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Kapsch Group

Dedication Stories. Tom McPharlin.
“I really enjoy doing this type of work.”

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Tom McPharlin, Ph.D.

Inventor of the DYNAC Solution

Retired, but still active as part-time Technical Expert

SC Highway & Tunnel Traffic Mgmt, Kapsch TrafficCom Inc. USA

Location: Pleasanton, California

Since 1984 with Transdyn, which belongs to the Kapsch Group since January 2014

Over thirty years ago, Tom and his team of Palo Alto, California, programmers started designing and building a new software product called DYNAC (Dynamic Advanced Control) to position Trans-Dyn Control Systems (early name of Kapsch acquisition, Transdyn) in the emerging digital process automation market.

At that time it was hoped this new product would establish the company as an acceptable provider of digital based control systems in the environmental process automation market. Probably no one, including Tom, expected that DYNAC would truly revolutionize the company and become a world-class, real-time operations management software suite that now operates vital facilities and processes in North America, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Asia, Europe (soon), and South America (soon).

Tom has been the driving force behind this innovation, serving as lead programmer, product manager, chief architect, software engineering manager, sales engineer, mentor, and trusted advisor. His original key design principles – high performance, mission critical reliability, and fill-in-the-blank configurability remain bedrock doctrines today.

Tom has retired now from Kapsch, but he loves his work so much that he is still active as a consultant, mostly helping project engineers by answering their questions, fixing problems and figuring out how to get things done when it comes to DYNAC. That’s really 125% dedication.

What is DYNAC all about?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines innovation as “the introduction of something new”, a new idea, method, or device. DYNAC certainly meets this definition. This operations management software product is arguably one of the most successful products in service today (or ever) for the ATMS (Advanced Traffic Management Systems) market, used at over 300 installations around the world and in about 50 traffic management centers. Combining mission critical reliability and security with the latest software technology, the commercial off-the-shelf software solution DYNAC ATMS® is used to monitor and control traffic, life safety, and facilities management assets and processes. The software’s fully integrated suite of transportation and facilities management applications and highly configurable design allow it to be deployed in a variety of ITS applications including open motorways, toll roads, tunnels, bridges, managed lanes, and reversible roadways.

“I really enjoy doing this type of work.”

Tom McPharlin

Five questions for Tom.

What is the most important quality to have as a software developer?

I think what makes a good developer in the long term is knowledge of the solution needed – what is it that you are trying to do. Many people have the technical know-how with the various programming languages, database analysis, etc., but the people who become really valuable are those who understand how we are applying this technical knowledge and what’s ultimately important and useful to the customer. Sometimes this means working with the client to find out what it is that they really need instead of what’s written on paper in the specifications.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your dedication?

I think the most rewarding aspect of doing what I do has occurred near the end of my career with mentoring new people coming into the company. I try to have a number of training courses for young people just starting out in the industry on how to work with DYNAC and other various software. I enjoy answering their questions and helping them solve problems. Seeing them progress from starting with little knowledge and then advancing within the company just a few years later is rewarding. I’d like to think the attention I’d given them when they first started paid off. Earlier in my career it was the customer aspect of work that I really enjoyed. To go out to a customer site and see them using the software and the benefits it brought them, as well helping them use the software in new ways was rewarding.

Why are you still active?

Well probably the first reason I came back as a consultant after retiring is because the people I was working with before I left were dependent upon me to keep things working – I was involved in about a half-dozen projects with DYNAC and I didn’t want to just leave the team since I was providing support as the DYNAC expert. Even sometimes questions regarding projects we delivered many years ago will arise because of system upgrades we are working on like the MassDOT statewide project. Not many people are still around who have the knowledge base regarding those systems and so people will come to me for help since I helped deploy those original systems. I also had developed more software just before I retired and so felt an obligation to continue helping the Kapsch team with these new developments. Secondly, I really enjoy doing this type of work and it helps to keep my mind active. It was hard to retire because I love this work so much but wanted the flexibility to do other things in life as well, so I came back on as a consultant.

Did you ever think DYNAC would be as successful as it has become and used in systems around the world?

No, no. Basically the first three or four years we could barely get people to let us in the door when trying to sell DYNAC. Often we’d have to wait in the lobby for hours only to be told that they didn’t have time to meet with us. It was an uphill battle for many, many years. But our perseverance paid off and slowly we built up a solid client base during the 1990s. I think that over the entire history of DYNAC we really excelled at providing good customer service. We never gave up and walked away when times were tough – we always finished a project. That was the culture and philosophy of Transdyn which paid off over the years and has allowed us to secure clients globally as Kapsch.

What does the historical anniversary year “125 years of Kapsch” mean to you?

The key thing with our company is that it is still a privately owned company headed by Mr. Kapsch – and has evolved for over 125 years without getting stale or going in the wrong direction – and is still a leading technology provider around the world. That’s really impressive. Sometimes companies can get really top-heavy and bloated and can’t really function but Kapsch has steered away from this. Not many companies have been around as long as Kapsch and are still privately owned with a good grasp on what it is they want to do as a company.