In 2003, three people at Technolution built an application for the Rhoon traffic control center. The ProcesManager was conceived as a temporary solution for flexible work places in the control center. Sixteen years later, the ProcesManager plays a crucial role in five road traffic control centers and two maritime control centers. This is the story of an application with a modest start that is still being developed.
Article from Objective 31, 2019
The ProcesManager brings the operating applications for the remote operation of tunnels, bridges, and other traffic infrastructure to the work places of traffic controllers in the traffic control center. Whenever a traffic controller logs on, they will receive precisely those operating applications that they need for their function and tasks, optimally divided across the available pixel space. Our traffic management system MobiMaestro is often one of these applications. In addition, the ProcesManager regulates the coordination, presentation, and operation of camera images and audio on the video wall of the work place, for example to monitor rush-hour lanes. Over the course of the years, the number of systems that has been connected has grown. The ProcesManager currently plays a crucial role and is vitally important for the work of road traffic controllers.
Freek-Jan Scherpenzeel was one of the original builders of the ProcesManager. He is now a senior developer and knowledge carrier in the team that manages the system. The system has seen a lot of expansion since those early days: it currently has two project leaders, four to five developers, and two managers. They work permanently on expanding, renewing, and managing the application. It is clear when he talks about the ProcesManager that this is a subject close to Freek-Jan’s heart.
"We’re never done developing the ProcesManager. At the moment we’re working on functionality for an emergency button. Every moveable object currently has an emergency button on the spot: one of those big red mushrooms that you hit to shut down all systems in the case of an emergency, like a car driving through the barrier as the bridge is being opened. Rijkswaterstaat also wanted to have a similar button in the operator’s work place. The ProcesManager assigns the function of the button to the right work place. At the moment this assigning process doesn’t function properly in some situations. That means the ProcesManager has to carry out all kinds of checks to ensure that the emergency button has been correctly assigned and that all processes can be resumed afterwards.”
Flexibility and sustainability from the start
The ProcesManager was flexible and widely configurable from the start. That was not necessarily a result of the specifications. Freek-Jan: “During the development we couldn’t always afford to wait for the formal process, because the deadline was tightly linked to the opening of the traffic control center. It was a new control center with a lot of new aspects. This meant it sometimes took very long before we knew how things were going to work precisely. So as to be able to continue working on the software, we had to factor in different scenarios so that they could be configured. This is how configurability became an integral part of the application.”
This approach ensured that the ProcesManager could continue to be expanded with new objects and functionalities even afterwards. The application supports many versions of operating protocols and can give access to both older and very new tunnel installations. Rijkswaterstaat is currently working on standardizing the accessibility of objects and applications. This Universal Traffic Control Center Interface (Universeel Koppelvlak Verkeerscentrales, UKVC) will create a kind of general ‘plug’ for objects such as tunnels and bridges, to which applications like the ProcesManager can immediately be connected. The ProcesManager is ready for this innovation.
Freek-Jan: “But this is only the beginning. The Coentunnel, for instance, is ‘split’ into two during daytime: the two tunnel tubes are each assigned to a separate work place in the traffic control center. At night, when the traffic volume is lower, the tunnel can be operated by a single operator, and the tunnel tubes are joined together again in a single work place. Combining this with the UKVC will create a new situation. The challenge is to ensure that these combined aspects function properly.”
Looking beyond boundaries
The ProcesManager is continuing to grow and it has proven to be indispensable for the functioning of five road traffic control centers and two maritime control centers. The work places in these control centers can be configured in many ways, depending on the tasks and authorizations of the operator who has logged on. Technolution is responsible for user management, work place configuration management, and incident management. The application is so wide-ranging and has so many interfaces with other systems that new team members need approximately two years of training on the job before they have mastered all the ins and outs.
Freek-Jan: “Safeguarding knowledge is crucial, particularly because we are also responsible for solving errors and incidents. The ProcesManager communicates with a lot of systems, and often these are also mutually connected in chains. This is why we need team members who can look beyond the boundaries of the system. Many incidents are not due to ProcesManager itself, but to one of the connected systems. A broken camera or a cable that someone has pulled out. The operator then gets a black screen and concludes that the ProcesManager isn’t working. But the ProcesManager is only the messenger. We can’t repair a broken camera, but we can make sure we do everything we can to figure out where the problem is situated. The bottom line is that everything has to be up and running again as quickly as possible. Road safety is at stake.”
Pride behind the scenes
Speaking of incidents: the ProcesManager is extremely stable and runs 24 hours a day. Incidents are almost always small-scale and they are quickly resolved without causing large-scale operational disturbances. Updates and expansions are rolled out with minimal disruption to users.
Freek-Jan: “The team is doing a great job. Most of that happens behind the scenes. Usually there is little contact with the operators, so that they can focus 100 % on their main tasks, like ensuring the safe flow of traffic.” The overriding sentiment ultimately is pride at an application that fulfils such an important role and that is still being developed further even after so many years.
“There are a lot of new plans to continue development of the ProcesManager over the coming decade. The ideal is to create the ultimate operator work place; a system that brings the right information to every desired work place and that can manage all required operating processes. Including the emergency button.”