Do not build if you can buy existing software products.

A national experience in acquiring software for ITS projects.

July 1998
United States

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Lesson Learned

Whenever possible, the ITS practitioner should consider buying existing off-the-shelf software products instead of building custom software from scratch. Product offerings, ranging from system components that must be integrated to commodity products, are available for many types of ITS systems. Experienced ITS professionals offer the following suggestions on the purchase of off-the-shelf software versus developing customized software.
  • Do not build new, customized software if an off-the-shelf suits your needs. Customized software costs more and adds risk to a system.
  • Maintain the flexibility to relax requirements to purchase a system that provides the best fit. This requires being able to live with the recognition that an off-the-shelf solution probably won’t match your vision of the ideal solution. An off-the-shelf product may not do everything on your wish list, but an 80 percent solution may be good enough. The off-the-shelf theme is one that the private sector particularly endorses. If system requirements have been identified that preclude off-the-shelf solutions, then they should be thought through and determined how important those requirements are and at what cost.
This lesson points out a debate between public and private-sector ITS professionals that has been going on for several years. With an off-the-shelf solution, every feature desired may not be available. However, based on the risks involved in developing customized software, and the additional cost and time that are almost always involved, the ITS practitioner must decide if they are willing to give up some of the "bells and whistles" in return for a stable well functioning off-the-shelf system. A successful software acquisition will produce an ITS project that meets the needs of the agencies and the traveling public.

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The Road to Successful ITS Software Acquisition: Executive Summary, Volume I - Overview and Themes, and Volume II - Software Acquisition Process Reference Guide

Author: Arthur E. Salwin

Published By: U.S. Department of Transportation Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office Federal Highway Administration

Source Date: July 1998

EDL Number: 4130

Other Reference Number: FHWA-JPO-98-035

URL: https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/2310

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Lesson Contact(s):

Dr. Arthur Salwin
Mitretek Systems

Lesson Analyst:

Cheryl Lowrance


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Lesson ID: 2006-00276