What else can the technology, data and resources be used for?

Themes: Opportunities for additional benefits; Continuous development; Marginal costs

Establishing a culture of getting more out of the ITS system

ITS systems, and the data they generate, almost always have the potential to deliver more than they were originally designed to do. It is very important for organisations implementing ITS to be aware of this and to learn how to exploit the opportunities that arise. 

Quite often, the greatest benefit can be gained by other departments of the transport operator, which perhaps did not really understand the ITS at the beginning or whose needs were not included in the analysis. This is why it is essential to include all parts of the organisation in the design phase. 

It is advisable to establish a culture of continuous development, which seeks to advance the usefulness, efficiency and productivity of the ITS investments. Many enhancements require only modest investment, and others can actually make cost savings within the organisations. In cases where an enhancement would be expensive or difficult to implement, it could be included in a later general upgrade or renewal of the ITS. 

Four progressive stages of gaining more from ITS systems

If there is one core lesson consistently learned from all ITS implementers, it is that they discover they can use the ITS systems and their data for much more than they originally envisaged. This usually occurs in four progressive stages (all of which are observed in the case studies):

  • During the original system design and procurement, as they appreciate the additive impact of ITS (sub)-systems they had previously viewed as separate – e.g. the ability to use AVL data to support RTPI.
  • After some experience with the data, as they understand that new or more selective means of processing/analysing the data can perform additional functions – e.g. analysing the times and variances of the individual route section rather than the whole route, and using this data as input to scheduling package, to RTPI forecasting, and as justification for bus priority and traffic management measures.
  • Adding or adapting devices to improve inter-system functionality, or to achieve new functions – e.g. linking the AVL to the Fare Collection system for automatic stage/zone update to assist fare calculation; adding a microwave data transmission device to allow full data download in the depot; linking in-vehicle sensors to the AVL/radio to relay engine and vehicle condition status to the Control Centre and avoid breakdowns in service
  • Restructuring the concept, structure, functionality and role of the ITS (sub-) systems when the next opportunity for device or system renewal occurs – e.g. switching to a different basis for mobile communications; redistributing the processing roles among systems; retaining an effective data store and processor while utilising a new type of interface and real-time operations management package; retaining the front-end interface (with which the end-users are familiar and satisfied) while upgrading the background analytical software.

In all cases, these changes stem from a combination of:

  • a desire to improve the efficiency, performance and business of the entity
  • an understanding that the technology system is a starting point that presents opportunities, not a fixed end-state
  • a willingness to explore, ideally within a corporate culture that encourages it
  • a shared appreciation among managers, end-users and technologists of both the needs of the entity and what ITS does and how it works
  • an ability to form constructive relationships with suppliers (these are not always smooth, but they become effective)

Cost of additional capacity and functionality

The marginal cost of these changes varies significantly:

  • Synergies and opportunities realised during the functional specification phase may have little or no cost, as it often makes no difference whether a thing is done one way or the other, but changing it subsequently may be prohibitively expensive
  • Modifications to analysis, reporting, etc. may also have negligible cost associated, as it will often simply require changes to reporting formats, data filtering, etc.
  • Other modifications to the data analysis may require formal software development or modification. Nonetheless, unless there is major restructuring and extensive code development, the cost would be minor to moderate
  • Minor device additions and/or interconnections can be achieved at moderate cost, provided the existing devices have the available ports, connectors, etc. and can interface with additional devices. However, it must be remembered that while the cost may be minor for one vehicle, it will be necessary to purchase and install on every vehicle in the fleet (or roadside device, etc.) plus holding the necessary stock of spares.
  • Adding new systems and/or devices is likely to be of a higher order of cost. Unless it was part of an already specified deployment/migration strategy, this would need to be specified and justified in the same way as a full ITS system.
  • A useful compromise solution sometimes emerges if a major system upgrade/replacement is foreseen in the short- to medium-term. A moderate cost fit-for-purpose ‘workaround’ based on the current technology and hardware can be implemented as a means of immediately achieving the most essential functionality. This provides an opportunity to appreciate both the functioning and the data opportunities of the addition, and to then incorporate a “full specification” system and/or device when the major upgrade occurs.  

Continuous development

All of the above can be viewed as part of a ‘continuous development’ process, so that the ITS systems are being explored, specified and enhanced to increasingly support the entity. The ITS does not necessarily become more complex – in some cases, it is found that the devices, the software or the interfaces can actually be simplified based on acquired experience of what is actually needed. In many cases, some original aspects that are found to work well are retained through several system upgrades.

It is important to note that in some cases, it is difficult to find an affordable, reliable, or compatible technical solution for a desired enhancement. The user requirement and its functional specification should still be documented. Sooner or later, there will be a major upgrade to the ITS system, and all such deferred functions and enhancements will form a valuable part of the User Requirement process.