Transportation modelling software is a handy tool with respect to transportation planning. Admittedly, any practitioner needs to be careful that models are applied properly, based on good data and reasonable assumptions. As the old adage goes – garbage in, garbage out – if one fails to apply models properly. Are models perfect? Of course not, but they are still beneficial to the planning process.
Over the past several decades, transportation models have evolved tremendously from pen-and-paper plots and computer mainframe processing to microsimulation models with car-following algorithms on multiple processor computers. So to have the uses for transportation models evolved over time.
Whereas in the past models simply helped with roadway geometric improvements (i.e. if you build it, they will come) and traffic signal coordination, today they can be used for more advanced applications such as simulating interactions between the pedestrians, bicycles, transit, and vehicles transportation modes. Clients, politicians, and even the public are demanding more of simulation models to allay fears of change due to a new development or transportation project.
Over time, software vendors have responded to the demand of new features through research and development of new transportation model capabilities and algorithms for analysis. Understandably, with these new features, time and effort is required to put this into practice. Of course, these costs are then passed on to the end users, primarily government municipalities and private consulting firms.
These software costs can easily run from $5,000 to $20,000 USD or more for a license, depending on the software, features, and vendor support needed. Did the software version change? How about paying that upgrade fee? In today’s lean economic times with tighter budgets and austerity, these costs and fees can be a huge hit, especially for smaller municipalities and firms. In many cases, these end users are making do with less.
Appetite for Change?
In today’s transportation modelling marketplace, there are a limited number of established software vendors with their entrenched client bases. However, at the end of the day, most end users are comparing various design scenarios using industry standard performance measures to make the best design decisions. For example, in North America, most transportation modelling software packages implement evaluation methodologies based on the current version of the Highway Capacity Manual (HCM).
If common, industry standard performance measures are being used, then why are end users attached to specific software vendors? Here are a few observations, which are by no means exhaustive:
- Analysts and decision makers are attached to the “tried and true” and do not want to change to something new, unfamiliar, or untrustworthy.
- New entrants to the software market need to invest in a lot of development time/costs in order to compete with the capabilities of established products. Even new, competing products developed by another vendor in the transportation model industry can have difficulty gaining traction.
- The demand for these products is relatively small and specialized, compared to the boarder consumer base. Almost everyone finds a product like Google Maps useful, but not many people care how a transportation geometric design is performing 20 years from now.
- In the case of city-wide models, which are very data intensive, it is a huge investment to develop a single model, let alone change from one software vendor to another.
Restrictions on software licenses are another area of contention. Many desktop computer software packages require hardware USB keys to run. These keys either need to be plugged directly into a computer or available on a network for multiple users to access, but that license is still only available to one user at a time. Even worse, some software packages are locked to a single user on one computer, which can be very inefficient when planning workflow with multiple users over multiple offices. And, not to mention, the lost time incurred by intermediating with software vendors and IT departments to resolve any license issues instead of performing analysis!
It is my contention that current industry practices are generally archaic and outdated when it comes to transportation model sales strategies and licensing schemes, especially in these rapidly changing technological times. But from the vendor perspective, if a business model is profitable, why change?
The trouble is, under current market conditions, I do not believe there is sufficient incentive to entice vendors to change. However, if vendors were to be more proactive, I believe there is an opportunity to better serve the needs of end users.
One example of a successful business model in the transportation planning industry is MioVision, which uses a pay-per-use model to process video data collection into quantitative values for analysis. Why couldn’t a similar strategy be implemented in software sales and licensing for some types of transportation modelling software?
While this business model is merely one potential solution, here are a few points to consider:
- Provide a free transportation model viewer without analysis features.
- Provide a low cost, basic feature option for the casual user or small firm using the pay-per-use model. This would eliminate entry barriers to potential users.
- Provide the ability to pre-purchase premium credits, with included support, to better cater to enterprise customers. Batches of premium credits could be tiered with various features based on quantity and frequency of use, which is helpful for annual budgeting purposes.
- Eliminate the need for hardware keys and use network authentication tokens to grant software access, both for online and offline usage.
- Eliminate one license, one user restrictions. With each end user of one account taking from the same pot of credits, efficiency is gained to instantly scale workflow without the need for leasing or additional licenses.
- Instant upgrades to the latest and greatest software versions with access/support maintained for recent legacy versions.
I believe that many of the above guidelines would improve end user satisfaction and perhaps even entice more usage by some. The bottom line is, at the end of the day, software vendors need to remain profitable to continue to produce cutting edge analysis platforms. However, I merely advocate that they could apply the same ingenuity they use to create their transportation models to find new, creative solutions to their sales and licensing strategy.
Please share your experiences with transportation modelling products. Do licensing agreements with software vendors currently meet your needs? What aspects to software sales and licensing would you change? As an end user, how would a pay-per-use business model suit your needs?