Texas A&M Transportation Institute
The Texas A&M University System
TTI is a transportation research agency, conducting research for a wide range of public and private sector sponsors. In FY99, the Texas Department of Transportation accounted for 51% of the agency’s research expenditures. Other sponsors include private industries, cities, transit agencies, technical societies, trade associations, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program and the Transit Cooperative Research Program (both administered by the Transportation Research Board), the National Academy of Sciences, USDOT and other Federal agencies, and other states. The agency’s basic services include conducting transportation research studies under contract to customers/sponsors, providing research results to those sponsors and to the public at large, and aiding in the transfer of new technologies, processes, products to end users.
From an initial focus on highway construction and roadside safety, TTI’s research program has developed to meet changing needs and has made fundamental breakthroughs in transportation safety, materials, structures, urban systems and other related areas such as planning and environmental quality.
In addition to a broad research program, TTI provides significant educational enhancements and financial support to undergraduate and graduate students—primarily at Texas A&M University at College Station, but also at other universities within the A&M System and throughout Texas. As of January 2000, some 200 students are employed by TTI, most of whom are involved in research projects.
Customer Service Principles
TTI is dedicated to serving its clients, and has earned a well-deserved reputation for intellectual and scientific integrity, and for producing high quality research. Indeed the agency’s strategic goals demonstrate the Institute’s commitment to serving a changing transportation industry and to maintaining excellent customer relations.
The best indicator of customer satisfaction for a research organization is “repeat” business. In this regard, TTI measures up very well: the agency has had a cooperative research agreement with its major sponsor, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), for more than 50 years. In 1997, as part of its Continuous Improvement Process, TTI established a Process Team to identify TxDOT’s needs and expectations regarding the research program, and to recommend changes or enhancements that would allow TTI to better serve TxDOT and the state of Texas. The CI Process Team looked at all aspects of the research program, including how projects are identified, conducted and developed, and how research results are implemented. The team also looked at ways to enhance service to TxDOT at the state, district, division and office level; and reviewed the interagency contract program and improvements in the timely implementation of research results.
A less formal, but equally thorough review of the Institute’s relationship and service to Federal research sponsors was undertaken in 1998. The CI team identified and implemented several changes in TTI procedures that enhanced the agency’s competitiveness at the Federal level, and improved sponsor relationships. They also made recommended minor procedural changes to the FHWA which were implemented.
In both of these reviews with major sponsors, there were some consistent outcomes in that sponsoring agencies commended TTI researchers for their commitment to quality, meeting report deadlines, and responsiveness to sponsor’s needs. Agreed upon improvements including enhancing communication at all levels of the agency, improved project tracking/reporting systems and encouraging electronic communication whenever possible to speed the transfer of information.
The Institute has several internal systems in place to help ensure customer satisfaction, including monitoring accounts payable to ensure compliance with the Prompt Payment Act. Meeting all report/deliverable deadlines is a top agency priority. When a contract is acquired, all deliverables are entered into a tracking database to ensure that reports and other research products are completed and delivered on time to sponsors. Principal investigators and managers can search that database to check the progress of their reports/deliverables, and they receive deadline reminders at scheduled points during the course of a project. The establishment of an agency intranet which allows all employees access to databases, forms, agency, System and state regulations, also has significantly improved the agency’s ability to monitor performance and ensure customer satisfaction.
Customer Information/Complaint Process
TTI sponsors have easy and regular access to all research support offices, including the Research Development Office (proposals and pre-award actions), the Business Office (contracts and post-award activities), TTI Communications (report editing/publication and technology transfer activities). Senior TTI managers meet regularly with research sponsors. The Deputy Director sends a letter to each new sponsor indicating whom to contact in the event of any problems with the project.
Customer Relations Representatives
Dr. Dennis Christiansen, Director, handles all programmatic/research project complaint issues.
Mr. Joe Dunn, Assistant Agency Director, is responsible for all financial, operations and human resources issues.