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What is a synthesis of ITS lessons learned?

The ITS Lessons Learned Knowledge Resource (LLKR) Web site (www.itslessons.its.dot.gov) contains numerous lessons learned articles. These lessons are based on experiences of ITS stakeholders from various ITS projects and programs in the country. This Web page presents a synthesis of lessons learned knowledge about key ITS areas of interest, including the following lesson categories:

  • Management and Operations
  • Policy and Planning
  • Design and Deployment
  • Leadership and Partnerships
  • Funding
  • Technical Integration
  • Procurement
  • Legal Issues
  • Human Resources

A major focus of this synthesis work has been to gather evidence of real-world experiences of ITS lessons learned, from which other stakeholders could benefit. The lessons learned relevant to each of the main lesson categories above were analyzed for themes and examples, and then grouped under several sub-categories. For example, the key lessons from the design and deployment category are broken into lessons relating to project management, requirements and design, standards and interoperability, implementation, quality assurance and testing, and design tools and models. Because these lessons presented are based on agencies' real-world experiences, they are offered as evidence-based synthesis of lessons learned. The information presented in this section follows this organizational approach:

  • A description of the lesson category, including the types of lessons presented in sub-categories
  • A discussion of field evidence for selected key lessons, which are bolded
  • Insight boxes that highlight points of major learning on a topic
  • A short conclusion for the lesson category

The syntheses of lessons learned presented below represent a collection and analysis of experiences of many agencies across the country and can serve as a valuable resource for leaders in making informed decisions on future ITS projects and programs. More extensive details for the same and many other lessons can be found in the ITS Lesson Learned Knowledge Resource Website (www.itslessons.its.dot.gov) .

Management and Operations

ITS stakeholders use the phrase management and operations (M&O) to describe a decision-making approach to implement, operate, and maintain transportation facilities with the intent of optimizing system performance and improving safety, mobility, efficiency, and reliability of the Nation's transportation infrastructure. Specific lesson topics on M&O include operations structure and strategy, M&O plans and programs, systems data and storage, performance measurement and evaluation, and M&O tools and models. Key lessons learned are:

  • Coordinate across jurisdictions, share resources, and create procedures that do not threaten individual agencies' roles.
  • Continually seek ways to make operations more effective when deploying ITS.
  • Evaluate and upgrade maintenance programs on an ongoing basis.
  • Strengthen interest in data archiving systems among traffic managers.
  • Provide an avenue for operators and customers to get involved in the planning process, incorporate operational performance measures in strategic and long-range plans.
  • Design Web sites with usability in mind and obtain feedback from customers.

Read more: A synthesis of lessons learned on Management and Operation

Policy and Planning

Lessons in the policy and planning category discuss policies and approaches used to incorporate the consideration of ITS products and services in the transportation planning process. These approaches may include the development of policies used to elicit buy-in from regional stakeholders, as well as various planning documents (such as a regional ITS architecture, an ITS strategic plan, a concept of operations, a traffic analysis tool, or a long-range transportation improvement plan). Specific lesson learned topics discussed below include policy, planning, architecture and planning tools, and programming. Key lessons learned are:

  • Develop ITS stakeholder policies to ensure efficiency, consistency, and interoperability in deploying integrated systems.
  • Develop a formal ITS data sharing policy.
  • Learn the successful approaches to ITS planning.
  • Anticipate challenges in planning and deploying ITS in a rural environment.
  • Use the National ITS Architecture and other tools for effective ITS planning.
  • Include ITS in the State's long-range transportation plan to take advantage of project synergies and stable funding.

Read more: A synthesis of lessons learned on Policy and Planning

Design and Deployment

Lessons in the design and deployment category discuss the approaches used in the design and completion of an ITS project including the choice of appropriate ITS technologies, use of ITS standards and systems engineering, ITS software development, and construction and implementation techniques. Specific lesson topics on design and deployment include project management, requirements and design, standards and interoperability, implementation, quality assurance and testing, and design tools and models. Key lessons learned are:

  • Make use of flexible methods and accepted techniques for successful project management.
  • Design and tailor system technology to deliver an ITS project that meets the needs of the users and the customers.
  • Recognize interoperability as an important issue in achieving the vision of a nationwide 511 system.
  • Cultivate commitment by the Federal Highway Administration and/or other appropriate agencies at the Federal level.
  • Consider that advanced traveler information system deployment in rural and/or remote areas presents special challenges.
  • Implement a limited-deployment fare pass system before implementing a region-wide fare card system.
  • Conduct rigorous testing prior to deployment of an ITS project.
  • Conduct a requirements analysis to determine the most appropriate ITS telecommunications solution.

Read more: A synthesis of lessons learned on Design and Deployment

Leadership and Partnerships

Lessons in the leadership and partnerships category discuss the role of an ITS champion, partnerships that promote collaboration and cooperation among multiple agencies in deploying ITS, outreach and awareness efforts that make stakeholders knowledgeable and accepting of ITS, and organizational structures that facilitate efficient planning and implementation of ITS. Specific lesson learned topics discussed below include leaders and champions, partnerships and agreements, awareness and outreach, and organizational management and structure. Key lessons learned are:

  • For regional ITS deployments involving multiple agencies, find an influential project champion for successful execution of the project.
  • Forge regional partnership agreements capable of addressing the specific characteristics of individual partner agencies and their customers.
  • Consider public-private, partnership-based unique financing methods as ways to cover costs for transportation projects.
  • Consider several forms of customer outreach services, with a focus on customer convenience.
  • Conduct systematic surveys of and interviews with customers periodically to reliably assess customer satisfaction and to design strategies to improve satisfaction.
  • Consider a consensus organizational model to help assure support and participation of partners in a regional ITS deployment, but beware of potential delays in implementation.
  • Clearly define the organizational structure and establish an ITS Program Coordinator to insure an effective ITS program.

Read more: A synthesis of lessons learned on Leadership and Partnerships


Lessons in the funding category discuss Federal, State, regional and local, and private funding, as well as a combination of funding sources, and innovative financing. Federal funding for highways and transit is established by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), a six-year surface transportation authorization bill passed in 2005, which expires in 2009. The State and local agencies play the largest role in financing, owning, and operating highway and ITS systems and networks. Projects to be considered for funding—whether through Federal, State, or local sources—must be included in the Transportation Improvement Program for their State or region. Federal funds are available to manage, operate, and maintain ITS systems; however, the bulk of funds still typically come from States and localities. Key lessons learned are:

  • Clarify Federal funding regulations for projects that do not deliver tangible products.
  • Distribute financial resources equitably according to agency capital cost shares.
  • Leverage State assistance in the procurement and funding of ITS technologies for rural transit.
  • Consider partnering with neighboring agencies and non-traditional stakeholders.
  • Examine multiple funding sources and anticipate unforeseen costs associated with deploying ITS.
  • Consider public-private partnerships and unique financing methods as ways to cover costs for ITS projects.
  • Consider development impact fees, special assessments, and other innovative mechanisms to help finance ITS projects, and management and operations strategies.

Read more: A synthesis of lessons learned on Funding

Technical Integration

Lessons in the technical integration category discuss approaches that facilitate the technical connection of dispersed ITS elements for efficient information sharing and control in transportation management and operations. Such integration may occur among multiple systems, agencies, and regions. Agencies should anticipate that technical issues will occur and that these issues will most likely affect the cost and schedule of the project. The key to success is to plan accordingly and develop solutions prior to project deployment to minimize issues that may surface during the integration phase. Technical integration is a multi-faceted concept and can be described in the subcategories of functional integration, jurisdictional considerations, and the integration of legacy systems. Key lessons learned are:

  • To develop usable systems that meet user needs, assess user needs and follow accepted usability engineering practices when developing interactive systems.
  • Use ITS standards when developing systems to maximize vendor flexibility and data exchange compatibility, and ensure comprehension by agencies.
  • Create systems and plans that allow information sharing and coordination among regional agencies and states.
  • Consider developing an emergency response plan that coordinates command, control, and communications among regional agencies.
  • Comply with standards and select proven commercial off-the-shelf technology (hardware and software), when possible, to save money and facilitate integration with existing legacy systems.
  • To identify and resolve system integration issues with existing legacy equipment, plan on adequate development time and thorough system testing to ensure systems are working properly after system integration.

Read more: A synthesis of lessons learned on Technical Integration


Procurement is a critical step in the acquisition of an ITS project. The process of procuring ITS technologies has proven to be one of the most complicated and problematic of deployment phases for many agencies. Lessons in the procurement category of the Lessons Learned Knowledge Resources discuss work allocation, method of award, contract form, contract type, and terms and conditions, based on the guidelines provided in the National Cooperative Highway Research Program report, Guide to Contracting ITS Projects. Key lessons learned are:

  • Determine agency capability level when selecting the most appropriate ITS procurement package.
  • Maintain owner control and consistent oversight to keep a project on time and on budget.
  • Utilize flexible procurement methods that allow for thorough and detailed negotiations.
  • Consider dividing a large ITS project into manageable task orders.
  • Consider performance-based contracts, including incentives and penalties, during the procurement process.
  • Create policies to specifically address software and technologies including intellectual property rights that are brought into, enhanced, and developed during a project.

Read more: A synthesis of lessons learned on Procurement

Legal Issues

Lessons in the legal issues category discuss intellectual property, liability, privacy, and rules and regulations. Many of these areas, such as liability and intellectual property, are not unique to ITS and apply to many other domains, whereas others, such as privacy, have particular relevance and application to ITS. Privacy issues can present particular challenges in ITS projects, as new ITS technologies can often raise concerns about intrusive, "Big Brother" type surveillance. The legal issues associated with these areas must be handled in a proactive, thoughtful, and comprehensive manner. Key lessons learned are:

  • Address intellectual property rights early to develop a clear policy and increase efficiency.
  • Understand the intellectual property rights issues concerning software development and technology and develop a clear policy to address these issues.
  • Develop written policies to address liability issues early.
  • Carefully consider data sharing issues to effectively balance information sharing needs with data security measures for ITS applications.
  • Plan and create policies and rules that address electronic toll collection, enforcement, and data sharing issues.
  • Develop a regional information sharing policy to help define information access and compensation arrangements.
  • Consider legislative authority and institutional arrangements.

Read more: A synthesis of lessons learned on Legal Issues

Human Resources

The efficient operation of ITS depends on the effective management of human resources, i.e., ensuring that the right number of staff are assigned to plan, design, deploy, and operate an ITS project and that they have the right skills and training. Specific lesson topics on human resources include personnel management, recruiting and staffing, retention and turnover, and training. Key lessons learned are:

  • Develop a staffing plan flexible enough to accommodate routine and emergency conditions.
  • Consider different staffing arrangements to meet various scheduling demands at a transportation management center.
  • Evaluate technical and support staffing needs to close gaps in ITS operational support.
  • Involve staff in the ITS planning and deployment process.
  • Create meaningful career paths and adopt optimal workload conditions for successful operations staff hiring and retention.
  • Train staff throughout the deployment of a project to ensure successful implementation and use of ITS resources.
  • Provide training to maintenance crews before introducing a maintenance decision support system.
  • Implement cross-training mechanisms to allow task-transfer to handle variable loads of staffing needs.

Read more: A synthesis of lessons learned on Human Resources


The lessons learned discussed on this Web page and the associated documents provide a synthesis of stakeholders' experience in their planning, deployment, operations, maintenance, and evaluation of ITS. Such learning is intended to foster informed decision making by the readers in their own ITS initiatives. For example, a planner may learn that including ITS projects in the state's long range transportation plan is a sensible way to take advantage of multiple project synergies and stable funding, whereas a traveler information Web site designer may learn that embedding a function for receiving customer feedback is essential to improving the usability of the site. Major conclusions are presented below.

Management and operations: ITS program managers and practitioners are continuously developing strategies to improve the efficiency and reliability of transportation systems and infrastructure. However, a successful ITS project is not solely dependent on how well the system was designed and deployed. Ongoing success depends on how well the system is managed, maintained, and operated.

Policy and planning: The policy and planning phase is the foundational step upon which the successful implementation of an ITS project hinges. Most ITS projects require cooperation among divisions within an agency, as well as among regional agencies that are involved in managing some aspects of transportation systems. ITS program managers and practitioners must strive to develop consistent policies acceptable to stakeholders, use the National ITS Architecture and other standard tools to prepare planning documents, and mainstream the ITS planning process by providing necessary input to the regional long-range transportation programming process.

Design and deployment: The design and deployment lessons include insights on project management, requirements and design, standards and interoperability, implementation, quality assurance and testing, and design tools and models. Most agencies consider an ITS project successful if it meets the requirements of the agency, the needs of the customer, and is deployed within the budget and schedule constraints. Issues associated with design and deployment are best dealt with in the early phases of a project. Identifying other agencies with similar projects and discussing items that worked well and what they would or would not do again, can provide great benefits to an agency looking to deploy a project.

Leadership and partnerships: ITS leaders and champions are pivotal decision makers who decide what is right for planning and implementing ITS so that project managers and practitioners, based on their leaders' guidance, can execute the ITS projects. Successful ITS planning and implementation requires championing of ITS by agency's high-level leadership, forging partnerships among entities involved in managing some aspects of the regional transportation system, performing awareness and outreach efforts within and outside agencies, and developing an efficient and effective organizational structure.

Funding: The funding lessons provide insights on types of funding sources used for ITS, including Federal, State, and local governments, as well as innovative financing mechanisms. Funding and financing mechanisms available today reflect a shift from the traditional means of grant-based funding and address the realities of certain funding shortfalls. Federal and State Governments, as well as State DOTs, are working collaboratively with other regional and local entities as well as the private sector to maximize the effectiveness of every transportation improvement. Project stakeholders must work together to assemble a funding package that will result in a financially feasible project.

Technical integration: Technical integration for ITS is a multi-faceted concept and involves more than simply assembling the pieces of a puzzle. This type of integration involves functional, jurisdictional, and legacy system issues that all must be considered and coordinated to integrate the components of an ITS system.

Procurement: Agencies must consider several procurement options for ITS, in addition to the traditional acquisition procedures for construction projects. ITS project participants need to investigate their agencies' procurement options, look for innovative ways to build flexibility into their contracts, and identify ways to work within the given procurement system to meet their project needs.

Legal issues: Several legal issues such as intellectual property, liability, privacy, and rules and regulations have particular impact on ITS deployment, and must be handled in a proactive, thoughtful, and comprehensive manner.

Human resources: The human resource needs for ITS projects vary significantly from those of the traditional transportation engineering projects of facility construction and operations. Several lessons learned have been shown to be particularly helpful in ITS projects, including involving staff in the planning, design, and deployment process; developing a process for successful hiring and retention; and providing comprehensive initial and ongoing training.

In addition to the attachments included on this Web page, a significant body of lessons learned knowledge on all topic areas discussed above is available on the U.S. DOT's ITS Lessons Learned Web site (www.itslessons.its.dot.gov), which served as the basis for this synthesis.