Determine agency capability level when selecting the most appropriate ITS procurement package.
Experience from a review of ITS contracting methods and practices. Step 4 of the Decision Model.
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United States

Guide to Contracting ITS Projects


Experience has shown that the ITS procurement method can have a significant impact on the ultimate success of the ITS installation. Currently, the success rate for intelligent transportation systems life cycle is very low. Some of the key issues that have been identified with the procurement process include incorrect contracting approach, inexperience of the agency, failure to follow appropriate procedures, and inadequate commitment of project management and systems engineering resources.

The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) funded this research with the objective of developing a guide to contracting ITS projects and services that would assist government officials, traffic engineers, system integrators, and others involved in the specification development and purchasing of ITS installations. The approach for this study included an extensive literature review as well as a survey of state and local Departments of Transportation to learn about their current practices and experiences with ITS contracting. As a result, a report of findings, "Considerations for a Guide to Contracting ITS Projects" and "Guide to Contracting ITS Projects" were published. This guide presents an eight-step Decision Model that guides agencies through the procurement process and enables them to select the most appropriate procurement package for their project. To obtain a complete understanding of the Decision Model, readers should consider the full set of lessons learned (as each lesson learned is based on a separate step of the decision model).

Lessons Learned

In addition to project complexity and risk, another factor critical to the selection of an appropriate procurement package is the agency's organization, experience, and resources relative to ITS procurements. The fourth step in the Decision Model for contracting ITS projects involves an honest assessment of the agency's capabilities. Major ITS projects with significant software development, hardware integration and long-term operations and maintenance support require sufficient agency capabilities; otherwise, the project risks not being successful. If an agency does not have the resources or organization for handling a major ITS project, it should consider reducing the scope of the project, seeking additional consultant services, or not doing the project.

The guide defines three agency capability levels (levels 1, 2 and 3) based on an assessment of six factors: personnel experience, organizational experience and structure, resources, management support, and agency expectations. Each of these factors has an impact on the success of an ITS project implementation. The following observations are made with regard to evaluating an agency’s capabilities:

  • Assess personnel experience. Agencies must assess the level of staff support dedicated to ITS projects as well as the staff’s previous experience with ITS. For example, agencies with no staff support and little to no prior ITS experience are characterized as level 1. At the other extreme, agencies with a full-time ITS manager and staff with significant ITS experience are classified as level 3.
  • Assess organizational experience. Organizational experience is based on an agency's experience with complex and risky projects (i.e. project categories). An agency that has had no previous ITS experience, or has only administered a category 1 project (straightforward and low risk) is characterized as level 1, whereas an agency with experience on at least one category 3 project (complex and high risk) is classified as level 3.
  • Assess Organizational Structure. For this factor, the agency must assess the extent to which it is organized to support ITS projects. In Level 3 agencies, for example, responsibility for ITS is clearly defined and housed within a specific organizational unit within the agency.
  • Evaluate Resources. Agencies need to evaluate whether their organization has an identifiable budget for ITS. If there is little to no funding for ITS, the agency is classified as level 1, whereas a level 3 agency has an identifiable budget set aside for ITS.
  • Assess Management support. This factor addresses the extent to which ITS and Operations are considered a priority within an agency and the level of interest in ITS at top management levels. Agencies receiving a higher classification level have top management support and consider ITS to be a priority.
  • Determine Expectations. Agencies with no defined expectations are classified as level 1, whereas level 3 agencies have included ITS /Operations in both their short and long range planning; expectations are well-defined and based on actual performance measures.

As with the categorizing of projects, the categorizing of agencies may not be clear-cut. The guide recommends that personnel and organizational experience receive the greatest weight. If an agency appears to fit equally well within two different levels, the lower level should be selected.

Upon identifying the project category level and the agency capability level, the agency can then proceed to the selection of the systems engineering process and the identification of the appropriate procurement package(s). The guide uses these two critical factors in its decision matrix for selecting procurement packages. These steps of the Decision Model are designed to create an efficient and reliable procurement process. This increased efficiency can result in cost savings for agencies in the procurement of ITS. Moreover, by enabling agencies to choose the most appropriate procurement package, the Decision Model facilitates the ultimate success of the ITS deployment.

Guide to Contracting ITS Projects

Guide to Contracting ITS Projects
Publication Sort Date
Kenneth R. Marshall and Philip J. Tarnoff
National Cooperative Highway Research Board

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