Beyond GPS – avoiding ITS pitfalls

Avail Technologies, State College, PA, is an enterprise intelligent  transportation systems (ITS) solutions provider for public transit operators in the United States, specializing in total agency solutions for fixed route and paratransit. In an interview with BUSRide, Andrew Kissel, principal staff engineer at Avail Technologies, speaks about why agencies must seek out ITS providers that go “beyond GPS,” and specialize in total system integration.

What are some common pitfalls for agencies buying “off-the-shelf” enterprise asset management (EAM) systems?

Agencies should always have a technology plan in place, to keep them on track and focused when purchasing newer technology. That plan will vary from property to property, but it should always show a map of future purchases for both hardware and software that considers the total cost of ownership.

If agencies do that, and new purchases are vetted through this plan, there won’t be many pitfalls.

If an off-the-shelf product doesn’t fit in with your long-term plan, you’ll end up diverging. This will result in many disparate components making up an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) infrastructure. Examples of this can include server farms, passenger information systems, on-board hardware systems, and a litany of other technologies operating in silos. Without a long-term plan for integration, these systems might not work together.

At some point, agencies must start examining these disparate components as part of a whole-system vision. Public-facing systems should sync with real-time data, and all systems should sync with reports for administrators, executives, and board members.

What about potential redundancies created by this piece-meal purchasing strategy?

With so many disparate systems within an ITS framework, agency staff start to “double up” on responsibilities. This is because of all the massaging and workarounds needed to make a system like that work. Meanwhile, it distracts staff from the main mission – providing safe, reliable service for their customers.

That’s something with which a good ITS provider can help. They can stay focused on future technological developments and keep an agency on track with its long-term plan.

Having that kind of information together in an easily intuitive presentation affects everything from the board down to the executive level, down to the people who do the work and planning. That’s the biggest upside to having a competent ITS provider.

What qualities should agencies look for in such a provider?

Many off-the-shelf system providers are selling agencies one-off devices and not developing a solid relationship – so they’re often not familiar with the agency’s technology plan or even their end goals. An ITS provider who sees things holistically, like Avail, is much better suited to provide comprehensive service to an agency.

Furthermore, agencies should consider their maintenance contracts. Will the provider service its technology for its useable life? Are they going to get acquired by another company? Is that product line going to become dead? The answers to these questions can create a lot of unnecessary risk for a transit agency, so it’s important to plan.

How does this translate into real-world benefits for the agency?

Consider the charter of a transit property. They are there to provide quality service to the residents of the area they serve. When they start getting into technological areas where they need to assign dedicated staff, like in-house I.T. support and troubleshooting, it comes out of their annual budgets. How are they going to pay for that? A qualified, dedicated ITS provider should alleviate some financial headaches while providing the agency with the support they need to focus on servicing their ridership.

Furthermore, a fully integrated ITS system that goes beyond a single function, whether it’s GPS, CAD/AVL, third-party hardware, or some other service, allows administrators and executives to plan smarter. They can use much higher-level information, along with metrics and performance statistics, to make intelligent decisions which will ultimately benefit customers and the agency’s bottom-line.

Andrew Kissel is the principal staff engineer at Avail Technologies. He holds patents in ITS technologies and has more than 20 years of industry experience. Visit the company online at