Sustainability, Social Impact and Technology Procurement in the Transport Sector    

Sustainability, Social Impact and Technology Procurement in the Transport Sector  

Published 21/09/23 under:

In recent years, the priorities of the UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) and its Agencies have been undergoing a profound transformation. This shift is largely driven by changing policies that prioritise sustainability and social impact of programmes, which must be reflected throughout the entire supply chain of an organisation. An example of this is the DfT’s Operational Sustainability Strategy. 

As a sector lead for transport at Kerv Digital, I have had a front-row seat when analysing how technologies such as Azure, Dynamics 365 and Power Platform can deliver (or fail to deliver) positive impacts to society through observing improved ways of working, and tracking outcomes that go far beyond the deployment of a new system. In this blog, we will explore how this evolving landscape is impacting the procurement of technology services and discuss measurable approaches for tracking the wider social and environmental impact of supply chains for large IT and software programmes within the transport sector.   

The Shift Towards Sustainability

The imperative for sustainability has become a cornerstone of modern public transport policies in the UK however sustainability should be considered in the broader sense of long-term solutions for society, rather than purely meeting environmental targets, in line with the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals. With continued concerns about climate change, air quality, and congestion, transport agencies are hugely important. There is also immense pressure to ensure that the diverse spectrum of the needs of UK citizens are met and they can benefit from now digital approaches and emerging technologies.   

One of the ways this shift is manifesting is through accessible and inclusive design.  Just as those who use our roads expect to be kept safe and given access to critical support and infrastructure whether they are in a petrol car, an electric car or a bike; equal access to services as a principle remains true in the digital world. Those that are colour blind, those from disadvantaged backgrounds or those simply without an internet connection must not be left out by our advancing society, and ensuring these needs are identified and captured when devising programmes is key.  

These changes involve integrating advanced technologies to serve different user types, and the crucial aspect of this is the ability to continually enhance services as awareness and recognition of various user needs increases. 

Impact on Technology Procurement

The changing priorities of transport agencies have a direct impact on the procurement of technology services. These agencies are no longer just looking for solutions that improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness; they are seeking technology partners who can align with their sustainability goals and contribute to their social impact objectives.  

Here are a few key considerations when seeking a technology provider and partner in this evolving landscape:  

Environmental Sustainability: Transport agencies now expect technology solutions that can help them reduce their environmental impact. This may involve developing software that optimises routes to minimise fuel consumption or implementing data analytics to identify areas where emissions can be reduced.  

Accessibility and Inclusivity: Promoting social impact means making interactions with transport systems and processes accessible to all members of the community and workplace. Technology providers need to ensure that their solutions comply with accessibility standards and can be customised to meet the diverse needs of all UK’s citizens.   

As AI becomes an increasingly ubiquitous tool for technology products, ensuring that the right safeguards and ethical constraints are key to delivering services at pace, to avoid accidental exclusion of individuals or service users who may be overlooked when delivering more rapidly through automation.  

Data Transparency: As sustainability and social impact become central to transport policies, agencies require transparent reporting on how technology solutions contribute to these goals. This means collecting and sharing data on emissions reduction, energy efficiency, and other relevant metrics should be a key consideration when looking for a technology provider and partner. This can be identified by the pursuit or possession of relevant certifications such as B-Corp.   

Long-Term Partnerships: Public transport organisations are looking for technology partners who are committed to their sustainability and social impact objectives over the long term. This may involve ongoing support, updates, and working with multiple partners on one solution, with shared priorities.  The data reported and available by a partner can give valuable insight to their alignment to the transport organisation’s vision, commitments and priorities.   

Tracking Social and Environmental Impact

There’s now increasing focus through market engagements and invitations to tender on social value designed to place responsibility on a supplier to offer more value and commitment to sustainable operations.  

However one of the most significant challenges for transport agencies is how to consistently track the wider social and environmental impact, both positive and negative, of their supply chain for large programmes. It is easy for promises to slip between the cracks after the procurement stage, and this task is made even more complex due to the interconnected nature of supply chains.   

It is crucial for agencies to gain insights into the impact of their operations to ensure everyone remains committed to the original stated mission and can verify their programme is in line with their policies.   

Here are some strategies for tracking social and environmental impact effectively:  

Data Analytics: Utilise advanced data analytics tools to collect, process, and analyse data related to environmental and social impact. This can include tracking carbon emissions, energy consumption, and social inclusion metrics. Kerv Digital’s expertise in the Microsoft Power Platform can be instrumental in creating customised dashboards for such data, ensuring it is easy-to-consume.  

Low-Code Applications: Implement solutions to create a transparent ledger of supply chain activities across multiple suppliers, internal resources and projects as part of the programme. This can help in tracing the origin of products and materials, ensuring that sustainable and ethical sources are used, and measure the overall impact at certain key milestones.  

Collaboration and Reporting: Collaborate with suppliers and partners to establish reporting standards and requirements. Regularly collect and verify data from the supply chain to ensure accuracy.  

Stakeholder Engagement: Engage with various stakeholders, including local communities and environmental organisations, to gather feedback and insights on the impact of transport system change programmes. This can help identify areas for improvement and promote transparency.  

Benchmarking and Certification: Benchmark your organisations performance against industry standards and seek certifications related to sustainability and social impact. This can provide credibility and assurance to the public, whilst ensuring the organisations standards are reflected in the selected supplier.   

The shifting priorities of transport agencies in the public sector towards sustainability and social impact are reshaping the landscape of technology procurement. By doing so, these organisations can prove the value of their ventures, and a return on investment that goes far beyond cost saving and efficiencies. Ensuring that transport software, platforms and architecture are accessible, sustainable and socially responsible will ultimately benefit both the environment and society; meaning that suppliers must continuously improve their sustainability policies to keep pace and be successful, which in turn increases the impact of taxpayer-funded projects markedly. 

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