Transportation Management Centers: Streaming Video Sharing and Distribution - Final Report
Chapter 7. How to Work with a Solution Provider
Successful closed-circuit television (CCTV) video stream sharing is predicated on a strong positive relationship between the agency and solution provider, especially in case of hosted solutions or solutions heavily dependent on continued involvement of the solution provider (vendor and/or consultant). This relationship must be built on mutual trust and understanding from the time the two parties connect to solve the problem of stream sharing. The agency is responsible for effectively communicating its needs, the solution provider for designing (or delivering) a solution tailored to those needs, and both are responsible for maintaining close collaboration for the duration of the relationship. Agencies should never feel bullied or beholden to the private sector, and vice versa. Usually the first opportunity to build this relationship comes before the Request for Proposals (RFP) development process.
With fast changing camera technology, network and streaming equipment and software, agencies often struggle to develop effective RFPs that will satisfy the key capabilities without being overly prescriptive. A typical RFP trap is collecting information from and about many different vendors and solution providers and then putting ALL of the capabilities into an RFP, making it impossible for any individual vendor or solution provider, or even a team of proposers to actually meet the requirements of the RFP. In these cases, RFPs outright fail to produce a winning proposal, or the winning proposer "stretches the truth" just enough to win the proposal only to disappoint with the inability to deliver, at which point it's too late for the agency to back out or choose another option.
In order for an RFP to generate a successful outcome, it must be realistic and outcome based, rather than prescriptive and all encompassing. There are several key components necessary to write a successful RFP and select the right contractor.
Language in the Request for Proposal
- Strong definition of operational needs (ideally a well-developed Concept of Operations (ConOps)).
- A well-developed ConOps allows the agency to define operational needs that are not focused on technology or solution, but rather operational needs and outcomes.
- RFP describing operational needs allows proposers to determine how their capabilities can support those needs in a most effective way.
- These operational needs should clearly cover expected cases including key differences in sharing needs as it pertains to partner agencies, public safety, media, and the public.
- Good understanding of the existing system and surrounding infrastructure.
- Without understanding of the existing system and infrastructure, the RFP leaves proposers to guess the agency's maturity. This can result in proposed solutions either being overkill or proposed costs being high to ensure the proposer is capable of handling the "worst case" scenario.
- Instead, if the RFP effectively describes relevant network design, infrastructure, and existing equipment, proposers can provide a more tailored solution addressing needs in the given environment.
- List of key outcomes—not ways and methods to reach those outcomes.
- Dictating type of equipment, approach, and even immediate output of the solution in the RFP can severely limit or even eliminate viable solutions.
- A list of key outcomes separated from comprehensive list of capabilities allows proposers to focus on tailoring their solution to meet key outcomes, while understanding the context and environment in which this solution needs to be implemented.
- List of key constraints—budget, institutional, legal, etc.
- Similar to outcomes, proposers must be aware of key constraints. This will prevent proposers and evaluators from wasting time exploring options that are not feasible.
- Contractor Selection.
- Appropriate expertise/support in evaluation of technical proposals.
- One of the biggest challenges in evaluating technical proposals is understanding technical terminology and details of a proposed solution. The key is for the evaluating team to include both operations personnel and IT personnel to ensure the operational needs. In general, agencies should seek a partner that has expertise in every piece of the equation: networks, camera technologies, video encoding, etc.
- Data collection sheets.
- A good contractor will have a pre-existing data collection/discovery sheet that can help the agency document its current operating environment. These data collection sheets help the agency and the contractor speak with one another in a common language. It also serves the purpose of aiding the contractor to understand the potential challenges and can help to provide a more accurate price estimate to the agency that is based off of real data rather than potentially incorrect assumptions.
- Contractor references.
- The solution provider market place is not that large, which makes it feasible to rely on peer agencies to obtain references for proposing contractors. This is especially useful when agencies are similar in their CCTV technology and infrastructure maturity and have similar operational needs.
- A contractor with a proven track record of delivering solutions that satisfy operational needs and willingness and flexibility to work with agency as a partner represents an ideal candidate.
The key themes in both drafting of the RFP as well as evaluation of the proposed solutions are as follows:
- Agency operations and information technology (IT) staff working together to create RFP and select a solution.
- Research and reliance on peers to learn about and evaluate solutions.
- Outcome focused efforts, not prescriptive or unattainable requirements.
Once a winning proposer is contracted, it is critical for the agency operations and IT staff to remain engaged in a collaborative effort with the solution provider to ensure mutual understanding that leads to effective deployment, collaborative operation, and flexibility to remain on top of current technology trends and changes. These are marks of a true partnership rather than one where the agency tries to take advantage of the contractor with unreasonable demands, or the contractor tries to take advantage of the agency by delivering bare minimum or delivering a solution the contractor has rather than one the agency needs.
Transportation management centers (TMC) approach these relationships in different ways. Some opt to immerse contract staff in their TMC and make them part of the team. This approach is an effective way to establish clear communications channels and build expertise and capacity within the TMC to develop and manage stream sharing capabilities. Contract staff gets exposed to daily operational challenges at a TMC and can use their expertise to both troubleshoot immediate issues, but also learn about use cases and pain points that can guide improvements for the stream sharing solutions.
Alternatively, TMCs sometimes have the contractor or vendor design a solution and deploy the equipment, provide some initial training for the TMC staff, and then leave it up to TMC staff to run the system, with the only involvement being to troubleshoot major issues (often remotely) or provide proposals for additional capabilities as the TMC identifies additional needs.
In cases of hosted solutions, the contractor may be responsible for designing, deploying, and maintaining all of the infrastructure and services outside of the TMC. In these cases, contractors may have onsite personnel to develop understanding of usage patterns and needs and as an interface between TMC operations and IT staff, and the solution provider staff off-site.
Before and After Making an Award
Before making an award (and even before writing an RFP) the agency should talk to other State and local DOTs who have already implemented CCTV sharing systems. The agency should talk to a broad group of agencies—not just three agencies that have implemented the exact same solution. This is the equivalent of checking the references of each of the potential private-sector providers. It is generally advisable to select a private sector provider that has a proven track record of delivering streaming CCTV video at the large enterprise level.