Open architecture and system integration

Open architecture and system integration

Avail Technologies, State College, PA, is an intelligent transportation systems (ITS) solutions provider for transit operators in the United States, specializing in CAD/AVL solutions for fixed route and paratransit. In an interview with BUSRide, Rick Spangler, chief technology officer at Avail Technologies, answers a few critical questions about open architecture and system integration.

How would you define open architecture as it relates to enterprise asset management (EAM)?
Think of enterprise asset management (EAM) as all the software, hardware, and tools agencies put in play on a day-to-day basis to build an enterprise-wide solution. This solution touches all aspects in every division of their operations.
Particularly as it relates to ITS, an agency building an EAM solution wants to feel as if that solution is singular and holistic. All the components work together seamlessly. We often find agencies may have been building ITS solutions à la carte over the course of years, making investments as needed with a variety of vendors. The trap they somestimes fall into is that the various products do not always connect and interrelate.
Integrators such as Avail can equip the agency with an open architecture solution. This solution is not only capable of running multiple operational systems, but also ties into the existing technology where the customer is already heavily invested.

How prevalent is open architecture in transit today? Is it in the near future or do we have to wait?
In today’s public transit industry, open architecture is not as prevalent as it should be. Compared to other industries and the ubiquity of fully-integrated information and services, the transit industry is lagging behind. Transit must recognize that customers’ expectations are changing. Perhaps spoiled by the technology on the consumer sides of their lives they are demanding an open platform that quickly and efficiently answers their questions and services their needs. Vendors not embracing this concept are not long for this world. I see the industry as a whole trending toward EAM solutions that offer full integration between new, existing and best of breed technologies focused on taking customer service to a higher level.

How does an open database help agencies plan?
Open architecture creates a foundation capable of bringing all these seemingly disparate data points together digitally under one umbrella where they can be easily manipulated and formatted. This allows agencies to focus on finding answers and not worrying about where they’re finding the data.
We’ve heard from some transit agencies that there are vendors who treat data collected from customers as somewhat of a commodity, requiring customers to go through that vendor for access. Avail works with a different paradigm. We believe that, although it resides in our database, the data belongs to the customers and can be shared with other systems as it suits their needs. As agencies grow and plan to meet the needs of their ridership communities, many are realizing the tools they’ve been using are causing them to play catch-up. They’re learning that perhaps there are solutions in the market capable of integrating their disparate systems to make planning easier.

What are some advantages of centralized data storage as applied to multi-modal operations?
When we think about transit agencies today, we don’t only include fixed route or paratransit. Most agencies provide a greater mix of transportation modes, from light rail to commuter rail, circulator shuttles and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Some are even incorporating information for on-demand services such as Uber and Lyft to increase mobility options for their ridership. Transit agencies today are hungry for a holistic picture of the entire operation. Solutions like ours can provide that via our centralized data access architecture, by either bringing those various data elements directly into our open data warehouse or by linking various databases together. They not only allow agencies to investigate a particular service mode but, with a single point of access, they can also drill down to the level of detail they need to tie everything together. Having the ability to tie data together, then cross-check and validate the various elements, helps agencies discover relationships they may have missed had they been looking at each mode in isolation.

How steep is the learning curve to integrate and manage new systems in an open architecture?
I can interpret this question from the standpoint of both the provider and the agency. Not every provider in this market is embracing open architecture. They are, however, beginning to realize this is the future and the learning curve for them could be steep if they don’t get on the bandwagon soon.
From an agency standpoint, an open platform can actually lessen the learning curve by integrating systems and processes with which agency staff is already familiar.

Rick Spangler serves as chief technology officer at Avail Technologies, an ITS technology solutions provider for transit operators in the United States. Visit for more information.