The Silicon Review
“As a company, we have experienced just about every situation in transit”: Nicole Castonguay
State-of-the-art computer technology has undergone an almost incomprehensible transformation, analogous to the evolution from Morse code to e-mail. Although the rudimentary scope, goals, and objectives of the transportation community have not changed significantly, the challenges of technology today are greater than ever before. Within a generation, computers have transformed the everyday tasks of the workforce — computer use has infiltrated almost everywhere. Data management capabilities have greatly enhanced resource management. However, accompanying the positive effects are the challenges of implementing these technologies in the world of transportation.
In view of the above-mentioned concern, we are thrilled to present ETA Transit Systems—a systems consulting and software solutions firm specializing in CAD/AVL, Passenger Information and Communications Systems throughout the United States.
ETA develops cloud-based transit software for public transportation, private shuttles, rail and street cars. The company provides an intelligent transit software solution for route mapping, reporting, automatic passenger counting, service messaging, managing schedule, fare counting, 2-way driver messaging, on board announcements using GPS, mobile video surveillance, on-board infotainment, digital displays, and data analytics.
ETA was incorporated in 2003 and is headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida with an additional office in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Interview Excerpt: Nicole Castonguay, CEO
Why was the company set up? How did you select the vertical and decide to be a part of the global platform?
While employed by a company named GeoFocus—which provided intelligent transit systems (ITS) to rail markets—we realized that with a few tweaks the platform represented a significant upgrade to the ITS systems available in other vertical markets, like public transit, private shuttles, and campus operations. We raised the capital to purchase the IP from GeoFocus and then proceeded to develop and modernize that technology into what became our Spatial Positioning on Transit (SPOT®) ITS platform.
Tell us about your first product that was launched.
SPOT® was our first product and remains our flagship offering. Over the years we’ve expanded our offerings to improve its capabilities and our positioning within the transit market.
How successful was your first project roll on? Share the experience.
Like any first-time project, we discovered things about the public transit market that were different than what we knew about the rail space. While we brought over 50 years of combined experience from the rail setting, the bus transit market had a few wrinkles that caught us by surprise. These nuances reminded us that it was important to keep an open mind and not simply assume that the lessons learned in one market would apply uniformly to another—even though the overarching concepts were very similar. This first lesson proved to be a formative one, and it continues to influence our approach and openness to treating each subsequent project as a unique situation rather than applying blanket generalities to all.
What were the grounds on which you have expanded your company and its offerings over the years?
There is a tendency among vendors in this space to continually chase the next big deal and then later work out the staffing and technology logistics in response to the contracts won. At ETA, we insist that our growth is proportional to our ability to perform on our core promise to deliver a fanatical level of customer service to our customers. This approach required us to grow the quality assurance and technical support aspects of our organization, rather than focus on emphasizing the sales or product development aspects of our operations.
If you have to list five factors that have been/are the biggest asset to your organization, what would they be and why?
Unquestionably the top factor is our staff. We’re blessed to have some of the brightest people in the industry working on our team.
Integrity – We do what we say when we say it, and deliver on every promise made to our customers, to our vendors, and to our teammates.
Selecting the right systems architecture – If it’s not done right, it will cripple a company’s ability to grow and deliver upon the performance and promises we make to our customers.
A dedication to open standards– Technology changes faster than most people can visibly perceive, so it’s important to keep pushing the envelope—even when you feel like you’re ahead of the curve. We’ve never felt it makes sense to work with a closed or proprietary set of tools; that’s very limiting long-term. Instead, we’ve embraced standards-based development practices to help ensure maximum compatibility and flexibility for future growth.
Humility and empathy – We’ve found it’s easier to have the difficult conversations with our staff and our customers when we approach conflict from a position of openness and understanding. The ability to take a step back and look at our product, or capabilities, and our fallibility with a sense of honesty trumps any fleeting, momentary satisfaction of ‘being right’. We desire long-term, healthy, and candid relationships with our staff and transit partners; digging in our heels or thumping our chest seldom succeeds at building strong relationships.
How does your company contribute to the global IT platform and society at large?
SPOT® is a very flexible ITS platform, and this versatility requires the ability to integrate with other systems. To be this versatile, we recognize that other vendors must also embrace the same philosophies of open architecture and web standards as we have. Fortunately, we’re not alone in this belief; otherwise, there’d be very limited use for our product.
This understanding has led us to develop an open API for our customers. For matters of practicality, not every transit situation requires a solution that is widely applicable to all customers. A transit agency might have a very specific need that only applies to their situation so it wouldn’t make good business sense for us to develop such a limited solution. Instead, we provide our customers access to the same tools and code we utilize to build SPOT®. In this way, we make it easier for third-party development to address specific objectives that do not have a mass-market appeal.
We also understand that our developers were once students, too. We recognize that we all had to start somewhere, so we readily make our API available to college IT students. We provide the tools necessary to help the next generation of programmers and engineers create and evolve tomorrow’s intelligent transit solutions—and that’s pretty remarkable, too.
Do you have any new products ready to be/getting ready to be rolled out into the market?
We just released a substantial upgrade to SPOT’s administrative software that includes multiple tweaks and improvements, plus new features like anti-bunching, new mapping capabilities, and the biggie—a brand-new route manager—which has been a highly-requested feature in recent months. Of course, if you really want to be in the know, you need to visit etatransit.com, sign up for our newsletter or visit our Facebook or LinkedIn pages. We’re pretty good about rolling out new product announcements and developments.
Where do you see your company a couple of years from now?
We’re on the cusp of taking another big leap in terms of product offering and market penetration. There are some truly exciting products that are nearing deployment within the next 18 months that should dramatically reshape our value proposition and leapfrog us over our current competition. Of course, I can’t tip my hand too much—this industry is very competitive—with everyone looking for any angle or edge they can get to nudge ahead. I suppose The Silicon Review will just have to add us to their list of ‘Companies to Watch in 2019’ and you know … watch to see what happens.
The Brain Behind The Wheel: A Brief Background
Nicole Castonguay, CEO: As CEO, Nicole is responsible for the daily operations, sales, and accounting at ETA Transit. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from the University of Central Florida. Prior to helming ETA, Ms. Castonguay was a director for a major hotel corporation.