Many vendors provide online hosting or software-as-a-service (SaaS) models to transportation organizations. SaaS essentially allows the customer to rent the software and access it online for a monthly fee. While these tools can benefit the business side of the transportation industry, the real value comes when the cloud intersects directly with fleet management devices. Bypassing SaaS and simply passing data directly from the device to the cloud saves time and also money.
It typically takes months, or even years, to plan, procure and deploy IT infrastructure to connect embedded transportation devices to the network and capture valuable data (Figure 2). Transportation agencies use GPS devices, passenger counters, fare collectors and other devices to capture key data. Traditionally, these devices are plugged into a hard-wired Internet connection, and the data is downloaded onto a local PC connected to a network. The data is downloaded at specified intervals, such as each night or once per week. Many times the data is either never used, or analyzed once per month or even once per year to make service changes.
The device cloud is a term coined by Eurotech (Figure 3) to describe how organizations can bring data from device to business application with an integrated solution to turn bits of data into valuable and actionable information. By storing device data in the cloud, both public and private transportation agencies can access data in near real-time.
The device cloud is also scalable, secure and many times more cost-effective than traditional infrastructure for transportation IT departments. As cloud computing becomes more mainstream, transportation agencies are evaluating whether a cloud solution can be an efficient alternative to traditional computing networks.
Simplifying the Dashboard with More Useful Fleet Data
Storing transportation data in a central online location can be more efficient for transportation agencies. Currently, agencies collect various measurements ranging from travel time to fare collection. Then, multiple departments and employees manage each of those measurements and create reports for managers to compare and contrast data.
When all of these measures are stored in the cloud, transportation executives can access the data anytime and anywhere through a secure online portal. They can create a custom dashboard that pulls only the data they need, and they can look at the fleet over the past week, or even since they began storing data in the cloud. This concept goes beyond simply gathering the various databases into one location — a device cloud solution instead pulls the data directly from the devices (fare collection, GPS, etc.) and into one central cloud database.
Connecting transportation devices to the cloud proves invaluable in analyzing data. For example, consider a standard bus with the following systems — a camera, fare collection, passenger counting, WiFi and GPS. Suppose the transportation agency holds a board meeting and wants to justify the free Wi-Fi it offers to customers. Next, the general manager asks his employees for a few reports on fare collection and passenger counts to justify the free Wi-Fi.
Under the old technology, each of these data points is provided by different software and different vendors. Multiple employees collect the data and deliver it to the general manager, who then analyzes it and delivers the results to the board. Each report is slightly different since they are not integrated, and the general manager then spends his or her time comparing the reports to determine if the number of users and the fares collected justifies the free Wi-Fi.
With a cloud computing infrastructure, the cloud service can pull information from all of the databases together into one simple and secure dashboard. At any given moment, the general manager can generate a report containing both fare collection and passenger counting with a single click.
There are operational efficiencies to be gained from cloud computing to eliminate the hours of recurring time used to generate the same reports month after month, year after year.
Making Quick Decisions with Faster Data Through the Cloud
In addition to increasing efficiency with a simple dashboard, cloud computing can also provide the benefit of more immediate, near real-time data. Since data is sent to the cloud almost continuously, managers can see realistic snapshots at any given moment.