Develop a strong collaborative process for software acquisition.
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

There are many lessons to be learned on software acquisition. When ITS was in its infancy, practitioners quickly learned that ITS projects involving software could not be contracted the same as past civil design projects. Transportation agency engineering and contracting divisions need to realize that acquiring software is a different way of doing business and act accordingly. As a first step, traffic or transit agency project managers, end users, and contracting officers need to develop a strong collaborative process for acquiring software. ITS professionals can benefit from the past experience of other transportation agencies by considering the following steps in developing that process.

  • Work closely with others in your agency. A software acquisition is a collaborative process. Project managers cannot do it alone or make unilateral decisions. Instead, they must work closely with others in their agency. For example, the end users must be involved at all points to help decide what the system should do, determine how users will interact with the system, and participate in making tradeoffs between cost and functionality.
  • Involve the software contractor. Collaboration also extends beyond organizational boundaries to involve others, especially the software contractor. The contractor is in a better position to determine the possible design ramifications of seemingly innocent requirements. The contractor also has experience to draw upon in determining how best to meet the transportation agency’s needs.
  • Build a team of professionals. Many skills are needed for carrying out a software acquisition. No one individual or agency can possibly have all of them. Therefore, a team of professionals is needed. Some of the diverse skills represented on the team include hardware, software, and systems engineering; contracting, operational, domain, and legal expertise. By having the contracting office on the team, the transportation agency will be able to explore the range of contracting mechanisms and find the one that is most appropriate for software. A team is more than a collection of players with diverse skills. To be part of a team, the member must work together towards common goals and objectives. The foremost goal sought after is to establish mutual trust among the team members. Trust helps achieve the functional goals and objectives of the software acquisition.
  • Maintain open communications with the contractor. Because transportation agencies and suppliers approach software from very different perspectives, there will be misunderstandings unless open communications are continually cultivated. The communications must start even before a contract is signed in regards to terms and conditions, and especially intellectual property rights. Open communications proceed with discussions on requirements and continue with any and all decisions through acceptance testing and maintenance.
  • Require continuous, active involvement by the owning transportation agency. The agency cannot simply “turn things over” to a contractor or systems manager. On transportation construction projects, it may be sufficient for the owning agency to take a more passive role, perhaps conducting inspections. But for software, up to half the total requirements and design effort may actually be expended by the agency and end users, even after a software contract has been issued. Clearly, sufficient resources must be allocated for this agency involvement to take place. Active agency involvement also means a willingness to decide upon and commit, in writing if necessary, to a specific course of action after various options have been presented.

This lesson suggests that to have a successful software acquisition for an ITS project, a strong collaborative process should include: working with others, team building, open communication, and active agency involvement. The software contractor should become an essential member of the team and be involved in the collaborative process and the agency should remain active throughout implementation and testing. A successful software acquisition has a significant impact on an ITS project; achieving common goals and objectives, saving time, and saving money.

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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