Best Price? Or Best Value?

I remember the first time I bought a cordless drill. I love tools and I was excited to bring it home and try it out. Unfortunately, the batteries didn’t hold a charge for very long, and the drill lacked sufficient torque to do any real work. But I had already spent the money so I was stuck with it. I couldn’t buy another one. I wished I had done more homework before hand. Or that I rented one a few times to learn what features and capabilities I needed in a drill.

Work zone ITS is no different. ITS is now becoming common in work zones. Let me be the first to welcome many of you to our world. It’s a wonderful tool that can save many lives but, like most tools, you won’t know what you need until you have several projects behind you.

As you gain experience, you will add more requirements to your specification. Every job that goes wrong will result in a tougher specification, a new feature requirement, or improved response time from your vendors. This is normal. It’s called learning from experience.

But it would be nice if we had a study or process that leads us quickly and easily through the process of finding the best value system for our needs. Each deployment is a little different. The goals vary from project to project. What works well in one situation may not work at all in the next.

Work zone ITS, like cordless drills, come in a range of quality, features, and prices. Buying the cheapest is rarely a good idea. But how do you get the best value for your needs?

First, don’t buy right away. Rent through an experienced work zone ITS system provider. Get involved in the deployment (see “Get Involved with Work Zone ITS” – 2/24/13) and learn what works and what could use improvement.

Once you are ready to write a specification, I recommend plagiarism. There are several good specs out there. Borrow from them as much as you can. But also try to include something on the following topics:
1. Clearly define your expectations for system performance. What do you want to accomplish?
2. Specify the quantity of sensors, message boards, and other devices needed for your project.
3. Set and enforce standards of performance. If something is not repaired or replaced within X hours, you must deduct that from the monthly charge.
4. Be sure the system is scalable. You may find you need two more sensors or one fewer message board. Make it easy to adjust after the job starts.
5. Understand maintenance requirements. Will you have to expose workers to traffic every day to change batteries, or to do some other work? Or will the system operate efficiently for weeks at a time? And who will be responsible for that maintenance?
6. Communications are critical. Require redundancy in the system. If the devices can’t communicate, they can’t warn drivers of changing conditions. And that could lead to far more serious problems.

Still, I wish a university or research group would come up with a process to help agencies through the process of finding the best value system for their particular needs. It would have to involve some sort of decision tree. But it could also vary recommendations depending on traffic volumes, goals of the deployment, expected queue lengths, etc. Do any of you have a suggestion? Please share them with us.

KPCB Internet Trends Report

Mary Meeker of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers recently released their highly anticipated Annual Internet Trends report (http://www.kpcb.com/internet-trends ). Many of the statements she made had clear application to the world of work zone ITS.

The first was regarding the rapid transition to mobile devices. In May of 2013, 11% of all web usage was through mobile devices. Just one year later, in May of 2014 that has already jumped up to 19%. Tablets were the fastest growing segment of mobile devices (up more than 52% over the previous year), though smart phones are by far the largest segment and still growing at a good clip (more than 20% per year). Android operating systems as a percentage of the total market jumped from just over 20% in 2010 to 80% last year. Clearly, we as an industry must change the way we make work zone information available to make it easy to read and understand on a variety of mobile devices.

She also said that as mobile platforms grow, the number of directed attacks will rise.
So we must also tighten our security to withstand these inevitable cyber attacks.

Messaging apps have added more than 1 billion users in less than 5 years. Where social media like Facebook are good for sending fewer messages to large groups, messaging apps are far better at sending specific, targeted messages to small groups and individuals. Clearly this will be the future of consumer focused traffic data. Users will demand data targeted to their travel habits, time of day and day of the week, and current location.

Add to that the newest trend of all those people with mobile devices & sensors uploading data. That data can be mined and formatted to produce huge benefits, especially in the traffic world. The average smart phone has many sensors. A Samsung S5 now has 10 sensors: Gyro, fingerprint, barometer, hall (recognizes whether cover is open or closed), ambient light, gesture, heart rate, accelerometer, proximity & compass. This array of sensors means the consumers of your data can also be the providers of additional data. Mining that data, and understanding how it can fit with what you are already supplying to make it better or more complete, will be key to work zone ITS growth in the next few years. We can no longer just supply stand alone systems.

The market will demand seamless data through a variety of ever changing channels. We don’t need to understand those channels, but we do need to provide our data in a flexible format that fits easily into those channels and that is targeted to individual consumers of that data.

The good news is that ad revenue is also growing rapidly. It jumped from about $8 billion in 2012 to $12 billion in 2013. Mobile app sales have grown even more, from $16 billion in 2012 to $26 billion in 2013. There are already many mobile traffic and work zone focused apps. But there are opportunities for vendors to sell new ones if they can find the right combination of targeted information and user friendliness.