Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Practices for Improving the Coordination of Information Technology and Transportation Systems Management and Operations Resources: A Reference Document

Chapter 1. Introduction


Terminology changes and has different uses in different sectors and among various agencies. For purposes of this the document, the following definitions are adopted:

  • Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO)—“Integrated strategies to optimize the performance of existing infrastructure through (i) the implementation of multimodal and intermodal, cross-jurisdictional systems, services, and projects designed to preserve capacity and improve security, safety, and reliability of the transportation system; and (ii) the consideration of incorporating natural infrastructure.” (23 U.S.C. 101(a)(32)). For purposes of this project, TSMO is seen as not just applying strategies, but also the supporting processes, centers, data sources, and institutional arrangements supporting their sustainability and continuous improvement.
  • Information Technology (IT)—For purposes of this project, IT refers to back-end hardware and software, data sources, networks and agency-wide (or enterprise) software and systems, such as email, web applications, and financial systems.
  • Operational Technology (OT)—Hardware and software that “detect or cause a direct change through the monitoring and/or control of devices, processes, and events.” (National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Glossary). For purposes of this project operational technology (OT) refers to the front-end, field-based devices used to provide detection, surveillance, monitoring and operational control.
  • Industrial Control System (ICS)—“An information system used to control industrial processes such as manufacturing, product handling, production, and distribution. Industrial control systems include supervisory control and data acquisition systems used to control geographically dispersed assets, as well as distributed control systems and smaller control systems using programmable logic controllers to control localized processes.” (NIST Glossary.) This definition of ICS applies throughout this document.
  • Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS)—“ITS applies information, technology, and systems engineering principles to the management and operations of surface transportation facilities and systems, including freeways, arterials, and transit. It provides numerous benefits to transportation.” (ITS ePrimer). For purposes of this project, ITS refers to the technology that supports many TSMO strategy applications.
  • TSMO Strategies—Combinations of “ITS information and control communications infrastructure with related field procedures and protocols within a specific operational concept designed to anticipate and mitigate the impacts of the various causes of congestion.” (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials TSMO Guidance). For purposes of this project, TSMO strategies include applications such as ramp metering, incident management, freeway operations, ATM, and integrated corridor management.
  • Agency—Transportation agencies with units focused on transportation systems development, maintenance, and operations. These include State departments of transportation (DOT), regional transportation agencies, and local transportation agencies.
  • IT Group—IT professionals who may be part of a Statewide IT entity, an IT staff unit within transportation agencies, or any mix thereof.


IT has always played a role in TSMO, strategy by strategy and in multi-strategy control systems, such as advanced transportation management systems. However, the role of information and communications technology is becoming increasingly critical to TSMO, because leading edge TSMO strategies involve ever more complex and interrelated systems, types of information, organizations, and institutions. Real-time and predictive TSMO strategies, such as ATM, integrated corridor management (ICM), and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) systems, are characterized by high levels of complexity and a dependence on integrating IT into TSMO strategies. It is important to address these issues from both a transportation and IT perspective to find the best approaches and organizational arrangements to operate and maintain these systems.

The advancement of technology—including increased computing capability, infrastructure connectivity, data collection and analysis, and remote or web-based platforms—has contributed to new capabilities of State DOTs to improve TSMO and provide higher levels of service and improved effectiveness, efficiency, safety, and reliability. These systems no longer provide ancillary support functions, but provide critical support to an agency’s mission, and TSMO has become a large adopter of advanced technology. Key aspects of typical TSMO programs that utilize technology include traffic surveillance, vehicle detection, traveler information, traffic management centers, road weather sensors, and traffic signals, among many other functions. As new products and services are developed to support the TSMO mission, transportation agencies continually evolve to take advantage of the technology. And while technology costs continuously drop per given application, the overall investment remains high and represents a large asset for agencies. In addition, the technology presents an increased potential for threats posed by cybersecurity breaches in an increasingly connected world. To protect capital investment, and to ensure proper and secure function, TSMO programs increasingly depend on robust IT support that can develop, manage, and protect the systems.

The expanding role of IT and IT policy at the agency-wide level intersects with information technology and information systems across a wide range of State Government agencies, of which transportation agencies and their TSMO programs are only one way to create a range of common opportunities and challenges. Opportunities include the ability to collaborate, leverage respective skill sets, and gain advantages in procurement and maintaining IT infrastructure. Challenges include disconnects, misunderstandings, and points of conflict on program priorities, risks, and potential difference in standards. Even small challenges between these groups can lead to bigger hurdles as the levels of reliance increase, and there is a greater need for each group to understand the business requirements of the other. Many agencies have developed practices that address the challenges experienced between TSMO and IT groups.

Transportation Perspective

Agency TSMO-functions aim to maximize the efficiency, safety, and reliability of the existing transportation infrastructure through operational strategies rather than through physical expansion. These strategies incorporate a wide range of organizational, engineering, and operational efforts, both internal and external to an agency. Newer and more complex TSMO systems present significant challenges to transportation agencies, including:

  • Device costs and varying lifecycles.
  • Expanded number and diversity of devices, many of which are very specialized.
  • Hardware and software specification, standardization, and procurement.
  • “Big data” acquisition development, management, and storage.
  • Data transparency and security.
  • Connections to external entities, both public and private.
  • Device and system durability requirements.

Increasingly, these issues require IT professionals to develop, manage, and protect the growing communication networks, datasets, equipment, and other technological aspects that support the operational goals of the agency.

TSMO strategies and ITS represent examples of OT. OT is defined as hardware and software that detects or causes a change through the direct monitoring and/or control of physical devices, processes, and events. There can be challenges or issues between offices or groups responsible for OT and those responsible for IT, including challenges of governance and oversight versus carrying out operational objectives in an effective and efficient way.

Information Technology Perspective

Some of the larger State DOT often have their own IT staff, sometimes including a Chief Information Officer (CIO) responsible for administering the agency’s data and IT resources. The DOT CTO may also interface with issues related to network security and data access control, which sometimes intersect with TSMO systems development, especially regarding procurement.

However, the increasing role of IT across the public sector has led to a pervasive information technology administrative presence throughout all State Government agencies. The extent of the IT focus is reflected by the fact that all States, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia have a State-level CTO, according to the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. The State CTO responsibilities are becoming more global and their oversight has expanded, as reflected in national IT organizations, such as the National Association of State Chief Information Officers and the National Association of State Technology Directors.

TSMO and Information Technology Interface

The IT TSMO discussion often focuses on IT-related components of TSMO regarding issues related to standardization, procurement, cost control, external partners, lifecycles and redundancy, security and control, and other matters. At the Statewide level, the dominant issues are security, cost control, and budget, with special attention to the emerging concerns regarding cloud services, data management and governance, broadband commitment, artificial intelligence, net neutrality, and converging digital infrastructures. Given the pervasive nature of these issues across State agencies, it is not surprising that the IT function is increasingly formalized and centralized at the Statewide level, including IT functions within transportation agencies (and TSMO units).

The relationship between transportation operations and IT has been challenging, especially since the introduction of computerized traffic management systems. IT staff often have priorities that differ from TSMO staff, and therefore, may not appreciate their perspectives and responsibilities. Likewise, TSMO staff often do not appreciate the perspectives and responsibilities of IT staff. The lack of understanding often results in conflict between the two groups and inefficiencies in the work of both.

This conflict is not unique to transportation. In other sectors, there is also a difference in perspective between IT staff and staff responsible for ICS. ITS and TSMO monitoring and control systems are examples of OT, as the same as ICS in manufacturing, energy distribution, and water distribution. According to the Global Sign Blog, one of the concerns from an OT perspective is that “IT teams generally have little experience with industrial systems.”

The conflicts in ICS became so pronounced that concerted efforts have been made to bring the IT perspective and the OT perspective together. This effort is called IT/OT convergence. Several websites that focus on ICS have articles and webpages focusing on IT/OT convergence. (Examples include Industrial Internet of Things(IoT) World, Internet of Business, and D!gitalist Magazine.)

A significant portion of the effort in IT/OT convergence is to promote understanding between the two groups. Cybersecurity topics can also point out the differences in perspective between IT and ICS. A Department of Homeland Security document (Recommended Practice: Improving Industrial Control System Cybersecurity with Defense-in-Depth Strategies) includes a table that compares security functions between IT and ICS. Many of these differences are like those between IT and TSMO in the transportation sector. In a similar vein, table 1 in chapter 2 of this document compares differences between TSMO and IT environments in transportation to promote common understanding between TSMO staff and IT staff.

Considering the above issues and dynamics, this project provides a comprehensive review of common challenges associated with the increased interaction between TSMO and IT and presents practices that can be utilized to counter those challenges.


The development of this reference document highlights the need for increased coordination between TSMO practitioners and IT staff to support the management and operations of transportation assets. The range of available TSMO strategies that rely on technology are continually increasing in size and complexity and require stronger organizational and technological resources. This document allows agencies to learn from others who have already encountered similar challenges and developed practices.

The purpose of this document is to:

  • Describe the evolution and history of TSMO and IT within typical transportation agencies and the current organizational relationship.
  • Identify common challenges experienced within TSMO relative to the IT resources required to implement operational strategies.
  • Highlight practices that transportation agencies have developed and implemented to resolve IT challenges.
  • Develop a solution matrix that links the common challenges to these practices for ease of reference.
  • Provide suggestions on using these approaches toward evolving and emerging ITS issues.

This document focuses on the interaction between TSMO and IT. This interaction takes place within the context of TSMO activities in State DOTs and other transportation agencies.


As TSMO remains relatively new in many agencies, there are limited formal or traditional resources on the interaction between TSMO and IT, and fewer on effective methods to manage challenges. However, the industry’s increased focus on TSMO initiatives and available technology has resulted in increased interaction between IT staff and TSMO staff, and agencies have individually responded in ways that are both common and unique. Therefore, most of the research effort focused on agency interviews and interactive workshops to identify challenges and practices that applied to the development of this guidance document.

A brief description of the major research efforts is provided below.

Literature Review

The project team performed a review of available document resources with a focus on IT and TSMO, including Federal, State, and association publications that provide background information on transportation agency functions and needs, especially those that refer to IT. Sources that did include IT were typically focused on either data management or a narrowly defined, issue-based research topic.

State of the States

Evaluating the existing organizational structure of State agencies was based on web-based agency information and interviews to provide a high-level understanding of the various structures under which TSMO and IT staff and units—Statewide and within transportation agencies—function, and how those structures may impact the interaction.

Capability Maturity Model Workshops

A review of past TSMO Capability Maturity Model (CMM) workshops was conducted to identify IT-related issues raised by participants. The insights from these self-assessments provided an agency-level perspective and identified key agencies for follow-up discussions. Strengths and weaknesses related to IT from each CMM dimension were used as reference examples.

Practitioner Interviews and Correspondence

Targeted interviews were conducted with agencies that had practices identified through the literature and workshop material or otherwise believed to have extensive TSMO efforts with significant IT involvement. The focus of the interviews was to obtain details relative to the issues or challenges they face, lessons they have learned, and practices they have implemented.

Input from Listening Sessions

Two formal listening sessions were facilitated by the team to generate discussion between practitioners. The sessions focused on eliciting input on IT experience in TSMO programs from agency representatives in a group setting with the opportunity to share among peers.

Structure and Use of Report

This document serves as a reference to assist public agencies with strengthening TSMO and associated IT resources. It is intended for TSMO leadership and practitioners, as well as IT leadership and practitioners, and provides background and guidance from both perspectives. While the number of stakeholders may be wide-ranging, the primary document users are anticipated to be:

  • TSMO and IT leadership—Responsible for high-level organizational decisions.
  • TSMO and IT program managers—Responsible for program-level initiatives.
  • TSMO and IT project professionals—Responsible for project-level delivery.

The key focus of this document is the description and analysis of the common challenges to effectively coordinating IT and TSMO and identifying practices that experience suggests could mitigate the same challenges. In many cases, more than one practice can address a given challenge, so a matrix tool was developed to highlight the range of applicability. A practitioner who wishes to address challenges related to IT and TSMO coordination, interaction or interface can look through the matrix categories and locate the specific challenge or set of challenges of interest and the correlated practices to mitigate that challenge. For each practice listed in the matrix, more detail is provided in appendix B. Conversely, as any given practice may address multiple challenges, a practitioner may also wish to know what other challenges the selected practices may address. Appendix C contains a matrix that displays the set of challenges that each practice could address.

The organization of the document provides an introduction followed by the primary guidance tool, with most of the detail and methodology as supporting material. Chapter structure is as follows:

  • Chapter 1: Introduction

    This chapter provides an overview of the document purpose and goals, the evolution of TSMO and IT, and the business case for increased coordination between IT and TSMO within transportation operations. The chapter also highlights the research methodology and document structure.

  • Chapter 2: The Context and Benefits of Information Technology and TSMO Coordination

    This chapter discusses the history and evolution of the interaction between TSMO and IT and provides agency examples developed from the outreach efforts. The chapter explains why this topic is critical to transportation operations and performance.

  • Chapter 3: Challenges of Information Technology and TSMO Coordination and Related Practices

    This chapter discusses how agencies can apply practices to specific known challenges in their organization. An application matrix—the principal tool contained in this document—is presented for use in identifying appropriate practices for given challenges or conditions.

  • Chapter 4: Applying TSMO and Information Technology Interaction Principals to Emerging Issues

    This chapter presents how the underlying principals associated with the practices identified in chapter 3, and described in more detail in appendix B, can be applied to new or emerging challenges.

    The focus of this chapter is on creating flexibility to meet unknown issues and minimizing risk or impact through targeted efforts.

  • Appendix A: Common Challenges

    Appendix A describes the common challenges identified from the research, organized into sections by topic area and categorized into two large classes—business or technical challenges and institutional challenges. Included along with the challenge descriptions are real-world examples of agency challenges that highlight typical situations.

  • Appendix B: Identified Practices

    Appendix B synthesizes the practices identified from the research and is organized into sections by topic area. Both general practices and more specific tactics are within each topic. Numerous real-world examples of these practices are provided.

  • Appendix C: Applicability of Identified Practices

    Appendix C presents a reference matrix that is the inverse of the matrix tool in chapter 3. This matrix allows agencies to identify the range of challenges that each practice can address.