The Transformation of Transportation




I was in Chicago today at IBTTA‘s annual conference on the Transformation of Transportation. Robert Atkinson spoke. He is President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a policy think-tank, and author of The Past and Future of America’s Economy: Long Waves of Innovation that Power Cycles of Growth.


He spoke about the kind of dramatic impact that significant investments in IT and the Smart Power Grid could have on our country, comparing it to the secondary impact of the Interstate highway system in the 60s. 


“When we built the highway system back in the 50s, it did a whole lot more than help people get from point A to point B. It jumpstarted the growth of the automotive industry – people bought more cars. It changed the housing distribution in the country as people adjusted their location based on the highways. It made possible the large chain department stores that brought together varieties of offerings under a single roof because trucking was improved. All of these dramatic changes were essentially built on the interstate highway system.”



“We would get a similarly powerful impact today from a new digital infrastructure.  Japan and Korea are the two world leaders in broadband. Today 85% of Japanese homes have high-speed fiber optics. They have a goal to achieve 90% next year, and 100% the year after that. We are behind.”


“In the US only 15% of doctors have electronic health records. In Denmark or Finland or Sweden or Netherlands, 90-95%.  When you do that, you transform the entire healthcare system. You can build real time information networks and answer questions like, how many people have flu today? what is effect of this drug on this day?”


“If we had the smart-grid infrastructure we could achieve real time monitoring of traffic. We could respond to congestion, pollution, accidents as they occur.” Imagine the amount of time saved if you cut your time in congestion by half over the course of a year. There would be a corresponding surge in productivity. 



Atkinson went on, “Government needs to enable the creation of these platforms. Once the platforms are built, private sector can ride on them, building a new generation of capabilities.” You can reach Atkinson at



Seth Kahan,

About the author

I help leaders with change, innovation, and growth. My latest book is "Getting Innovation Right." My first book, "Getting Change Right," was a business bestseller.