AN INTEGRATED INFORMATION SYSTEM FOR HEAVY VEHICLE WEIGHING AT TRAFFIC CONTROL CENTRES: A FREE STATE PROVINCE CASE STUDY
1.1. Topic Discussion
The research study aims to develop a conceptualisation of an integrated information system. In this research study an integrated information system refers to a computerised system that shares data from a central database or between multiple databases. Traffic control centres refers to heavy vehicle weighbridges that make use of computerised system to capture and calculate vehicle masses.
There are nine provinces in the Republic of South Africa and Free State Province is the central province of the nine provinces and most heavy vehicles from the other eight provinces frequently drive through the Free State Province. Anecdotal evidence has shown that there are shortcomings in monitoring; control; analysis; and reporting of the results of activities in relation to the overload control operations at Traffic Control Centres in the province.
For any organization to function properly in current competitive and ever changing markets best informed business decisions have to be made and organisations are forced to find means of operating effectively and in most cost effective ways. Traditional competitive methods are no longer dependable and organisations have to stay up to date with the technologies and this applies to government projects and operations as well (Abeysekera 2005).
Organizations use different strategies and resources to achieve business goals, and knowledge is one of the critical resources in current business practices. Organizations cannot afford not to manage knowledge properly and therefore the use of Knowledge Management (KM) systems and technologies to support objectives of the organization is of paramount importance (Aggestam 2008).
Knowledge management is defined as: the practise of selectively applying knowledge from previous experiences of decision making to current and future decision making activities with the purpose of improving the organization’s effectiveness (Alavi, Leidner 2001). The use of knowledge management models and information systems has shown success as a tool for knowledge creation. The procedure for collecting, storing, retrieving, and transforming data into knowledge-based media can be designed and documented (Wade, Hulland 2004).
System integration is being used as an option for solving these problems by other organizations. When computers became popular as a tool in strategic planning process, system integration was confined to technical aspects such as connecting computer hardware components. But recently information technology has grown so much that knowledge creation is as important, and integration is being used in software, data and communication as well (Abeysekera 2005).
This research will focus on using system integration as a way for data and knowledge management; and will also include communication processes and data integration methods. Data integration is the process of combine data residing at different sources and providing the user with a cohesive view of the data (Lenzerini 2002). The researcher feels it will be worthwhile to investigate the current operations at weighbridges with the aim being to assist in addressing the problems being experienced by traffic control centres and decision makers.
2. PROBLEM STATEMENT/ RESEARCH QUESTIONS
2.1. Problem Statement
Free State Province is one of the nine provinces in South Africa and has three traffic control centres that are used for heavy vehicle weighing (see Appendix A) as recorded on the “South African Long Term Overload control Statistics (1995 to 2009)” (Republic of South Africa. Department of Transport July, 2010).
The main problem is that thereare shortcomings in monitoring; control; analysis;and reporting of the results of activities and operations in the overload control processes at Traffic Control Centres for heavy vehicle weighing. During preliminary research the researcher found that the problems are caused mainly by traffic control centres operating independent of each other which further creates problems as listed below:
- When vehicles are weighed information such as company names; vehicle registration numbers; drivers licence details etc. should be collected and documented for record keeping and for further analysis of overloading trends in the province. Because of the independent operations there is no consistency when this information is captured and in other cases it is not captured at all. This usually creates problems between heavy vehicle drivers/owners; traffic officers and weighbridge operators as it’s time consuming for drivers when they have to wait every time this information is captured.
- In the Free State Province there are three operational weighbridges that are using computerised systems for heavy vehicle weighing, but these weighbridges are operating independent of each other using site based data storage systems. This type of operation causes a problem as law enforcement officers at one weighbridge have no idea of what is going on at the other weighbridges and makes it difficult to implement an effective law enforcement strategy.
- Authorities develop policies and make strategic and operational decisions based on the collective operational reports; which are produced based on the data collected from the traffic control centres. As data is collected independently and not following a standard procedure, the produced reports do not give a true picture of the overloading trends and therefore the decisions that the authorities will make are usually based on incomplete information.
2.2. The Research Question
What is the state of the overload control processes at traffic control centres for heavy vehicle weighing in the Free State Province in terms of monitoring; control and analysis of the results of weighing activities?
To address the 3 sub-problems the following sub-question must be answered clearly during the research process.
- What are the data collection processes and technologies currently being used at each Traffic Control Centre?
- What are the applicable integration methods that can be used to integrate the collected data from the three traffic control centres?
- How can these data be made available to authorities for reporting and decision making processes?
3. LITERATURE REVIEW
3.1. Why overload control?
Overloaded heavy vehicles are responsible for approximately 60% of the damage to the road network, in comparison to legally loaded heavy vehicles that cause only about 40% of the damage (CSIR, Roads and Transport Technology 1997) and this means that heavy vehicles overloaded or not have a significant impact on road damage. Overloaded heavy vehicles decrease the life span of the road structure with added costs for maintenance and rehabilitation of the road pavement. The management and protection of the road network is necessary, while maintaining the economic base of the freight industry. While heavy vehicle operators profit from weak law enforcement, overloaded vehicles are damaging roads, the annual road budget in real terms is declining, and the condition of roads is deteriorating (Pillay, Bosman 2001).
Roads and streets are the most important transport communication medium in South Africa and are used by everyone on a daily basis. Roads also play an important role in promoting economic growth and the standard of living for the population and by means of roads it is easy for the communities to access markets, places of work, health facilities and educational institution (CSIR, Roads and Transport Technology 1997). The sixth annual state of logistics report 2009, shows that the internal logistics cost due to inadequate road conditions is experienced by most transportation companies in the country. This affects the competitiveness of the country, because as the logistics costs increase, the cost of products in the global market increases as well (CSIR, Imperial Logistics, Stellenbosch University 2009).
South Africa has 118static weighbridges utilised for heavy vehicle weighing, out of which only 78 are operational; 30 are not usable and 10 are usable but currently not operational as recorded on the “South African Long Term Overload control Statistics (1995 to 2009)”. These include provincial weighbridges, municipal weighbridges at testing stations that are also utilised for overload control, weighbridges that are operated by toll road concessionaires in cooperation with provincial road authorities and private weighbridges that are utilised for overload control (Republic of South Africa. Department of Transport July, 2010). The general heavy vehicle weighing processes is shown on (Appendix B)
In the Free State Province there are three operational weighbridges that are using computerised systems for heavy vehicle weighing, but these weighbridges are operating independent of each other using site based data storage systems. This type of operation causes a problem as law enforcement officers at one weighbridge have no idea of what is going on at the other weighbridges and makes it difficult to implement an effective law enforcement strategy.
3.2. Information systems
On a study done by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) for the Republic of Senegal computer systems where to be the key of all the weigh bridges involved in heavy vehicle overloading control and computer systems are to be used at all weighbridges for data collection and information management. An integrated computer and management information system was implemented, it was recommended that a computer system should be connected to all weighing equipment installed at the weighbridge for an automatic collection of data produced by this equipment (Nordengen et al. 2006)
Most information systems are made out of various components classified in three different types: application programs, information resources like databases and knowledge bases, and user interfaces. These components are integrated in such a way as to accomplish a concrete (business) purpose (Guarino, (Roma) Consiglio nazionale delle ricerc, Istituto 1998) and information resources include human resources and historical knowledge with the main purpose of supporting the creation, transfer, and application of knowledge in organizations and notably is the fact that systems designed to support knowledge in various organisations may not appear completely different from other forms of information systems, but their main focus is on allowing users to give a meaning to information and to capture some of their knowledge in information and data (Alavi, Leidner 2001).
Knowledge is not a “thing” or a system and therefore cannot be stored or managed. It is an active continuous process of relating (Snowden 2002). The purpose of this paper is not to develop a knowledge management system similar to those used by organisations which are focused on maximising profits by using competitive intelligence for competitive advantage in the market place. But to develop a concept of an information system that can be used to create, store, analyse and present information using the acceptable knowledge management models for knowledge creation and sharing.
The thinking of knowledge management was used by Nonaka and Takeuchi in 1995, making arguments that for organisation to succeed they have to focus on knowledge creation and distribution (Nonaka, Takeuchi 1995). Nonaka further in 2000 elaborated that knowledge involves a relationship between tacit and explicit knowledge, which gave birth to a model for the dynamic process of organisational knowledge creation, maintaining, and exploitation. The model supported the four knowledge process namely: 1 – Internalisation; 2 – Externalisation; 3 – Socialisation; and 4 – Combination (Nonaka, Toyama & Konno 2000).
Organisations use information systems for various reasons and purposes but for knowledge management all systems are based on the General Knowledge Model as described by Brian Newman on his paper “A Framework for Characterizing Knowledge Management Methods, Practices, and Technologies”. The model organizes knowledge flows into four primary activity areas: knowledge creation, retention, transfer, and utilization (Newman, Conrad 2000) as represented in ( Figure 1 ).
Knowledge Creation – This comprises activities associated with the entry of new knowledge into the system, and includes knowledge development, discovery, and capture.
Knowledge Retention – This includes all activities that preserve knowledge and allow it to remain in the system once introduced. It also includes those activities that maintain the viability of knowledge within the system.
Knowledge Transfer – This refers to activities associated with the flow of knowledge from one party to another. This includes communication, translation, conversion, filtering and rendering.
Knowledge Utilization – This includes the activities and events connected with the application of knowledge to business processes.
3.3. Qualitative research
Qualitative research methods involve the systematic collection, organisation, and interpretation of textual material derived from interviews, observations and in documents (Malterud 2001). Qualitative research methods are being used increasingly in evaluation of studies, including evaluation of computer systems and information technology and qualitative data gathered primarily from observation, interviews, and documents are analysed by a variety of systematic techniques.
4. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
This research study aims to contribute to the research area of business informatics, with the main focus being on the information management and information systems conceptualisation. and fills a gap in that information systems are not a primary concern for transport researchers. Transport researchers focus most of their research on transport economics and engineering, while neglecting the benefits that information systems can offer to the industry and this study will fill that gap. Basing the study to the knowledge management theories and models, this study will introduce the importance of using information systems to solve weighbridge operational problems and decision making processes by authorities.
Knowledge management theories and models provide a way to manage data collection and information sharing, which adds value to the organisation and industry as a whole (Barclay, Murray 1997). Knowledge transfer in organizations is the process through which one unit (e.g., a department, division, and a group) is affected by the experience of another (Argote, Ingram 2000). In the case of this study the various transport departments; traffic authorities; agencies and stakeholders involved with overload control in the country.
The study will help provide guidance to the concerned parties on the applicable ways to design and implement an information system that would be suitable for knowledge management purposes, which can be used for decision support. This will benefit traffic authorities doing law enforcement for overload control; agencies managing the heavy vehicle weighbridges and decision making authorities such as the department of transport.
5. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
The applicable research paradigm for this research study is the interpretivist research paradigm using the qualitative research method. The interpretivist paradigm developed as a critique of positivism in the social sciences and shares the following beliefs about the nature of knowing and reality (Cohen D. 2006): Relativist ontology; assumes that reality as we know it is constructed intersubjectively through the meanings developed socially and experientially. Subjectivist epistemology; assumes that we cannot separate ourselves from what we know. The researcher and the researched object are linked such that who we are and how we understand the world is a central part of how we understand ourselves others and the world.
Interpretive studies assume that people create and associate their own subjective and intersubjective meanings as they interact with the world around them (Orlikowski, Baroudi 1991). This method of research adopt the position that our knowledge of reality is a social construction by human actors and the researcher uses preconceptions in order to guide the process of researching and furthermore interacts with the human subjects of the researched field (Walsham 1995).
For the purpose of this study, two groups will be involved, namely the management team from different authorities who are responsible for strategic planning when it comes to overload control processes and the general users who are operators at the weighbridges such as traffic officers and computer operators. The methodology will involve interviews, observation and analysis of the current operational procedures written in existing documents. This is in line with the interpretive approaches that rely heavily on naturalistic methods (Cohen D. 2006).
The following activities make up the major tasks of the study and the methodology that will be used to address them:
5.1. Theoretical Framework
The theoretical framework for the research study will be based on theories from information systems development and knowledge management. The main theory will be the activity theory, which will be supported by theories from the knowledge management models.
5.1.1. Activity Theory
Activity theory is a social-psychological theory that has its roots in the work done by the Russian psychologist Vygotsky during the beginning of the 20th century and this theory has been adopted by information systems researchers (Crawford, Hasan 2006). Further the same research study Dr. Kate Crawford and Helen Hasan shows that researchers in information systems have recognised the theory as being able to provide a rich holistic understanding of how people do things together with the assistance of sophisticated tools in the complex dynamic environment.
The theory is a philosophical framework for studying human interactions as a development process. The fundamental unit of analysis is the activity which has tree characteristics; material object; which is mediated by artifacts (tools, language etc.) and it is within a culture (Figure 1) and computer artifacts mediate human activity within a practice (Bardram 1997).
Relevance of the activity theory to the research study
The object of the research activity
This study investigates the activities of groups of people who are involved in the weighbridge operations for overload control law enforcement. The groups are using a combination of face to face and computer based interactions in carrying out their duties.
The Subjects of the activity being studied
Members of organisations and agencies that are using the weighbridge system or weighbridge site mangers; overload control decision makers; law enforcement officers, and traffic regulatory body.
The tools of the research activity
The researcher will collect data directly from the subjects, by making an observation of the activities and interviewing the decision makers personally.
The primary secondary and tertiary tools used
The tools of interest here are weighbridge field sheets, personal computers, server databases and other gadgets used to verify vehicle records.
The purpose of the activities and the motives of the subjects
The main aim of the activities will be to monitor the different operations, the possibility of integrating this operations and status of the available tools currently being used by various authorities and weighbridges.
5.1.2. Knowledge management models
The objective of the research study includes the improvement of the decision processes by authorities involved and knowledge models are the preferred option for knowledge creation and for decision making purposes.
The chosen KM model to base the study on will be the Nonaka and Takeuchi Spiral Model. KM Spiral is based on a theory that knowledge creation consists of a social process between individuals in which knowledge transformation is not just a unidirectional process but it is interactive and spiral, these involves the four process of: Socialization (from tacit to tacit knowledge); Externalization (from tacit to explicit knowledge); Combination (from explicit to explicit knowledge); and Internalization (from explicit to tacit knowledge) (Nicosord ).
This model was chosen because for the research results to make an impact the following groups will have to considered; (1) the heavy vehicle operators and drivers who are the external group; (2) the relationship between the traffic control centre staff and the drivers, which forms part of the socialisation; the weighing system users and traffic officers at the TCC who are (internal group); and the combination will address issues related to use of the data and how the data will be shared amongst all stakeholders.
5.1.3. Data Collection and Analysis Tools
The research study will use qualitative research methods and therefore will include unstructured interviews; observation and document analysis. The researcher is the main instrument for data collection and analysis and will make use of field notes and audio recording as those used by researchers following a grounded theory method (Savenye, Robinson 1996). Field notes will be used during observation and interviews and data will be grouped according to the KM cycles as indicated on (Table 1).
Qualitative data can be analysed using interpretive methods; the researcher will make use of the interpretive approach to present a holistic view of the data. Field notes from observations and interviews will be interpreted and grouped according to groupings in (Table 1). Official documents will collected from authorities will be analysed as raw data and then analysed the same way as field notes data.
Table 1: Field notes grouping structure
|Acquisition of data
|Refinement of data
|Storage and Retrieval of data
|Distribution of information
|Presentation and Use of information
|This will list all the processes and procedures followed to acquire and capture data at the weighbridge operations level.
|This will list all the processes and procedures used to clean and refined the data.
|This will be a grouping of all systems used to stored and retrieve data either manual or computerised.
This will also include the filing system or database types used. (e.g. SQL database)
|This will group items that are addressing:
How data is transformed into information
How information is delivered to various stakeholders
|This will group issues addressing the rules and procedures for the overall data structures and the presentation formats. As well as how data will be shared.
6. DELINEATIONS AND LIMITATIONS
This research study is limited to only the organisations and government departments that are involved in projects that deals with overload control in the Free State province and the research will focus on the static operational weighbridges as listed on the South African Long Term Overload Control Statistics (1995 – 2009) and Provincial authorities on the same list (Republic of South Africa. Department of Transport July, 2010), and further limiting it only to Bothaville; Senekal and Kroonstad weighbridges that are involved in overload control using computerised systems for heavy vehicle mass calculations.
This research assumes that:
- The concerned authorities have dedicated people who are focused on overload control and that they have the adequate knowledge to clarify and answer questions relating to the weighbridge operations and procedures used for making decision about the regulatory issues and law enforcement application.
- The agencies operating the weighbridges have a dedicated person who is knowledgeable in the various Traffic Regulations for overload control
- The technical people at weighbridges have a clear understanding of the processes followed on the collection of data, from raw data to computerised capturing and how this data is transferred to the authorities.
8. ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
Ethics examines the rational justification of what is morally right or wrong by involving a systematic application of moral rules, standards, or principles to researchers (Davison 2000). Ethics addresses issues of dignity; right to privacy; informed consent; honesty with professional colleagues; and safety.
This research study is focused on studying the systems used for operations at traffic control centres and will only involved human candidates as they are involved in the system. As human candidates will not be the subjects of the study, ethical considerations are not required as such. But the researcher will inform the participants about the nature of the research in advance and the privacy of participants will be protected as no names will be mentioned on the results of the study.
9. CHAPTER OVERVIEW
The research report will contain chapters as outlined in ( Table 2 ) and a brief description of what each chapter contains is included
Table 2: Chapters structure and brief overview
|Summary overview of all chapters
|The methods used to carry out the study will be explained here.
|This contains an explanation of the required theory for the study.
|Results from the study will presented and explained.
|Empirical study and theoretical framework will be connected here to explain the analysis of the study.
|Presentation of conclusions
|Recommendation and Future Research
|Research study recommendations and area for future research will be shown here.
Reviewed Literature has indicated the problems experienced at the traffic control centres in regard to the overload control processes and the relevance of using information systems to address the problems. The importance of making use of integrated information systems in organizations and how they are being used as an advantage for simplifying processes and ensure reliability and integrity of data collection and analysis has been indicated as well. The Republic of South Africa can also benefit from information systems technologies on the fight against heavy vehicle overloading and improvement of weighbridge processes. The negative impact of overloaded heavy vehicles has been clearly indicated by previous research done by various researchers in the civil engineering discipline.
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