May 18th 2016 | Posted in State by Peter Partheymuller

FDOT ROADS project uses massive data collection to improve statewide mobility

It’s no secret that the world is being inundated with mountains of data on a continual basis. It is said that more than 90 percent of the data created in the entire history of the world has been created in the past two years.

fdot_roadsThe problem is not that we don’t have the data or that we don’t have the right data. It’s that there is so much data being accumulated that it can be monumentally difficult to identify the right pieces of data and put them to use in anything approaching a timely manner.

And governmental agencies are certainly no exception to this fact. As Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Chief Information Officer April Blackburn (pictured) has said, we have “lots of data, little information.”

“We need to be able to get to data efficiently, share information better and link data from different sources. We have it, but we need to know what we have and how to get to it,” she said.

To that end, FDOT officials last year launched a project called ROADS — Reliable, Organized and Accurate Data. The project has a simple goal: “to improve data reliability and simplify data sharing across FDOT to have readily available and accurate data to make informed decisions.” It is designed to identify all of the data used regularly by various employees within the transportation agency, aggregate it and create tools for the manipulation and use of the data by others.

“We have a lot of people who have data, and they keep it in homegrown systems like spreadsheets and databases,” she said.

FDOT ROADS project leaders conducted surveys and interviews with FDOT staff members to discover what data they use, how they use it and how that can be improved. They realized that the department relied too heavily on obtaining data from individuals who had developed tricks to store and utilize various pieces of data rather than applications or tools.

Transportation departments at all levels — city, state, federal — receive data submissions from all directions, and they are receiving more of it than ever. They operate traffic lights equipped with cameras, sensors attached to light poles and other infrastructure, smart highways with sensors embedded in the roadway itself and any number of other data transmitters. And, autonomous vehicles are already on the roads and soon may become ubiquitous.

april_blackburnFDOT planners are trying to get ahead of the curve. In the project’s year of existence, Blackburn said, officials discovered 63 gaps in data use, “opportunities to improve what we do,” she called them. FDOT staff members began to close those gaps immediately, and Blackburn intends to make the FDOT ROADS project agency-wide policy by 2017.

The end result will be transportation data becoming easily shared knowledge that improves the lives of the state’s residents.

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