Transport technology firm 21st Century is expanding its reach with a new strategy that sees it move towards providing integrated on-vehicle solutions

 

21stcentury

 

2016 sees technology company 21st Century adopting a new strategy that extends the range and reach of the solutions that it provides to the transport sector. The move aims to capitalise on the company’s strengths and close relationships with customers.

It reflects, in part, the acquisition in April 2015 of Coventry-based RSL Group. As chief executive Russ Singleton notes, the new approach sees 21st Century move beyond providing individual solutions for the supply and installation of CCTV, telematics and monitoring systems, towards highly integrated on-board technologies with connected and web based back-office software management applications.

Of course 21st Century has a background that has seen it work with a wide variety of operators, not just in the UK but across Europe too. The company’s traditional strengths were in ‘point solutions’ such as CCTV within the bus and rail sectors. Its success in this field was built around integrating technologies supplied by third parties.

It led the Croydon-based company to innovate in numerous areas, such as pioneering wireless download and high definition technology for CCTV and creating Ecomanager, a telematics-based driver efficiency reporting system.

“Those things have all been created thanks to the close relationship we have with our customers,” says Singleton. “We have delivered solutions that work for them and match their needs.”

That close customer focus has seen 21st Century develop a nationwide customer service support network that maintains a close dialogue between the two sides and a spin-off from this has been the ability to develop new products and technology that meet customer requirements.

“We have multiple points of customer contact, so we’re always talking,” adds Singleton. “We also have very good people working in the business and the sum of that is that we are seen as a trusted integrator. It’s a very competitive market though, so we are looking at ways in which we can grow the business and that’s where our new strategy comes in.”

That strategy has seen 21st Century begin to look at making acquisitions of other companies that can enhance its presence in the marketplace. This is not acquisition for acquisition’s sake as Singleton says, but instead examining companies that have real potential for synergies with the existing 21st Century business and which build on its strengths.

The first step in this new process was the acquisition of RSL Group. Singleton is enthusiastic about the company and how it can play a part in 21st Century’s future.

“They have some great capabilities,” he says. “They really are market leaders in developing and supplying public information systems in the transport field and they really know the product. By acquiring the company it means that 21st Century gains that off-vehicle part of the puzzle.”

Together, the expanded 21st Century now not only has the strengths of technology integration, but also the ability to develop and produce new products in-house in a wide variety of areas.

“It’s all about connecting things up and providing a basis for the future,” adds Singleton. “We have connected systems for connected journeys. It means we can work in a whole host of fields, be it real time passenger information, smart ticketing, mobile information, way finding or interactive terminals.”

In the RTPI field, RSL has existing installations in place in a number of towns and cities across the UK from Poole to Aberdeen. Meanwhile, Singleton admits that smart ticketing is a new area for 21st Century, but it’s an area that has growing importance, especially with increasing government enthusiasm for all things smart.

He notes that it’s a natural progression for 21st Century. “We have an aggressive plan for smart ticketing,” he says. “There are a lot of players in the sector, but they tend to concentrate on the large cities. We believe that there are opportunities to work with RSL’s existing customers on special projects in local authority areas; people who are off the radar of the big players in the sector. Meanwhile, we also have operator links, so we can join it all up.”

Of course aside from the acquisition of RSL, 21st Century continues to innovate. The company has provided passenger counting systems for some years. While this may be of more relevance to the continental European market, Singleton and his team believes that there are real opportunities for the industry closer to home to improve customer service by harnessing the opportunities offered by the technology.

“There are some real synergies from this technology,” he adds. “We can have the counting technology fitted to a bus or train and then feed that data to a stop or stations further along the route, thereby informing passengers about where on the bus or train there are seats available or more room. That has some real benefits, not only from a customer service point of view, but also it has the opportunity to reduce dwell time by giving the passenger an informed choice. There’s all sorts of things you can do by integrating technology.”

Technology is also moving on all the time too. While the emphasis of the business is changing, 21st Century was a pioneer when it came to the introduction of digital CCTV systems and the latest technology in that area has seen tiny pinhole and high definition cameras coming onto the market. Singleton believes that they offer some real opportunities to improve safety, particularly in the rail industry where forward facing HD cameras on the front of trains can be used to great effect.

Meanwhile, the company is also working to integrate a variety of on-vehicle systems, informed by 21st Century’s participation in a European Bus System of the Future project, which has created a common standard in this area.

With legacy analogue systems it was impossible to get various on-vehicle systems to ‘talk’ to one another, but this isn’t the case any more with digital systems. It’s something that the company has proven with its participation in the EBSF project.

“We want to be completely agnostic,” says Singleton. “We don’t want the customer to be locked into one system or platform, instead all on-vehicle systems should have the ability to plug in and talk to one another. That can open up all sorts of opportunities for customers and stakeholders, for example, by taking a variety of data feeds, that can provide information to engineers about the state of the vehicle. It’s not just about passengers; there’s a lot of information that can be captured and interpreted that can help inform people within companies that has the ultimate benefit of improving customer service.”

Meanwhile, the close relationship that 21st Century has with its customers still manifests itself in bespoke solutions that come about through dialogue. A good example of this was a remote monitoring system developed for Network Rail at Dawlish in the wake of the devastating storms of early 2014. Using CCTV situational awareness technology it monitors the railway to detect any landslips.

“That just shows how that close relationship with our customers works,” says Singleton. “It came about through a simple discussion. It’s about joining up the dots and working to delight our customers. That’s what this business is built upon.”

 

Smarttrain

Croydon-based 21st Century has created a mock-up train at its head office that demonstrates the power of its joined up thinking and the range of solutions that it can offer customers.

The SmartTrain features a number of new and innovative CCTV fixtures, including a new ‘fish-eye’ style lens that can offer a high quality, high definition option.

Meanwhile, passenger counting technology is also fitted, demonstrating how information about where there is space available on the train can be disseminated not only on the train itself, but also on platforms, reducing dwell times.

“We offer a wide range of solutions to the transport industry,” says Russ Singleton, chief executive of 21st Century. “The SmartTrain really allows us to demonstrate to both existing and potential customers how broad that range is. It can also prompt discussions about how systems can be tailored to specific needs, so it’s a very valuable tool for building and enhancing those relationships.”

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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