Make use of different approaches and techniques to manage software acquisitions.
A national experience in acquiring software for ITS projects.
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The Road to Successful ITS Software Acquisition: Executive Summary, Volume I - Overview and Themes, and Volume II - Software Acquisition Process Reference Guide


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" (

Lessons Learned

Software acquisitions will involve situations that may be unfamiliar to many Department of Transportation (DOT) project managers. Construction projects usually include a set of design requirements and, with the exception of a few change orders due to unforeseen circumstances, the contractor usually adheres to the requirements to complete the project successfully. This is usually not the case with software acquisition. Intuitions gained from managing construction projects do not necessarily work with software. Software needs to be managed differently. However, there are established techniques to managing software acquisitions successfully.

  • Maintain flexibility throughout the acquisition. Flexibility is needed in the contract to accommodate changes and take advantage of opportunities that may present themselves during design and implementation. With software, there needs to be more give and take than on typical construction projects that are successfully built to a rigid set of design specifications. Flexibility is needed in the requirements, in the working relationships, in the contracting mechanism, and most importantly, in the mindsets of those involved. At the outset of a project, a flexible mindset allows a wide range of options to be considered in selecting the most appropriate contracting mechanism, perhaps even some that have not been tried previously. Similarly, in developing the requirements for a system, there has to be recognition that the users may not be able to get everything they want; there may be tradeoffs among functionality, price, and schedule. Caution in maintaining flexibility is necessary as well; there can be too much flexibility where the scope of the project is increased or new requirements continue to be added. These situations should be avoided.
  • Address all acquisition activities in the planning stage. Up-front planning is needed early in the acquisition, even for activities such as system acceptance that do not take place until late in the acquisition process. Activities such as requirements walk-throughs, design reviews, training, acceptance testing, and maintenance do not take place until after a contract is awarded or even at the end of the project. Nonetheless, these items must be planned up front, even before a Request for Proposal (RFP) is issued. This allows the procuring agency to plan for the various activities in the project schedule and allocate adequate time for them. It also enables the agency to address the operations and maintenance concepts, system acceptance criteria, and software intellectual property rights in the RFP and contract. Conformity with the National ITS Architecture is another area to address in the up-front planning of a project.
  • Recognize that there are no "silver bullets." No one acquisition practice or contracting mechanism is the solution that can be relied upon to ensure project success. As an example, there are some in the ITS community that believe new contracting mechanisms for software are needed. This is probably a good idea; although new mechanisms will not solve all problems with software procurement.

The techniques described above are not necessarily unique to software acquisition. They represent good management practices and can be applied to other types of ITS projects as well; however, relying on these techniques may contribute to the success of an ITS software system acquisition. Each agency should choose the techniques that are the most appropriate for their project criteria. Maintaining flexibility, addressing all acquisition activities during planning, and recognizing that there is no one cure-all for software acquisition will provide the project manager with solid footing to successfully procure ITS software. A successful software acquisition can have a significant impact on an ITS project. The agency benefits from a project completed cost effectively and in a timely manner; while the traveling public benefits from a system that improves safety, mobility, and efficiency.

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
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Arthur E. Salwin
U.S. Department of Transportation Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office Federal Highway Administration
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