A look at how changing communication channels, technologies and business models are influencing how DOT's are looking at 511.
The 511 market is changing, and so is the technology used by 511 customers to get their information. Public sector and private companies are both sources for all sorts of traveler information. All this is happening at a time when new economic conditions are forcing State Departments of Transportation to consider new, innovative ways to fund 511 systems.
In this climate, how do DOTs deploy 511 systems that are relevant and highly utilized that travelers of all kinds can depend upon for years to come? This white paper provides an overview of some of the top market forces effecting 511 today and provides considerations for DOTs considering implementing or upgrading a 511 service.
Evaluating and Selecting a 511 Provider
With the fast paced evolution of new communication channels and technology that integrates sensors, Condition Reporting Systems and other technologies, first time 511 deployers and those looking for the next generation in 511 are now less focused on prescribing how and what to implement and more focused on the types of information and services that travelers demand and those that will facilitate efficient communication between the DOT and travelers.
Consequently, DOTs are moving more towards service-based procurements that leverages the creativity and technology of the private sector to disseminate information to travelers across major channels through a DOT-controlled platform that enables the DOT to communicate vital information to travelers.
Requirements are becoming more standardized and less customized, resulting in streamlined RFPs and shorter evaluation cycles - saving DOT time and money. This approach also facilitates a quicker turnaround from vendors responding to the RFPs.
Evaluation criteria is focused less on the engineering process and is more focused on the level and type of traveler services, technical support and service level agreements (SLAs) that will assure the state of highly reliable, robust system that will be a valuable asset for communication during inclement weather, major incidents and other emergencies.
Reliability of infrastructure coupled with leveraging the wide array of communication channels are top priorities for states.
Evolving Business Models
Departments of Transportation are faced with shrinking budgets and growing communication needs. Those with aging, legacy 511 systems and those with no 511 systems are looking for alternative funding sources.
511 Sponsorship is a form of Public-Private Partnership that provides a solution that benefits the DOT, travelers and sponsors. By promoting their brand on 511 signage, websites, IVRs and other messaging platforms, corporations can deliver a valuable public service that improves their image in the community and alleviates the financial burden of providing these services with taxpayer funds. Sponsors have already expressed their interest in these programs – willing to become sponsors in return for the millions of impressions that are possible each year.
Many state legislatures these days have legislation in review that will allow their DOTs to offset costs of operation and enhancement of their 511 systems. Under FWHA rules, any money that is earned through advertising/sponsorship on a 511 system must be invested back into the 511 system, meaning that 511 sponsorship program creates a self-funding mechanism for continued innovation and enhancement that enables DOT to reach travelers through traditional (IVR, web) and new channels of communication (mobile applications, mobile web, proactive alerts, personalized services, etc.). The traveler, the state and the sponsor all benefit from this approach.
The old adage that “nothing is free” continues to ring true. To make this alternative business model a reality, every state has had to make some initial investment in its data and reporting infrastructure, recouping the initial investment and then operating the system at no cost to the DOT. Funds generated from sponsorship can then be focused on enhancing the 511 services.
The Power of Effective Marketing.
There is a direct correlation between 511 system marketing and utilization. In this way, a 511 system is no different than any other communication mechanism that that state government employs in reaching citizens. It is no coincidence therefore that the DOTs that market their 511 systems also have the highest utilization rates in the country.
Through the utilization of available marketing assets (that can often be provided without expending advertising dollars). DOTs can improve awareness and utilization of their 511 systems.
Marketing efforts also increase the value of the 511 system to potential sponsors. The more people that know about the system, the more people will use it and the more it will be valuable to advertisers….and the cycle continues. Marketing is typically an integral element to alternate business models that provide offsetting costs for operation and enhancement of the 511 system.
Increased awareness by the general public is also greatly beneficial to the DOT. Travelers will increasingly rely on the 511 system for their real-time traffic information, emergency weather and incident information and Amber Alerts. This awareness and reliance helps the DOT become more efficient in its communication to the general public.
Communicating with Travelers Across Multiple Channels
With the evolution of smartphones, mobile internet, GPS devices and in-car navigation, the available communication channels has greatly expanded in the past few years. 511 providers have had to adapt their services accordingly to be able to communicate with travelers in the way travelers want to communicate. Even the car itself is becoming part of the communications channel.
Consumers of data receive it through multiple sources, and this is trend to be encouraged. 511 systems must be able to provide the same traffic, road conditions, weather and other alerts across multiple any dissemination channel the traveler prefers – whether voice, web, mobile web, mobile app, social media, or personalized proactive alert. To accomplish this most effectively requires a common integration to backend data sources and an optimized user experience across each channel.
This approach also gives the DOT the opportunity to quickly communicate to all channels through a central user interface, allowing quick dissemination of information during emergencies, weather events and other occasions requiring quick, consistent information to the largest number of people possible.
A common integration and user experience assures that audible, map-based and text-based alerts can fully complement each other within each communication channel, giving customers multiple ways to digest and request information, and allowing customers to seamlessly move from one to other.
Additionally, 511 systems are evolving to provide quicker, faster and more personalized access to information. Personalized information is more quickly accessed, prompting more frequently use of the system and increasing the value of the system as a communications tool for the DOT.
Centralization and Expansion of Traveler Information
New technology is facilitating the expansion of what has traditionally been thought of as “511 Traveler Information”. The definition is expanding well beyond traffic and travel times to include information such as:
511 is a natural resource for all of this information.
Whether urban or rural, the centralization of multiple traveler information sources is highly valuable, providing a highly recognizable portal to consolidate this information. The more centralized and more integrated the data sources, the larger number of services a 511 system can support.
In this manner, 511 remains very relevant even in a world of constantly expanding data sources and communications channels. 511 provides the comprehensive set of information that private sources alone cannot, while also providing the general public the knowledge that the incidents and alerts provided in the system are verified with the authority of their state and local government.
511 Utilization is Increasing
The availability of mobile web, mobile app and outbound push technologies is facilitating increased utilizing of 511 even while access via the phone is static. It is a matter of choice and preference that is increasing the net usage of 511.
States considering moving from legacy systems or getting into 511 for the first time should consider the availability and reliability of alternative communication channels in the platforms they are evaluating.
Where 511 providers once talked about “automation rates”, today the metric is task completion. Location-based information pushed to a traveler based upon a personalized profile mitigates a call to 511 in the first place, yet is a highly effective means of communication.
Six Questions You Can Ask About Your 511 System
Here are questions to ask in evaluating a 511 traveler information solution:
The 511 traveler information market is changing. So is the technology 511 customers are using to get their information. Departments of Transportation have a variety of new assets at their disposal to deploy, maintain and enhance their 511 platforms so that they are an effective communications tool for travelers.
511 is positioned well for this evolution.