A federative approach to multi-modal transport integration

End-to-end transport most often engages multiple transport modes involving visits to various transport nodes, requiring a high degree of collaboration between the involved actors both within and often across national borders.

There is a need to better synchronise transport practices. Hopes are being placed on digitalisation as an enabler and means for integrated and sustainable operations along the multi-modal supply chain. To do this requires decisions on what changes are needed and how they should be made.

Before implementing changes, there is a need to reflect on and experiment with the available options to ensure that the desired effects are both feasible and effective, both for the individual organisations and entities involved and for the ecosystem as a whole. Engagement of a multitude of stakeholders is particularly important.

Drawing from experiences derived from the ecosystem innovation arenas, or ‘living labs’, initiated under the European financed FEDeRATED project, this article provides some observations on how to pursue digital innovation in transport ecosystems.

A lot of effort is currently being expanded in establishing digital interoperability between systems and (local) information sharing communities. Digitalisation can be seen as an enabler for ecosystem innovation by steering the multiple parties towards co-development, so appropriate changes to their practices will be better aligned.

To do this requires a shared common object of interest, an agreement on which standards and design principles are to be used for interaction. In the European initiative on establishing a federated network of platforms such design principles have been defined and are now being validated within two CEF-projects, FEDeRATED and FENIX.

Those principles allow a participant to register and connect with their solution/service provider of choice using technology independent infrastructure services with standardised protocols through a network of platforms and peer-to-peer solutions, with governance rules for data sharing.

Within FEDeRATED, a living lab approach has been adopted to demonstrate these principles in action, gathering different parties that share a common interest. Participants from several European countries including Sweden, Spain, The Netherlands, Italy, Finland, and Luxembourg, and several international organisations such as IATA, are taking part.

Enabling seamless transport by connected transport nodes

Seamlessness in transport is an important ingredient for sustainability, for example by avoiding unnecessary waiting times, thereby contributing to high utilisation of used infrastructure, and for providing customer value.

To enable seamless and sustainable transport, transport nodes must become more integrated in the transport chain, including airports, combi terminals, (sea)ports, yards, railway stations, but also warehouses and logistics centres.

A transport node cannot operate in isolation. It is highly dependent on what is happening outside its scope of operations to assure that its resources and infrastructure are used optimally. The required business intelligence needs to be derived from:

•             data on the progress and disruptions occurring in movements made by transport operators and at previous transport nodes expanding the planning horizon for the transport node.

•             providing transport operators with the means to optimise their approach to the transport node, and

•             providing the means for the transport coordinator to inform their clients on the progress and forecasts associated with the goods and people that are being transported, thus providing a basis for onward planning.

Digitalisation offers capabilities for transport nodes to be highly integrated in the transport ecosystem. At its core, collaboration enabled by digital interaction and data streams will expand the transport node’s event horizon and improve situational awareness, providing opportunities for resource and infrastructure utilisation optimisation.

Infrastructure for digital interaction

Digital interaction in multi-modal transport requires infrastructure support (such as coordination of information in interoperable systems). Platform vendors offer methods of integrating with other operational systems, but this is a slow process that does not easily support new ecosystem actors and the exploration of new business models / use cases. Furthermore, the operational systems are typically not suited to adding the different types of sensors required for digitalising operations around multi-modal transport nodes.

Operational systems need to be complemented with data-agnostic platforms tailored to collect data from different sources and to test new solutions in a fast and flexible way. Besides data from operational systems like Port Management Systems and Terminal Operating Systems, there are a multitude of different sensors providing data for key operations, such as RFID readers, GPS, IoT sensors etc.

Business models and other incentives for sharing data are also crucial in digital interaction and can be explored in these types of data-agnostic platforms. Common ecosystem needs and capabilities can be identified, such as new standards and processes, while security threats can be explored and system mechanisms for identified threats can be verified.

One example of a data-agnostic platform supporting ecosystem innovation in multi-modal transport chains is Deplide, under development by RISE and used within FEDeRATED. Deplide is based on similar platforms within the maritime sector adapted to more generic multi-modal transport needs.

It has been developed primarily to support data sharing around a transport node, where events occur along the supply chain, and integrates technology and solutions that are available as open-source and will itself be published as open-source.

Different types of data providers or sources can be connected to Deplide, as well as different types of data consumers, including front-end applications and services that can be built on top of the platform.

Data sharing and distribution of ‘live’ information is central to collaborative decision making and increased supply chain visibility. Data sharing and distribution of information is facilitated by interoperability between systems that contain relevant data. This type of interoperability builds upon standardisation of items like communication protocols, security mechanisms and data formats.

The data that need to be shared are typically concentrated around events during the transport process; it could be a ship arriving at a port, an airplane arriving at an airport, or cargo that is transhipped at a logistic centre. A flow of events with associated data makes up a so-called ‘event stream’.

Deplide manages event streams using Apache Kafka, an open-source distributed event streaming platform for high-performance data pipelines, streaming analytics, data integration, and mission-critical applications. It is currently being developed as a platform for digital interaction in collaboration with several ongoing ecosystem innovations around multi-modal transport nodes.

Ongoing ecosystem innovations

Approximately 20 living labs are now being conducted within FEDeRATED, addressing several modes of transport and putting focus on multi-modal data sharing beyond the single organisation.

The living labs focus on how information sharing and collaboration among involved parties along the transport chain for selected events may be empowered by digital technologies. (Some of the living labs being coordinated by Sweden are listed and outlined in the full version of this article, which is linked below.)

The living labs illustrate some of the needs and challenges involved in multi-modal transport spanning several transport nodes, each having its own ecosystem of involved actors. The identified challenges and business cases highlight the data sources and types of information that need to be shared among the actors to address the challenges.

In some cases, only part of the needed data is identified, and additional information needs to be explored during the living lab activities. Typically, this additional information must be obtained through installing new types of sensors or connecting to existing operational systems.

To succeed in their ambitions, the living labs require a data-agnostic platform tailored to collect data from different sources and to prototype new solutions in a fast and flexible way. Learnings from the prototype solutions developed during the living labs can then be used to underpin operational solutions supporting the transport node, maximising its value contribution as part of multi-modal transport chains.


Digital innovation in ecosystem settings is a challenging task. It is crucial to define a common object of interest as well as each of the participants’ needs so that they see the value of taking part in the innovation effort.

There is a need to reach agreement on how each participant needs to act, and which standards to utilise in emerging interaction patterns, before making appropriate implementations and changes. Business models, for the ecosystem as well as for each participant, and supporting digital infrastructures need to go together.

To pursue ecosystem innovation in authentic settings, arenas that support participants in joining forces to investigate and overcome common concerns need to be established. Within the framework of FEDeRATED those arenas are the living labs.

In the case of FEDeRATED, the purpose has been to explore which digital interactions/collaborations are necessary to support seamless transport. A data-agnostic data sharing platform is being used in several of the FEDeRATED living labs to experiment, demonstrate, and elicit requirements for forthcoming implementations.

Such a platform has (at least) the following characteristics:

•             Flexible collection and transformation of data from different data sources, such as different sensors, providing data to digitalise key operational elements, as well as operational systems like Port Management Systems, Terminal Operating Systems, etc.

•             Flexible access to collected data from different front-ends and applications exploring prototype solutions for important use cases addressing the needs of the participating actors.

•             Efficient coordination, search, and manipulation of data flows captured in real-time from different data sources, also known as ‘event streaming’.

•             Durable storage of collected data for later retrieval.

•             Flexible connection to analytics and visualisation frameworks in real-time as well as retrospectively.

•             A focus on short turn-around time for changes in the platform and development of connectors to integrate with existing systems.

As multi-modal transport is a distributed and self-organised ecosystem, change cannot be pursued by one single actor. To reach successful outcomes and to contribute to a better world, stakeholders need to co-design solutions that offer incentives to all participants. The living labs under FEDeRATED are providing one such meeting place.

Editor’s note: This article is an edited version of the original paper by the authors, which includes a full list of references. The full paper can be downloaded here.

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About the Authors

Mikael Lind, Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) and Chalmers
Jan Bergstrand, Swedish Transport Administration
Sandra Haraldson, RISE
Kenneth Lind, RISE
Eddie Olsson, RISE
Annica Roos, Swedish Transport Administration
Mikael Renz, Swedish Maritime Administration
Cecilia Strokirk, RISE
Kristine Bull Sletholt, Swedish Transport Administration
Anna Björkman, CLOSER
Kenneth Carling, Dalarna University
Gunnar Ivansson, LearningWell
Mathias Karlsson, Kvarken Ports Umeå, Umeå University, and RISE
Patrik Rudolfsson, Kvarken Ports Umeå

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