Concepts of Operation

How the project should start.



Develop a Concept of Operations (ConOps) to help project partners stay focused on the true needs of an ITS deployment.

The City of Lincoln, Nebraska’s experience in using systems engineering practices to define needs for an Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) project.

Lincoln,Nebraska,United States

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Background (Hide)

The City of Lincoln Nebraska is in the process of developing the StarTran Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) system to improve operational efficiency, increase information dissemination, and improve safety on their public transit system. As part of the process, a Concept of Operations (ConOps) was developed to help document user needs and define system functionalities. The ConOps format is based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Guide for Information Technology – System Definition – Concept of Operations Document, IEEE Std 1362-1998. This document is a respected industry standard that is often used by systems engineers to describe users' operational needs without becoming bogged down in detailed technical issues that should be addressed during systems analysis activities. The Concept of Operations, developed early in the systems engineering process, provides the foundation for more detailed analysis that will follow.

The ConOps captures user needs in layman’s terms which are later translated into engineering language by the systems engineer or developer. Key components of the ConOps include: a description of the current system, justification for changes, concepts for the proposed system, operational scenarios, summary of impacts, and analysis of the proposed system. When properly defined, these elements of a ConOps help system developers to understand project expectations.

Lesson Learned

A ConOps is a useful tool for the initial definition and justification of ITS projects. The StarTran AVL ConOps is a good example of how a Systems Engineering (SE) ConOps should be applied on ITS projects. A ConOps needs to be prepared properly in order to serve its intended purpose. Users need to make sure that the ConOps is written so that the systems engineer or developer will understand precisely what problems users are trying to solve and their purpose for solving them. A ConOps should not include descriptions of system design components or prescribe technology solutions to address users’ problems. A ConOps needs to stay focused on "what" the users need rather than "how" to design systems to solve user problems.

The StarTran AVL ConOps provided a number of examples of the proper development of a ConOps for an ITS project including:

  • Concisely define the system in order to avoid any confusion about what needs to be developed.
  • Remain focused on the operational system without dictating design features.
  • Provide descriptions of the current system including the inadequacies associated with it. This helps the system developer to understand the problems that the owners/operators need to fix.
  • Write the ConOps with the systems engineer/developer in mind. It is the engineer/developer that will translate the ConOps into an operational system, so it is important for the users to express their needs such that the engineer/developer can understand the problem and what is needed to resolve it.
  • Ensure that the needed functionalities of the system are easy to identify. The StarTran ConOps included descriptions of system functionality written as "shall" statements. This feature in the ConOps allows engineers to isolate and extract the required system functionalities more quickly.
  • Avoid assumptions about the internal content and structure of the eventual system. This is done to avoid getting lost in details, avoid premature feasibility (mis)judgments, and preclude the early insertion of pet design concepts.

Because a ConOps contains project needs, justification, and analysis information, it can be especially helpful when conducting a traditional transportation feasibility study. The ITS engineers should consider including a ConOps as part of the feasibility study process.
This lesson suggests that a ConOps is a tool that helps ensure user/customer satisfaction. In addition, a ConOps is designed to help simplify the definition of complex systems while maximizing productivity of system engineering activities.

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