The Illinois tollway software system that processes all I-PASS transactions flies under the radar -- except if something goes wrong as it did in 2007 and 2008 when glitches caused numerous customers to receive late and costly violation notices.
That's one reason a six-year, $44 million contract with Chicago-based Accenture LLP to operate the software for electronic tolling raised questions from tollway directors before they approved it Thursday.
The other reason was skepticism from competitor Xerox, which was among four companies that were on the shortlist to be awarded the contract.
Xerox has more firsthand experience operating software for electronic tolling systems in the United States, while Accenture's expertise lies mainly in Portugal, company officials said.
Tollway administrators said they spent months reviewing proposals from firms and Accenture's flexibility to meet future needs made the difference. For example, during interviews with firms, technicians were asked to program a method to track colored transponders, which could be a new product down the line, Business Systems Chief Shauna Whitehead said.
"Accenture could program the field right away ... others struggled," she said. Whitehead added that the firm's work in Portugal was with an open system that mirrors the Illinois tollway's.
Accenture will use the business software SAP to handle about $1 billion in transactions yearly made by more than 1.4 million drivers a day.
For I-PASS users, the change could lead to using Smartphones instead of transponders to pay tolls eventually, the introduction of kiosks in numerous locations where drivers could use cash to add value to their accounts, and a more interactive website, Whitehead said.
"Does it have to be a six-year contract?" asked Director Mark Peterson of Libertyville.
At least two years are necessary to transition from the current provider Electronic Transactions Consultants Corp. to Accenture, Whitehead replied. ETCC's contract with the tollway is expected to be renewed next year for about $5 million so it can update the new firm on the system.
Administrative mixups and miscommunication between vendors caused delays in issuing violation notices when the tollway first rolled out the I-PASS system. It resulted in grief for multiple drivers who received exorbitant bills in the mid- to late-2000s.
"Hopefully, we won't experience the same issues as when open road tolling started," Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.
Accenture's base contract proposal, minus a contingency fee, was $41 million and Xerox's was $35.4 million.