In this blog post we will walk through the responsibilities for one of the most important roles when purchasing ITxPT-based ITS systems. The role of the integrator and with it, the integration platform.
Information technology for public transport and Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) are under fast development both in terms of new technology as well as standardization and specialization. This demands that you are prepared for technical evolution already when purchasing systems.
It also means that you need a plan for what roles you need to appoint. The perhaps most central role that needs to be appointed is the integrator role, which is the actor responsible for integrating all equipment as well as both onboard-, back-office- and cloud solutions.
Determine the integrator role
The integrator role needs to be specified and determined, not only when you purchase the service from a supplier acting solely as integrator, but also if you purchase all ITS solutions from one single source or if you take on the integrator role yourself as the purchasing party.
It’s not necessary that the integrator platform is developed or delivered by the integrator. However, the integrator needs to have an appropriate set of skills to embody the integrator role, and to handle the integrator platform.
It is not possible at the purchasing time to define what applications you need and how they will be used for the next ten years or more, in which the systems are expected to remain in service. Rather, the requirements will most certainly change over the lifetime of the installed systems.
This means that you should avoid being locked into rigid financial or technical solutions. Make sure that you:
- easily can add or remove functionality, both hardware and software
- control ownership of data
- maintain control of the quality of connected systems
- Prepare suppliers to accept 3:rd parties applications
Who can take on the integrator role?
There are some different basic models for how the integrator need can be fulfilled:
You as purchasing party owns the integrator role and the integration responsibility.
A system supplier or integrator takes the role as the complete supplier.
In this setup, you as purchasing party outsource the integrator role separately from other system suppliers.
Skills and requirements
No matter if the integrator role is supplied by one actor or divided. No matter if you handle it inhouse or buy the service, there is a set of skills that needs to be fulfilled to be successful, setting up and maintaining your well planned and functional intelligent transport system solution. What is the necessary skill set for the integrator role? The basic capabilities for the integrator role can be divided into three major areas:
- Project Management, coordination and documentation
- Architecture design and system documentation
- Integration testing and system validation, fault finding and IP communication
First, let’s have a look at the three areas mentioned above, with the integrator in mind. Then we will go through the similar areas with the integrator platform in mind.
The Integrator skill set
The skills below are necessary to fulfill the integrator role.
Project Management, coordination and documentation
The integrator plans how to set up the architecture, both hardware like connectors and cabling as well as software interfaces such as MDNS and VPN’s based on ITxPT. The integrator also needs to be able to manage the complete platform like IP plan and configuration for its full life cycle, for example in regard to system migration of old/new systems and to provide project management.
Architecture design and system documentation
The integrator handles protocols, wireless technology and monitoring setup, and must have a thorough understanding and knowledge of the integrator platform with its settings and capabilities. The role typically also includes being able to write and update design documents and specifications. It is, however, not necessary that the integrator delivers the integrator platform.
Integration testing and system validation, fault finding and IP communication
The integrator needs to be able to handle software and interface development or at least adaptations, depending on what integration platform that is used, as well as integration technology like CAN, MQTT, web services and others, for both onboard-, cloud- and back-office solutions.
The integrator also handles interoperability testing against specifications, like FAT and SAT as well as ITxPT.
The capacity to perform monitoring, logging and fault handling is also important, as well as support for complex faults involving several actors. There is also a need for the capacity to communicate the faults on a detailed level with the involved actors, and deep knowledge of IP communication and tools like Wireshark.
Integrator platform minimum capacity
To be able to perform the integration, integrator needs a combined software and hardware platform, that makes integration between different modules and systems possible. This is the integrator platform. This platform also needs a set of “skills” or a minimum capacity to deliver what is needed for an effective integration solution.
Let’s have a look at the integrator platform capacity, divided into the same three areas we used to examine the integrator skill set, divided into the same categories as we examined the integrator role skill set. The platform capacity can, however, also be divided in onboard- and off-board- or system level.
On board, the most central unit is the Vehicle Gateway, with processor, memory and connectors (preferably Ethernet) for the IP network that needs to be built.
Connection and communication with the vehicle Bus-FMS and other CAN interface are important, as well as the capacity to handle legacy systems, with I/O’s. The platform should also have approvals like ITxPT, e-mark and others.
Outside of the vehicle, the servers and the IP network are important parts of the architecture, combined with security approvals and sufficient throughput and server capacity.
Communication, configurations and surveillance
The onboard communication normally use an Ethernet based network that in most cases can be prepared by the vehicle manufacturer. The central function here is to give all onboard systems a basic network and shared WAN connectivity as well as the ability to share information like GNSS and FMS data between onboard systems.
Externally, the Vehicle Gateway handles communication with the back-office system and cloud solutions.
The communication can use several communication technologies or networks and redundancies can be requested.
Integration software, testing, fault search and configurations
On board you need a place to run software in order to handle the interface and exchange of information (brokering) between multiple attached modules. This is often supplied by the Vehicle Gateway, where the key services and information exchange between systems is performed through a MQTT broker, as well as GNSS service and FMStoIP service. You also need a place to run logs and functionalities, and to unload and assemble them automatically.
On the system level, you need API’s, for example to customer databases, drivers, vehicles and others. Another core functionality is to be able to correct faults and to implement new integration software (middleware).
With a well-defined integrator role and an integrator platform with the right specification of capacities, you will save time and money, at the same time as you gain better control over your fleet and all ITS solutions. The key, however, is to be well prepared and take the right steps from the start. You need to have the right competence and capacities involved as well as to take the time to form a strategy to handle a constant technical evolution on a long-term basis.
Some concluding reflections
In more mature IT markets, internationalization, standardization and scaling of solutions has opened up for actors on the markets to specialize and divide into more dedicated roles. The recent development points to a similar future within IT for public transport, which in turn will allow for a higher level of international expertise, evolution and effectivization of the whole market.
This calls for standards and actors who can take the overall responsibility to integrate the systems, especially when implementing evolutionary cloud-based systems.
The ITxPT standards and interfaces will in time make integration close to fully and completely plug-and-play, but since we aren’t there yet, there is still a need for smaller software adaptations, which makes it important to define the integrator role in thorough detail from the start, and state it in contracts with application suppliers. If you as the purchaser aim to take responsibility for the integrations, make sure you have the technical integration platform and human resources to take on the role.
What we almost certainly can say about the future is that to suffer from “vendor-locked” silo situations, will become a thing of the past with the evolutionary, standardized, in many cases open and cloud-based systems.
The situation where your only option is to turn to one already implemented partner who tend to use the monopoly situation, is in any case something you as the purchasing party should avoid. Even if you purchase your ITS solutions from a single source, you should make sure that the integration role and platform should be contracted separately from application delivery in order to support future evolution.
We hope that this blog post has given you some insights regarding the integrator role and the integrator platform. Please comment if you enjoyed it, and feel free to spread the Busforce blog to people you think could benefit from the knowledge we aim to provide.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog post is the author’s opinion and doesn’t reflect the opinion of any other person or organization.