Do not build if you can buy existing software products.
A national experience in acquiring software for ITS projects.
Made Public Date
06/23/2006

146

United States
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Identifier
2006-00276

The Road to Successful ITS Software Acquisition: Executive Summary, Volume I - Overview and Themes, and Volume II - Software Acquisition Process Reference Guide

Background

Experienced project managers have found that proven procurement techniques that work well for civil engineering design or construction projects, do not necessarily work well for ITS projects that involve the acquisition of system software. When acquiring software for an ITS project, agencies and contractors may have the same objectives; however, the approach can be considerably different causing tension among the parties involved.

In July, 1998 the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) prepared the document "The Road to Successful ITS Software Acquisition" to present a series of themes that may serve as guiding principles for building a successful acquisition and, in turn, a successful ITS project. Software engineering literature was reviewed and many interviews were conducted with public and private sector personnel who had been involved with procuring system software on past ITS projects. The document is a collection of best practices, practical advice and helpful ideas that may be beneficial to the ITS professional who is considering the acquisition of system software. These principles are still valid today as evidenced by the recent ITS Professional Capacity Building Program, Talking Technology and Transportation (T3) Session: "What Executives Need to Know About Software Acquisitions" (http://www.pcb.its.dot.gov/T3/session34/S34_ppt.ppt).

Lessons Learned

Whenever possible, the ITS practitioner should consider buying existing off-the-shelf software products instead of building custom software from scratch. Product offerings, ranging from system components that must be integrated to commodity products, are available for many types of ITS systems. Experienced ITS professionals offer the following suggestions on the purchase of off-the-shelf software versus developing customized software.

  • Do not build new, customized software if an off-the-shelf suits your needs. Customized software costs more and adds risk to a system.
  • Maintain the flexibility to relax requirements to purchase a system that provides the best fit. This requires being able to live with the recognition that an off-the-shelf solution probably won’t match your vision of the ideal solution. An off-the-shelf product may not do everything on your wish list, but an 80 percent solution may be good enough. The off-the-shelf theme is one that the private sector particularly endorses. If system requirements have been identified that preclude off-the-shelf solutions, then they should be thought through and determined how important those requirements are and at what cost.

This lesson points out a debate between public and private-sector ITS professionals that has been going on for several years. With an off-the-shelf solution, every feature desired may not be available. However, based on the risks involved in developing customized software, and the additional cost and time that are almost always involved, the ITS practitioner must decide if they are willing to give up some of the "bells and whistles" in return for a stable well functioning off-the-shelf system. A successful software acquisition will produce an ITS project that meets the needs of the agencies and the traveling public.

The Road to Successful ITS Software Acquisition: Executive Summary, Volume I - Overview and Themes, and Volume II - Software Acquisition Process Reference Guide

The Road to Successful ITS Software Acquisition: Executive Summary, Volume I - Overview and Themes, and Volume II - Software Acquisition Process Reference Guide
Publication Sort Date
07/01/1998
Author
Arthur E. Salwin
Publisher
U.S. Department of Transportation Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office Federal Highway Administration

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