Transportation: A moving target of opportunity

Robust technologies in transit, airports, rails, highways and other infrastructures signal jobs for systems integrators

For the U.S. Department of Transportation, two areas that seem to be driving the most cost are surface and air transportation. According to the Department's fiscal year 2009 summary, surface transportation program costs represent the largest investment at 76.4 percent of the Department's net cost of operations, while air transportation is the next largest investment, at 21.6 percent.

There's no question that there is a need for infrastructure improvement with available multi-billion dollar programs, according to Richard Martinko, director of the Intermodal Transportation Institute, University of Toledo.

"The problem is those jobs instantly created by the technology sector are not as many and not as visible as the kind of surface transportation improvement projects that you see," he explained. "I think part of what the government wants to do is to find transportation that needs to be improved and that creates a lot of jobs quickly. That's why you see surface transportation getting the majority of the funding. A lot of the stuff in the technology area has to be researched and well-thought-out and it is expensive and it's worthwhile but you don't see anything immediate happening," Martinko continued.

Integrators address the challenges

Systems integrators know that it is key to find their specialty, whether it is in vertical markets such as transportation, enterprise or education, or whether it is finding their niche in one of the five transportation modes. For systems integrator Adesta Group, Omaha, Neb., having such resources as a project development team made up of engineers, estimators, technical writers and formatters and vertical account management provides them with an efficient way to target each of the five transportation modes.

Issues that systems integrators are also faced with in the pipeline transportation mode include environmental issues, with hazardous liquid spills occurring in high consequence areas. But there is another challenge that is less spoken of, according to Jayson Swope, director of Engineering, Adesta.

"And that is the expectation of the customer," he explained. "Not all customers understand the complexity of what it is they are asking to have built. They might say that they want this integrated security solution but I'm not sure they understand how difficult it is to build these systems and also how difficult it may be to support it and keep it running at its proper condition."

Freeways, highways, roadways-technologies for ITS, are only getting more intuitive as transportation authorities work to solve such issues as congestion and managing traffic flow. And, with President Barack Obama's recent initiative to put $50 billion in spending in the hands of the nation's roads, airport runways and railroads, construction workers may find themselves back to work rebuilding aging infrastructures.

Technologies implemented include roadway information sensors and microwave detectors that meter the volume and speed of traffic. This method follows a predictive modeling approach to project what the delay might be on the road. Other technologies present in this space may include surveillance cameras; license plate recognition; and video management. But part of the biggest issue right now is the cost in upgrading the surface transportation system, according to Martinko.

"Figuring out how to work around that congestion is critical," he explained. "Surface transportation is pretty congested in many parts of the country and that is why rail and water are getting a more robust look. The cost of fuel and surface transportation is probably the most expensive mode to move product," Martinko continued.

In the ground transportation space, wireless video is becoming a viable opportunity with small, low- power, DVD devices that can record video and download it for viewing.

But for Adesta, the opportunities in the ITS space offer more possibility of a bundling of a variety of solutions.

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