“I think sometimes the public sector needs to think a lot like the private sector in that when you go into a project up front, you clearly identify what are those key business drivers.” He adds, “What are the real reasons why, instead of ‘I need software. Yeah, I want to become more efficient and I want to save some money.’ What are those areas that you think, set those up and start measuring towards those.”
Each agency is unique and has its own needs. Smith says agencies need to get the needed information out of the system to help give the right tools to make the right management decisions for the particular agency. “Whether it is in how many parts you stock, what your inventory levels are, to how often are parts failing, how can I track what parts are failing.”
The infrastructure you have in place is important to consider when looking at this type of software. “The second thing would be your infrastructure for connections,” says Haskins. “If you have slow connections and this system is accessed through the Internet, a slow connection will just make it where it is just almost not useable.” He knows this from experience. “Not all of our locations have real high-speed connections and that has been an issue we have had to go back and address.”
For the automatic vehicle monitoring product by Clever Devices, the bus has to have the technology available. “The technology, in general, is ITS. You need some kind of controller on the bus,” explains Saporita.
Flexibility in the system is an important factor. Haskins says of the DataStream software that they use, “We’ve been able to do a lot of other things with it, other than just maintenance software.
“We’ve just developed a module to manage all of our accidents and injuries with it also because we set the employee as the asset and the event as the accident.”
Of course, ease of use is an important consideration. “Look at the time it actually takes to work through a repair order or a purchase order. If it is taking you 30 minutes to write-up a repair order, it is too much time and the users won’t see a benefit to it.”
Planning deployment early is important. Schnepp sums it up, “The more the transit agency puts into the application, into the deployment of it, the more they are going to get out.” He cites the deployment at MARTA in Atlanta as an example.
MARTA had people dedicated to the deployment for 18 months; put them on the core team of the project working side-by-side with Maximus. “We have a core team of folks that really understand the application and we had a core team on our side as were deploying that really understood MARTA.
“The other end of the spectrum is the folks that don’t have the bandwidth, don’t have the leadership at the top to say ‘yeah, we need to pull people out of their full-time jobs.’
“Even if we do everything, the day we leave, they don’t have the folks on staff that really know the application the way they should,” he explains.
Smith adds that it takes dedication in not only time, but also in flexibility in business practices. “They need to make sure that they are flexible enough that their business practices can change…
“A good software package makes, or forces, an agency to follow the rules, do the right processes.” She adds with a laugh, “Any good software doesn’t let you do shortcuts.”
Expectations for the Future
As with any technology, things are already changing for the future. Many of the systems are browser-based. Those that are not, are in the process of developing that technology. From Maximus’ experience, “That really helps the IT department to roll it out on the shop floors, really get technicians interacting with touch screen kiosks,” Schnepp says.
“By having a Web-based product, it is very easy to have one central server and, as long as you have access through your Intranet or the Internet, now those shops are connected,” adds Osborn. It is easier to deploy, easily maintained and easily accessed.
Wireless technology is becoming more common. With Clever Devices, the AVM wirelessly downloads from the vehicle versus having to walk in the lot, find the bus and hook up a system. Schnepp adds, “MARTA just rolled out every single track walker and track technician and signal technician has a mobile device so they are completely wireless out there on the track.” Any place where they do not have coverage, when they come near an RF connection, it automatically detects it and forwards everything it has been storing.