R&D Projects – Computer Based Systems Warranties
Title: R&D Projects – Computer Based Systems Warranties
Date: August 2000
The Muni Automatic Train Control System (ATCS) contract started in 1992. The specification required an "In-Service-Proven" system with the ability to operate trains driverless. The warranty was specified to start when Muni conditionally accepted the equipment for beneficial use.
The contract was originally scheduled to be completed in three years, but is now anticipated to be completed at the end of 2000. The contract was awarded to Alcatel and was based on their Vancouver system. During the course of the contract, the Vehicle Control Center computers were changed from minicomputers to personal computers. Additionally, major software modifications were required to upgrade Alcatel system software to meet Muni’s specified functionality. As a result of these changes, the contract was no longer an "In-Service-Proven" system and reverted to one of "Research and Development (R&D)" (R&D).
The initial schedule included provisions for the ATCS systems to have basic functionality for Muni’s existing tunnel prior to opening of the Muni Metro Turnback (MMT) and full functionality by the time the MMT was complete. With the MMT completed, ATCS hardware in-place and basic system functionality available, Muni was faced with a decision. The Although ATCS contract requirements were not satisfied yet, but the reduced ATCS functionality available would allow Muni to extend system operations through the MMT. During August 1998, Muni inaugurated operations in the new tunnel section with basic ATCS system functionality, thereby taking beneficial use and starting the warranty warrantee period.
2. The Lesson
This contract was originally viewed as a standard contract with no differentiation between software and hardware warranty warrantee requirements. This is not uncommon for automatic train control systems which are more hardware-based than software-based, or for a computer-based system that is based on a prior similar system installation elsewhere. Such systems contracts normally would not have varying hardware and software warranty start dates.
In this new age of fast paced technological development, computer based systems are more vulnerable to systems component obsolescence, thereby increasing the risk of R&D occurring within the contract envelope schedule, through no fault of the contractor or contracting agency. The contracting agency must carefully weigh the risk associated with possible obsolescent equipment versus the risk of contract delays if it elects to approve state-of-the-art equipment upgrades.
R&D projects are more subject to schedule delays and could place the contracting authority agency in an the uncomfortable position of deciding between improving system performance prior to system contract completion and foregoing warranty warrantee coverage after system completion, or expending more funds to extend warranty warrantee coverage. Future specifications need to recognize the potential that full hardware and software acceptance may not occur simultaneously; with by including provisions included covering the contracting agency if beneficial use occurs prior to total system completion.
Computer based systems, especially the new communication-based -signal systems being developed by many train control suppliers. This also could apply to transit vehicles that incorporate microprocessor-based sub-systems.