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The Long-Term Effects of One-Off Customizations vs. Configurations

Feb 15, 2019
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Advanced software automates and streamlines processes, so you can operate more efficiently and focus on customer-facing services.

Consider the mega trend of the Internet of Things (IoT) and how everyday devices are becoming more “smart.” Our fridges let us know when items have expired, our yoga mats track our downward dog, our watches can unlock our car doors and, of course, our phones are constantly gathering and sharing data. We’re the data-obsessed generation, even doubling the amount of data created around the globe about every two years.

People want real-time information. Software is the bridge to delivering them the direct access to bus and rail times, routes, as well as the answers to the “why” behind delays, right on their phones (or watches for that matter) and platform and vehicle screens, which also serve riders who don’t have phones.

Software that can also provide location-based advertising, where screens showcase special offers at the next stop – so your transit fare card could get you a discount on a breakfast sandwich. Riders benefit and transit agencies can leverage advertising assets for new revenue streams.

Is it easy to implement new tech capabilities and advancements?

Well, that depends. If your transit’s overall system topology– the systems that work together to keep it running – is comprised of a connected system where all departments are sharing data, then new tech can be added and “turned on” through configuration. By having multiple departmental solutions from a single vendor, you can ensure your systems are integrated, which makes the introduction of new features even smoother.

Customization vs. Configuration: Yes, There’s a Difference

These days, you want to make sure your transit agency can roll out new offerings to boost rider satisfaction and give them the data they crave. When you’re talking about the software you have in place, there are two terms that come into play: customization and configuration. Sometimes, these terms are misunderstood and brushed off as jargon. But it’s important to understand the difference and what that could mean for you.

A customization is a modification of an existing software feature that requires custom coding and typically some form of testing and implementation timeline. Customization really means just a one-off. It’s considered very rigid because it’s a one-time-only fix or enhancement for the needs of today, not the needs of the future.

The point is, if you want any changes a year later when new tech advancements are released, you have to go back to the drawing board to make it happen. That means more cost, resources, and time will be prohibitive for you to move forward with customer-oriented services.

When you customize, you are making some expensive decisions, and you will be paying for these customizations every time you upgrade or go to patch your system. 

A configuration, on the other hand, is where you use native tools in the system to change its behavior or features. Open the settings menu in any software and you’re looking at configuration. The work done to enhance the feature or extend its capability simply rolls out with an upgrade. So when your software vendor releases the next version of the system, you’re good to go.

Yes, there’s training for employees on the new version, but not the expense and time needed for customization.

A quick example, if you have our Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) solution, the software can share real-time passenger load percentages from the buses back to dispatch and your ridership via our Traveler Information solution.. If you’re not currently equipped with automatic passenger counters or just decide that you don’t need or want to use that particular feature at this time, that’s fine, just set the configuration to off.

Then a year later, let’s say you’ve invested in automatic passenger counters, or decide you want to now use that function, you don’t have to go through a big development timeline to make that happen. It’s already in the configuration, so it’s simply switched on for you and the customer to use.  

Think about when you buy a new car and the manufacturer gives you options to configure your car with different wheels, a more powerful engine or premium leather seats. But you likely wouldn’t consider buying a new car and then adding a new kind of engine that you built yourself.

What’s Really Better in an Intelligent Transportation System?

Configuration, hands-down. That’s because we continuously work with transit agencies to collect their feedback and then implement new features into all of our annual version upgrades. Those advancements then become built in.

If your agency wants location-based advertising for vehicle screens and the riders’ phones, for example, Trapeze brings that capability to the base code product and makes it a configurable parameter. Now, it’s not only you that benefits, but other agencies can take advantage of that new advancement too. This is a two-way street too, with enhancements requested and put in place from your peer agencies also being available for you to take advantage of.

This all ties into the Trapeze product development methodology and the power of integration – having an IT architecture that is flexible and able to share data across all agency departments.

Configuration boils down to establishing and maintaining the consistency of your software system throughout its lifetime. You don’t want the software that ensures riders get to where they want to go, is compromised by stop-gap customization measures.  

Configuration Fast-tracks Your Transit Agency’s Success

Technology powers your business, automating your processes, reducing the chance for error, and freeing up time to focus on strategy and customer-facing services.

By choosing software built-in with configurations that you need today – or might need in the future – you can future-proof your transit agency and ensure that every time a new technology comes into play, it’s already an option to configure it, and there’s no need to request a customized feature.

The end result? Configuration lets you quickly adopt the latest tech advancements that drive public engagement and rider satisfaction, so you’re at the forefront of change. Which is exactly where you want to be.

There’s more to learn. Check out this on-demand webinar I recently hosted about the power of technology integration – and how it can better position your agency for success.

Nick Ross has over 10 years of experience in the public transportation industry and has worked with over 40 large scale transit agencies successfully delivering multi-million dollar advanced transportation systems across North America. As the Industry Solutions Manager for Intelligent Transportation Systems, Nick strives to share his transit knowledge, expertise, and experience throughout the North American Transportation industry.
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