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The Use of Mobile Technologies to Support Transportation Operations and their Impact on the Workforce


This research needs statement focuses on the use of mobile technologies to support transportation operations, specifically the implementation of mobile technologies and, more importantly, the impacts associated with these technologies. There is an increasing reliance on mobile devices by the traveling public, students, and the workforce. Coupled with lower cost solutions for mobile technologies, the opportunities for mobile applications to support transportation operations are gradually becoming more feasible. Mobile technologies have already been used in a variety of functions for educational outreach, workforce training, and maintenance and operations programs. This research needs statement concentrates on those technologies that can be used to support operations and maintenance programs, rather than those targeted for outreach with the public or education. Several state agencies have already implemented a diverse array of mobile technologies to support transportation maintenance and operations. Examples include the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) which created mobile applications to support construction and bridge inspections and the South Carolina DOT (SCDOT) which implemented a mobile application for highway maintenance called the Highway Maintenance Management System (HMMS).

When implemented appropriately, mobile technologies can increase productivity and efficiency thus reducing costs associated with training and operations programs. However, applications and systems must be developed, devices must be purchased, and the workforce must be trained on the safe use of the technology. These elements can have non-trivial costs. Thus, an agency considering implementing mobile technology must be able to weigh the benefits against these costs in order to make an informed investment decision.

Even though there are an increasing number of mobile technology applications used in the transportation industry, to date there is little research that synthesizes best practices, assesses impacts, and evaluates benefits of these technologies. Beyond a summary of existing mobile technology applications, a formal inventory of observed and potential impacts on workforce training, safety, costs, and operational efficiency of mobile technology applications is needed. Regulatory concerns at the state level regarding web access for employees, the provision of equipment for mobile communications, and concerns over safe use of mobile devices during operations may differ by state and can prohibit adoption of mobile applications. Thus, data on various state policies along these dimensions is needed. In addition, formalized methodologies are needed to quantify and calculate resultant benefits of implementing mobile technologies. Research on these topics would assist transportation agencies in making decisions regarding how and when to implement mobile technologies, the types of technologies to implement, and the costs and benefits of different mobile technology programs.


The research should cover four topic areas as they relate to mobile technologies for transportation maintenance and operations: (1) implementation, (2) impacts, (3) barriers, and (4) future challenges. Transportation is a multi-modal industry with each mode possessing different operational needs and skill sets of its workforce. The implementation, impacts, and barriers of mobile technologies are expected to vary by mode. Each of the topics subsequently described should cover mobile technology applications across all modes.

Implementation: This topic should addresses how agencies have implemented mobile devices for maintenance and operations. An inventory of mobile technology programs used for maintenance and operations should be developed in the form of case studies. The case studies should document the type of technology used, give a description of the program, state the size of the implementation (e.g. number of devices, percent of workforce using devices, etc.), and detail the types of training programs required. A summary and some guidance on possible mobile technology devices and operating platforms should be developed.

Impacts: This topic should cover impacts related to workforce training requirements, administrative organization, costs, and benefits. Based on case studies and interviews with agencies, the research should determine basic skill sets which would be needed or affected by the inclusion of mobile technologies in maintenance and operations programs and suggest training program topics for mobile technology applications. Secondly, an assessment of the administrative or managerial requirements at the agency level should be conducted. This should include a list of internal training programs that organizations have put in place to train the workforce as well as any administrative programs or added functions that result from implementing mobile technology programs. Third, and most importantly, this research should determine the costs and benefits of mobile technologies based on those that have been implemented. Direct costs associated with technology purchases as well as indirect costs related to program management personnel, institutional support, and training program implementation should be evaluated. It is expected that mobile technologies bring forth a diverse array of benefits. Benefits might include cost savings, improvements in job completion times and quantities, etc. This task should produce an inventory of the benefits and provide guidelines on how to quantitatively measure benefits of mobile technology implementations. Insight into cost effective implementations should be provided. Formalized methodologies should be developed to quantify and calculate resultant benefits of implementing mobile technologies.

Barriers: This topic will address the barriers faced by agencies in implementing mobile technologies for maintenance and operations. Barriers related to the following should be addressed in this research:

o Demographic or socioeconomic characteristics of the transportation workforce

o Financial barriers, e.g. financial impacts incurred for restructuring the internal communication system to serve mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones.

o Organizational barriers, e.g. prohibited accesses to critical web based sources such as YouTube that may be needed for the particular mobile technology

o Technological barriers, e.g. abilities of IT departments within the organization to install and manage mobile technologies

o Safety barriers, e.g. safety concerns related to the use of mobile technologies on the job and policies that organizations may need to put into place to insure the safe and effective use of mobile devices on the job.

The research should identify successful strategies that have been used to overcome the abovementioned barriers.

Future Challenges: It is important to plan for the adoption and use of mobile technologies in the face of future changes in the field of transportation. This research should forecast potential changes to mobile technology applications, implementations, and workforce training needs as demographics of the workforce shift over time, the costs of mobile technologies continues to decrease, and as new transportation system components such as connected vehicles are introduced.


For transportation agencies, it is important to know if investments in mobile technology based development, training, and operations programs will produce cost savings. This research will provide transportation agencies with guidelines for determining which technologies to implement for various operational and training tasks based on costs, benefits, and implementation strategies. The methods developed in this research can provide agencies with quantitative valuations of benefits to provide support for investment decisions. As mobile technologies for transportation training and operations increase in use, long term needs in training and education related to mobile technologies need to be understood before investments are made. This research will guide transportation agencies in developing appropriate workforce training programs.

Related Research:

Relevant TRB synthesis, special reports, workshops, conferences, standing committees, and peer exchanges should be reviewed for relevant research. Specific resources include a recent webinar and NCHRP synthesis solicitation. In April 2015, TRB Standing Committee ABG20 hosted a webinar titled, “How Mobile Technologies are impacting the transportation workforce”. Topics included mobile applications to support construction, maintenance, and operations as well as engineering outreach and K-12 education. The current call for NCHRP Synthesis 20-05 Topic 47-04, “Leveraging Technology for Transportation Agency Workforce Development and Training” will focus on information and communication technology (ICT) for transportation workforce development and training with emphasis on construction, operations, and maintenance.


The research is summarized into six central tasks.

  1. Provide case study examples of existing mobile technology implementations developed by agencies for maintenance and operations programs. Brief case studies should be provided for each existing mobile technology used in practice. The case studies should include descriptions of the technology (device type, operating system, etc.), scope of implementation, costs, and benefits (workload reductions, cost savings, etc.).

  2. Identify barriers faced by agencies in implementing mobile technology based programs. Barriers may be financial, regulatory, and policy related. This should include discussion of successful strategies to overcome common barriers.

  3. Synthesize a set of best practices in implementing mobile technologies for maintenance and operations programs. This may include descriptions of necessary training programs to familiarize workers with new technologies, administrative practices, financial resources, etc.

  4. Inventory the benefits of mobile technology programs. This is to include workforce related benefits such as reduced workloads and increased productivity as well as benefits to the agencies in terms of cost savings or faster response or project completion times. Suggestions should be given for quantitatively measuring benefits.

  5. Develop a formal methodology to quantify and calculate resultant benefits of implementing mobile technologies.

  6. Forecast training and education needs related to the use of mobile technologies due to changing demographics and transportation technologies such as connected and autonomous vehicles.

These tasks should be accomplished through a literature review of the existing implementations, uses, and impacts of mobile technologies. Literature should include research studies as well as governmental reports and manuals. In addition, a survey of current practices/programs implemented by state DOTs, universities, training centers, etc. should be conducted through interviews, webinars, and public and invited listening sessions. The anticipated product will be a written report and public webinar to summarize the findings of the study.

Sponsoring Committee:AJE15, Workforce Development and Organizational Excellence
RNS Developer:Sarah Hernandez, University of Arkansas; Mark Chaput, Michigan Department of Transportation
Date Posted:06/07/2016
Date Modified:06/17/2016
Index Terms:Labor force, Transportation careers, Transportation operations, Smartphones, Technological innovations, Highway maintenance,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Administration and Management
Data and Information Technology
Maintenance and Preservation
Operations and Traffic Management
Education and Training

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