Use non-proprietary software for ITS projects to ensure compatibility with other ITS components

Experience with the ITS integration effort in the Metropolitan Model Deployment Initiative (MMDI)

Date Posted

Deploying and Operating Integrated Intelligent Transportation Systems: Twenty Questions and Answers

Summary Information

In 1996, the U.S. DOT initiated the Metropolitan Model Deployment Initiative (MMDI) to evaluate the value of integrating ITS components, such as Traffic Signal Control, Freeway Management and Incident Management Systems on a regional basis. The MMDI used four regions to serve as model deployment sites (San Antonio, Phoenix, Seattle, and the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut (NY/NJ/CT) area). The main thesis of the MMDI was that benefits delivered by an integrated system of ITS components will be greater than the sum of the benefits provided by the individual parts. Integration of systems and information should lead to a synergy of positive effects on transportation safety and congestion reduction. Independent evaluations of the MMDI deployment sites identified lessons learned on ITS planning and deployment. A summary document entitled, “Deploying and integrating ITS: Twenty Questions and Answers” is based on the MMDI evaluations and provides guidance for ITS project manager on ways to contain costs, assess performance and evaluate projects.

Lessons Learned

The ITS software projects in the MMDI program sites were competitive with non-ITS transportation projects, particularly in the earlier stages of deployment. However, some projects eventually led to unexpected cost over-runs. The evaluation of the program identified potential problem areas in the development of ITS software. The following recommendations are based on the experiences with the MMDI and they demonstrate ways for managers to help prevent cost over-runs in ITS software projects.

  • Use software systems that are nonproprietary. Proprietary systems for ITS applications led to higher costs in the long term, even if initial costs were relatively low. Integrating closed with other ITS applications introduces unanticipated costs. Thus, it is cost-effective and efficient to develop ITS applications that are built on open software that follows industry standards. As described by the manager of the MMDI deployment site in Phoenix, the Arizona Department of Transportation had a closed, proprietary freeway management system, which required the department to upgrade to a new computer server system for the purpose of integrating with other ITS components.
  • Maintain strong oversight over ITS software projects. Software development is the cornerstone of ITS deployment and integration in that it enables data exchange and system control. It is also one of the significant cost elements to ITS deployment. The important role of software projects to ITS requires that project managers exert strong oversight over the development of software applications. Managers in the MMDI identified having regular, frequent and face-to-face meetings with software developers as a necessary activity to curb costs. The meetings enabled the parties to communicate their expectations about the end product and improved the mutual understanding of project specifics. The NY/NJ/CT site in particular found that weekly meetings on software projects helped to facilitate problem-solving.
  • Develop system plans and software specifications in sufficient detail for vendors to understand fully the desired application. The MMDI evaluation found that strong in-house understanding of the project tasks and objectives was associated with successful deployments. Because plans that have ambiguity can lead to differences in interpretation, it is important that requests for work are comprehensive, detailed and complete. Just as the vendor is responsible for meeting project specifications, the customer is responsible for providing complete specifications.

The managers of the model deployment sites identified important steps to contain costs of ITS software development. By providing strong oversight, developing detailed system specifications and using open software products, projects are more likely to fall within budget. These recommendations also support successful deployments. The fact that these steps appear obvious can lead to their being easily overlooked.