Before introducing ITS or any new technology, or undertaking extensive field trials, it is invariably beneficial to pilot the system or service with a small group of users before more widespread deployment. This approach is part of User Centred Design (See User Centred Design) and allows any problems to be addressed, avoiding embarrassing and expensive mistakes.
Encouraging feedback from users and providing suitable mechanisms for monitoring use of ITS allows those responsible for its operation to better understand the experience of both occasional and frequent users. This may show how use of the ITS is changing over time (because of changes in other parts of the transport system or the environment) and provides advanced information about necessary modifications, including possibly re-design of the ITS (See Evaluation)
Even apparently simple tasks such as administering a questionnaire should be piloted. This is because the design of the questionnaire (and the management processes around the questionnaire) may be found deficient or ambiguous when exposed to actual users. Piloting is really important and should not be missed out.
Pilot studies should be well designed with clear objectives, clear plans for collecting and analysing results, and explicit criteria for determining success or failure. Pilot studies should be analysed in the same way as full scale deployments.
In general, the benefits of a pilot study can be identified under four broad headings:
Monitoring the use of ITS can take many forms. Some examples are:
Feedback is information that comes directly from users of ITS about the satisfaction or dissatisfaction they feel with the product or service. Feedback can lead to early identification of problems and to improvements.
When the ITS users are “internal”, such as traffic control room staff or on-site maintenance workers – encouraging feedback has to be addressed as part of the organisational culture. Ideally a “no blame” culture will exist that allows free expression about what works well and does not when ITS is incorporated within wider social and organisational settings. Some industries have an anonymous feedback channel to allow comment on systems and operations. Explicit and overt mechanisms to respond to feedback help encourage further contributions from ITS users.
Feedback from road users about ITS has to be carefully interpreted as it may relate to the wider transport system of which ITS is just the visible part. For example, a complaint about the setting on variable speed limit signs may arise because information about incident clearance is not speedily transmitted to a traffic control centre.
Many organisations publish a service level promise or “customer charter” and this may include feedback mechanisms. Road Operators may choose to implement feedback channels that are passive (such as publishing address/phone/email/web address) or adopt more active mechanisms (such as questionnaires and surveys).