‘Software for Life’ – how to maximise the return on your Intelligent Transport Systems investment

Published December 15, 2020 in Blog

Today’s modern world is designed for obsolescence – if something breaks, you throw it away and buy a new one. This is particularly the case with home appliances. Just ask yourself, who fixes toasters or televisions anymore? Or when was the last time you had any electronics repaired? Low production costs and rapidly evolving technologies mean that for consumer goods, failure usually means replacement.

It’s fair to say that, when you invest in goods or services, you will want to extract the most out of that investment. However, while you may have systems that were a capital outlay some time ago, and still do the job to an extent, you may find that fixes are becoming more difficult and costly.

Technology advancements bring new capabilities, and these often dovetail into older technologies, or ‘legacy’ systems. How do transport agencies position themselves to extract the most from the updated technologies, whilst at the same time, maximise the return on the investments already made?

The answer is to invest sustainably into the future – with a system ‘designed for the long term’ and supported continually over time. Designed for the long term means the solution must be structured to evolve to meet new needs, with backwards compatibility with older versions of hardware and software considered from the outset. In other words, a sustainable investment that provides the longest possible life from your original capital spend – while continually providing your operation and passengers with ongoing new capabilities and benefits, from the quickly evolving technology market.

Future-Proofing Technology

Continual evolution has meant hardware and software are not static entities. Instead, they embrace new features and functions that help run your business in today’s environment. By evolving hardware to meet current market demands, Trapeze allows transport agencies to take advantage of new standards such as 4G and 5G communications, improved processor speeds, new security regimes and new peripherals. This means that transport agencies are not stuck in a technological stalemate and can continue to deliver high-quality services using the best technologies available.

Similarly, the continual evolution of software supports more powerful and secure operating systems, better user interfaces, and new features that were not even considered by developers at the time of the original investment.

Backward compatibility ensures it is possible to upgrade part of a system, yet the remaining components still function. This means an upgrade of one module will sit alongside other legacy modules, which allows passengers and operators to begin taking advantage of new functionality. Upgrades occur whilst still having legacy systems in place, pending a future upgrade – significantly extending the lifetime of the solution. For example, an upgrade to the control room should not prevent the vehicle systems from working – but new control room features may only be available in newer vehicles. This means that a transport operator can budget upgrades over time when funds are available.

Continuous Upgrades or Unsupported Maintenance?

Designing and building world-class transportation infrastructure and systems is complex, and requires expertise, time, and significant investments. Continued maintenance of both is paramount in retaining quality service, and monitoring performance. Furthermore, continued maintenance provides transport operators with the assurance of upgrades. The graph below shows what typically happens with systems supported with continuous maintenance, versus an unsupported system.

Historically, some organisations engaged technology providers that might have had some foundational elements but required significant development commitments to build custom software modules to meet the needs of their operation. This typically led to a very large upfront cost and a solution that may not have taken industry best practices into consideration. The solution became very complicated, which gradually saw a drop in utilisation. When no support is provided, system benefits drop, and the system stops growing in line with the business needs. Workarounds then start appearing. Eventually, this requires heavy investment to upgrade to the functionality needed by the business. In the worst case, it means a new system altogether must be sourced.

Trapeze Commercial Off The Shelf Software

A supported model, on the other hand, means that a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) solution, operating live in tram environments, will continue to grow with the market’s evolving requirements, innovation demands, and best practices. This model offers a sustainable technology investment, that continues to provide enhanced value to your operation, and to your passengers through the provision of annual enhancements like software application upgrades, fixes, and patches. In other words, the software you purchase today will remain the most current version, for as long as you continue to utilise and support the solution.

Software that Grows with You

A partnership focused on long term support and successful use of technology for transport systems is critical. An example of a successful partnership is ZVV in Zürich, Switzerland. ZVV have been using the Trapeze Automatic Vehicle Location and Control (AVLC) system for over 50 years on trams, trolleybuses and standard buses. Throughout this time, Trapeze and ZVV have worked together to provide sustainable hardware upgrades several times to support new vehicle types, improved passenger information systems, and radio networks.

The control room has also received a continuous stream of improved functionality and benefits. These upgrades were performed independently at a time that suited ZVV, and meant updates had to support the existing fleet that was still using older hardware – in some cases, two or three generations behind.

Another example is the Tuen Mun trams in Hong Kong, which have recently received a control room upgrade that supports their legacy hardware. Although the reliable hardware was several generations behind current releases, Trapeze provided Tuen Mun with a viable upgrade path for their radio network, due to enforced frequency changes. The control room now benefits from this plan and includes a transition phase to new AVLC hardware at a later date, that suits Tuen Mun operations.

Then there is also Transport for London, which transports over seven million passengers daily in Europe’s most populous city, and operates the world‘s largest public intermodal transport control system (ITCS). Trapeze has been involved in this journey for over 15 years as a valued technology partner, delivering services that keep London moving. And we are also planning for London’s future.

On average, our annual releases include over 1,700 enhancements to key features across all product suites. These are then built into the core products as part of our COTS philosophy. This leads to greater useability and benefits, which increase over time due to reduced complexity, rail-specific innovation, and less overall investment over the course of the software’s lifetime.

Conclusion

Trapeze is focused on delivering value in ITS for public transport. We have demonstrated our commitment and value to our customers over the past 50 years and continue to leverage our industry experience for the long term.

Our objective is to provide solutions that continue to operate as long as possible, remain supported and continually evolve, through backwards compatible systems, that offer new hardware options supported now and into the future.

At a practical level for authorities, operators and passengers, this means that a Trapeze supported system is continuously monitored and upgraded, so new interfaces, features and capabilities are always being delivered and, the hardware continues to provide the functionality it was built for – over the long term.

Mode of Transport

Bus, Ferry

Solutions

Intelligent Transport Systems

Meet the author

David Panter

Industry Solutions Manager, ITS

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