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Transit Discussion in real-time.

The sky is the limit with a cloud-hosted ITS.

Skeptics abound, but the modern ITS is grounded in operational efficiency.

By Matt Schroeder
Director of Marketing, ETA Transit Systems

Market research is a big part of my gig here at ETA. I’m always on the lookout for the latest trend or emerging technology, but in general my transit-specific career spans just six of my 25 years in the marketing industry. That is to say that my assumptions are often challenged and discoveries about new aspects in this market do surprise me from time to time.

One of the assumptions that I made early on was that most transit agencies have made the switch to cloud-hosted intelligent transit systems (ITS). Now in my mid-40s, I remain an early adopter of technology. Most of my friends, relatives, and coworkers are also quick to jump on the tech bandwagon and worship at the altar of progress. So, when I am tasked to make a quick observation or judgment call, I go with what my gut tells me based on my life experience so far. I don’t always get it right, but usually I land in the ballpark—which is enough to allow me time to better research an issue and refine my understanding.

One of our key research initiatives each year is our annual transit survey. Each year we push a couple dozen questions out into the ethos and hundreds of transit professionals respond with their insights, challenges, and outlooks on the industry.

In 2017, we asked transit operators who among them used ITS systems built in the cloud (cloud computing). I assumed that most agencies would reply favorably; that they had a cloud-based system. After all ETA implements a cloud system. Our primary competitors all use cloud technology. It was an easy leap to assume that most transit agencies had transitioned to this new technology platform.

Only they hadn’t.

Imagine my shock (and that of our team) to learn that 75 percent of the industry was still on the legacy model; one that uses a physical server located on-site. We never expected the number to be that far away from our assumption. After all, a cloud-hosted system brings a lot to the table…

  • Tremendous up time
    ETA cloud servers routinely deliver 99.9 percent uptime; meaning they don’t crash, and transit agencies enjoy the benefits of a stable ITS system. No risk of power outages. Redundant systems that spin up automatically in the event of any connectivity issue. Cloud systems are the epitome of reliability.

  • Cost savings
    With no dedicated hardware to purchase, or need to maintain a large IT staff, cloud systems help reduce payroll and support costs.

  • Maintenance free
    For transit agencies, a cloud hosted ITS is point-and-click easy. There’s no need to upgrade operating systems, replace hardware, or worry about security hacks. Its all handled by the ITS provider, so transit administrators, dispatchers, and staff can focus on running routes, not system diagnostics.

  • Wireless updates
    ETA and its SPOT™ platform deliver all software upgrades and patches wirelessly to connected systems. There is seldom ever a need to touch a vehicle, upgrade a hard drive, or physically interface with onboard systems. The result is an evolving ITS solution that improves and grows without the hassles of maintenance patches, or pulling vehicles off the road to get updated to the latest and greatest system.

  • Safety
    One of the biggest concerns we hear about the cloud is the safety of collected information. That’s a legitimate fear, but in truth, cloud computing is safer than a local server. Security is a top priority with rigorous safety protocols in place. There is not physical access to a server or device. Each cloud installation is protected by layers of firewalls, antivirus, spam controls, and security protocols.

    A physical server can be damaged by fire, smoke, water. It can fall prey to a busy IT staff unable to keep up with latest patches and security precautions. It represents a keen target for an unhappy employee to inflict damage upon the agency—none of those risks exist in a cloud-hosted system.

As an interesting postscript to our research efforts, almost 86 percent of agencies stated that they were actively exploring a move to a cloud hosted ITS solution, with 63.6 percent citing reduced cost in IT infrastructure as their primary motivation.

Those stating they were not interested, cited a desire to retain data on their premises and to exert direct control over the system, its hardware and software. These objections are not deal breakers with a cloud-hosted system. Data can be uploaded daily from the ITS provider to a locally-hosted server, and back office systems combined with API access deliver the same control and developmental capabilities had an agency built their ITS solution from the ground up.

We all make assumptions throughout our lives. Some prove to be accurate, and some miss the mark. When it comes to a cloud-hosted ITS solution, it might be wise to set aside any assumptions and take a deep dive into the benefits of this new and potentially operation-changing solution.

Have you made the switch to the cloud? If so, what factors drove your decision? What performance improvements have you seen as a result?