genuinely crestfallen, since he was in full flow at the time.
As you would imagine, it doesn’t take him long to pick up again. This is an attractive quality: Slattery is good fun, boundlessly enthusiastic and has a fine track record of achievement in areas which are of increasing interest to the ITS industry. “I think I bring this digital- and technology-filled perspective; there’s some super-exciting future for us,” he concludes. Conduent Transportation knows what it has got.
Conduent Transportation in numbers
• Manages 46% of US electronic tolling systems
• Processes $2.4 billion electronic toll transactions each year
• 8.9 million people travel daily through its toll systems
• Implements one in four US public safety enforcement systems
• Manages 48% of US parking systems
Mick Slattery resigned in early June for personal reasons. This is an edited version of the interview which appeared in ITS International May/June 2019 under the headline: ‘So what the heck are you doing at Conduent?’