Road Network Operations
& Intelligent Transport Systems
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Systems Engineering

Author Richard Bossom (ITS Consulting Ltd., UK)

Systems engineering is an inter-disciplinary approach to the design and management of large and/or complex engineering projects throughout all stages of their life cycle from the very start to the very end. Usually the project begins with a "vision" describing in general terms what the project is expected to achieve and it ends when all the engineering tasks in the project have been completed and customer acceptance has been achieved. Sometimes a project is completed by an in-house team, in which case the end will be when what it has provided, has outlived its usefulness and been dismantled. It can be quite difficult to resolve when a large and/or complex engineering project is said to be complete. Using systems engineering mechanisms enables all of the issues to be identified and addressed in a logical – and usually timely manner.

Although there is some dispute about the reliability of published statistics on success and failure rates for IT projects, there is much evidence to suggest a significant number are not successful – with some that are failures, often leading to their cancellation. The definition of failure usually means that they either:

  • did not deliver what the stakeholders wanted
  • ran late compared to the original timescale
  • were over the originally forecast budget
  • or some combination of these three measurements

One way of defining ITS is to say that it is the application of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to transport and – in the context of Road Network Operations – particularly to road transport. It is reasonable to suppose that the success rates of major projects that implement ITS are likely to be similar to that of IT projects unless appropriate measures are taken to minimise the risk of failure.

What has systems engineering to offer ITS?

One of the key elements in the application of the systems engineering methodology is the involvement of all stakeholders so that they can feel part of the ITS implementation. This can be achieved through participation in activities such as defining the vision of the services that ITS will provide – and understanding how the provision of these services can be translated into something that can be implemented, that is created and deployed.

Systems engineering provides mechanisms that enable projects for ITS implementations to be delivered in a way that is:

  • more likely to provide stakeholders with what they were expecting using the most appropriate technologies
  • keep within their initially projected timescales
  • keep within their initially agreed budgets

Meeting each of these delivery targets will help each particular ITS project to reach a successful completion. An important outcome is that success will encourage existing and new stakeholders:

  • to take on further ITS projects that will increase the scope of the services
  • apply the project’s solution to different aspects of road transport
  • deploy the project in a wider geographic area

As with any methodology, the use of systems engineering does not provide a total solution. Other factors are the expertise, and creativity of key personnel, the situation knowledge and awareness of the stakeholders and the competence of those actually doing the ITS implementation.

The link below to a lecture by given by Professor Brian Collins, who is a world-class authority on systems engineering, provides a general introduction and overview of the subject and shows how a systems approach has been used to solve some well-known problems in transport. The video clip lasts about 50 minutes and if viewed in its entirety will provide some useful insights into various aspects of deployment that need to be considered when implementing ITS. In responding to questions Professor Collins underlines the importance of including both politicians and the media as stakeholders in ITS implementation.

Video: Professor Brian Collins on Systems Engineering

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