Integrating ITS with Legacy Systems

BUSRide spoke with key transit thought leaders about integrating new Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) with legacy technology. Their in-depth discussion explored the risks associated with poor integration; unique challenges faced by early adopters; first steps toward integrating disparate systems; and the value of data warehousing.

What problems do “disconnected” systems pose for agencies?

David Mugica
Director of Business Development
Avail Technologies

David Mugica: Inefficiencies, redundancies, elevated costs and inaccurate reporting are all common in “disconnected” transit systems. Agencies will see deficiencies in gathering reports and data, or in going from one subsystem to another and trying to find a common ground.

Importantly, many agencies are spending money on extra licensing they do not need, or missing opportunities for streamlined systems. Perhaps some subsystems share functionality, for example, but lack of communication between departments prevents the agency from seeing it. That lack of communication regarding technology can be very detrimental to an agency.

Integrating legacy systems with new ITS can seriously enhance previous technology investments by an agency, ensuring longer usefulness for those older systems and the data within.

Integration also provides further vision into overlaps or redundancies in technology, which can help reduce costs on unnecessary subsystems.

Fred Fakkema
Vice President, Safety and Compliance
Zonar Systems

It also gives greater insight into the agency’s overall technology vison. By keeping systems separate, agencies often “miss the forest for the trees” when analyzing data.

Fred Fakkema: Disconnected systems are often the result of disparate technology with closed systems. Technology vendors need to provide, and transit agencies should demand that there is some level of standardization of interoperability and openness of APIs that are readily available to allow their systems to integrate and talk to one another.

“New adopters must know who their internal experts are.” — David Mugica

For example, a connected metro bus may have many benefits to the transit org in terms of diagnostic information, passenger count, GPS locations and much more, but, if those systems aren’t able to integrate into the larger infrastructure, or what is often referred to as a “smart city,” the buck stops there. The potential for ITS is great, but it takes interoperability standards and accessible APIs for different organizations to communicate with another’s systems.

What unique challenges do ITS adopters face in system integration?

Fakkema: Currently, the lack of interoperability and standardization is limiting the growth of ITS adoption. Additionally, metro areas need funding to implement such integrations. ITS implementations and integrations can also have many different goals including how to direct traffic volumes,  how to improve the enforcement of traffic laws, compliance with other regulations or improving maintenance.

That said, creating funding incentives will encourage greater integration of ITS. There are funds available and at Zonar as we partner with Learn Supply Apply. This company helps organizations apply for and manage grant applications to help get funding for these types of initiatives.

ITS integration also has a heavy emphasis on operations that many transportation departments are not used to dealing with, including:

  • ITS requires a significant amount of effort and resources to maintain credibility the daily users and the public who experience the outcomes.
  • Integrating ITS across modal, institutional, and geographic barriers can be a significant coordination challenge that is often more difficult than the technological ones.
  • ITS works best as a cohesive system of individual technologies with API’s that work together. The integration of these elements makes the total concept of ITS more complex.
  • ITS is not well understood by the public or elected officials.
  • Repair and maintenance costs can become burdensome: Like with any piece of technology, as ITS ages, it becomes more expensive to maintain. Parts become harder to come by, and the costs to get them to go up. In the end, the expense of maintaining older equipment may wipe out the savings garnered, integrating instead of building from the ground up in the first place.

Mugica: New adopters must know who their internal experts are. Vendors bring a level of expertise and guidance, but what happens after we leave? We obviously have programs meant to help throughout a system’s life, but it needs a daily “champion.” Who has taken ownership of the system? The need for a champion becomes especially clear when systems are not fully integrated and there is no single point of contact for troubleshooting.

What critical first steps must agencies consider when integrating or replacing their legacy systems with new ITS technology?

Mugica: Early adopters must know what they want to accomplish with the ITS, as opposed to simply wanting a new piece of technology.

For example, why does an agency need real-time passenger information? The benefits are multifold: Ensuring vehicle location; on-time pullouts; accurate passenger counting; and vehicle health. All those factors are part of knowing a vehicle’s location, and ensuring the passenger knows it too. Agencies must take this sort of holistic vision to the ITS they are purchasing.

Then agencies, especially those coming from legacy systems, must know the status of their data. If the old system has bad data, then bringing it into the new system is a bad idea. Figure out the crux of that data, and how confident you are in the data.

“ITS requires a significant amount of effort and resources to maintain credibility.” — Fred Fakkema

If adopting new technology is a mandate, then ensure you have agency-wide buy in. That will ensure accountability, which is critical at all levels when adopting new technology. Everyone in an organization should be on the same page, so the organization can devote the proper resources to onboarding a new system.

Fakkema: The first step is to plan, followed by engaging in gradual integration or replacement. The goal here is not to replace everything at once. Instead, you can choose to start integrating or replacing your legacy systems component by component, as the need arises. If you need new functionalities for user experience, for example, you can start from the top down.

This may work in the short term and for more straightforward ITS integrations, but it will become more difficult over the long term as modern systems are built on top of each other. Also, as you integrate, rebuild or replace legacy systems, layout a timeline for development, testing, deployment and quality assurance. Again, this will likely be in conjunction with your technology partners.

How does data warehousing factor into ITS system integration?

Fakkema: Data warehousing is critical to ITS systems integration because when you are integrating into an ITS system, you are consolidating applications into a new system. When doing this, you don’t want to lose any critical data and you will want to have a unified view of those data assets, both old and new, e.g., a data warehouse of all your information to make informed decisions.

The benefit of a data warehouse enables you to perform analyses based on the data collected from multiple sources. It’s complicated, but that is what the data warehouse helps sort out for you as the data is obtained from various hardware devices that lay the basis of further ITS functions. These devices include Automatic Vehicle Identifiers, GPS systems, sensors, cameras, etc.

Mugica: Data reporting is the “Holy Grail” of any software system. Whether it is finance, maintenance, CAD/AVL, or banking – data is key. The benefit of data warehousing is that it allows for there to be a single access point for all an agency’s data.

Technology has made so many more levels of analytics widely available. At Avail, data warehousing and enhancing agency analytical tools is what we do. That said, we do not want to hold data hostage. It is critical that the user has access to all available data in as few locations as possible.

Does system integration help streamline data from older legacy systems?

Mugica: When possible, yes — but the costs may outweigh the benefits.

Many older, legacy systems still use what I call “black and white print” — meaning you run a query and the system provides results. However, by building for integration with APIs, the value of data warehousing for business intelligence is huge.

Agencies may find previously hidden patterns, or may find new ways to compare historical data. If the historic data is accurate, then integrating legacy systems allows agencies to look at past versus present and make educated decisions and adjustments. This integration helps prevent data loss, provides real-time analysis, and prevents data inconsistencies.

Fakkema: It can, providing the legacy systems can be connected to ITS. The streamlining will likely be in the form of how you leverage your data warehouse to collect, transmit and analyze data, which in the case of ITS can then be pushed to a Travel Advisory System.