It struck me that the underlying theme of the conference could be described as ‘low risk innovation’. An oxymoron? At first glance, yes, but in this case it describes the cautious adoption of new technology while protecting existing investment.
The perception of the ITS industry, rightly or wrongly, has been one of an industry focussed on major manufacturing and hardware deployment projects, rather than software and new technologies. Therefore perhaps the industry hasn’t seen the level of growth and innovation that has occurred in other areas, telecommunications being a good example. Or perhaps it simply hasn’t been possible until new technologies come along with a sufficiently compelling business case – lower cost solutions and faster to deploy.
New technology introduction – complementary and overlaid
GPS and Bluetooth featured strongly at the event on both the exhibition floor and in the breakout panel sessions. It was clear however that the preference was to use these either as a proof concept across a small area, or where monitoring infrastructure exists, as complementary solutions, extending the accuracy and scope of existing fixed-road sensor deployments.
Software solutions and architecture
It was interesting how many of our booth visitors were initially attracted by SQLstream ITS Insight, but who were actually looking for more of a horizontal platform solution. Yes, out of the box capability was important to get solutions up and running quickly, but wider concerns touched on some fundamental software engineering principles – openness, scalability and interoperability.
Open and flexible
The focus on manufacturing and hardware oriented projects tends to produce software support systems that are built to do just that – support the particular hardware installed for that project. This leads to capable and often feature-rich systems, but systems that are difficult to extend and configure for new technologies and requirements. There was a definite theme in the questions being asked at our booth for openness – open platforms, where an agency’s IT department, or consulting partner, can add new applications easily, and in fact are encouraged to do so.
Performance and scalability
Systems are required to scale in two ways. The first is raw performance as the number of sensor events increases and real-time performance is required. Secondly, and perhaps less obvious, is that transportation agencies are looking to consolidate systems and provide common systems across multiple counties and even at the state level. This highlights immediately the scalability issues with existing systems. As the user base increases, the geographical scope of the system increases, and the drive for real-time information increases, the weakness of existing systems have been exposed.
The emergence of IT standards is a sure sign of increasing maturity in any industry. This represents a move away from limited, siloed solutions to consideration of the wider integration issues – integration with network hardware, but also the integration between management systems.
A final word …
One final word, not quite a trend yet, but ITS appears to be embracing the Cloud as a solutions platform, as a mechanism for providing access to applications, but also for scalability and as a lower cost solution where large infrastructure deployment would be required.