Blackpool Transport is introducing new management software systems from EPM that are already paying significant dividends. Andrew Garnett discovers how these systems are the cog to much wider improvements.
How do you capture business critical information, operational performance and data? For many bus operators, it can be through the use of spreadsheets or paper-based systems, but there can be significant drawbacks from such an approach.
It can lead to a lack of consistency between company sites and depots, let alone subsidiaries of much larger companies. There can also be issues with the physical time it can take in order to bring the different strands of data together in a coherent form that can be easily manipulated and interpreted.
Streamlining business processes with EPM
As the bus industry has matured in recent years, and with many operators now looking at technology to solve some business-critical functions, Worcestershire-based bus industry audit and software specialists EPM has developed a range of software tools that aims to streamline these processes.
The company has a background in auditing services for the bus industry, specialising in BSOG certification and concessionary travel consultancy for operators. Its background led to the development of a range of software tools to assist with the day-to-day management of these tasks and functions. The company launched its first software product almost 30 years ago and today, EPM supplies a range of software solutions to, amongst others, the major groups as well as the larger independent and municipal operators.
How Blackpool Transport use EPM software
Council-owned bus operator Blackpool Transport, has recently introduced a suite of EPM software products that are playing a key part in some of the much wider changes that are sweeping through the bus operator. As Phil Lonsdale, the operator’s Head of IT, notes, these software systems are “the cog of what we [Blackpool Transport] are trying to achieve”.
Lonsdale describes a number of projects that are currently being undertaken at Blackpool Transport. They aim to significantly improve customer service and customer satisfaction across all aspects of the business. They include the installation of free, on-bus Wi-Fi and the launch of a new all singing, all dancing customer app that not only offers an m-ticketing option, but also a number of tools that will allow customers to see how their bus is running. “The whole point of these projects is to feed the EPM systems with data,” he says. “We want one central data access point.”
Lonsdale describes how the EPM systems are structured to bring all those disparate forms of data together. This uses a clever piece of software called the Operational Performance Module (OPM). “There is vehicle mileage information, revenue protection, accidents and incidents; so essentially what’s going on out on the road,” he says. “It puts all of that data into one accessible, central resource.”
EPM’s Bus Incident Reporting Screen, or BIRS, powers the traffic and operational performance aspects of this system. BIRS allows central control room staff to report any incidents as they happen in real time, replacing the (usually) paper-based methods that many bus operators have historically relied on in the control room environment; but those traditional systems can be cumbersome and lead to operational inefficiencies. With BIRS, any incident reported to the control room can be recorded within the system using a series of dropdown menus. They have been structured in such a way as to allow as much information as possible to be captured at the moment it occurs.
As EPM director Nick Brookes notes, it gives a level of detail that allows a helicopter view of what’s going on at any moment around the business. He continues: “A great advantage is that the information can be directed to other parts of the company or organisation. So, if a bus is caught in some unexpected severe congestion, the control room records the incident using BIRS and the resulting data can be fed, via other EPM software modules, to keep the customer experience team up to speed with what’s happening. That information can then be broadcast to customers, either by phone through the customer contact centre, through an app or via social media channels.”
Improving communication at Blackpool Transport
These modules can streamline and standardise business processes to make all data consistent. This can not only help with analysis, investigating key trends and the production of key performance indicators, but also provide an audit trail for external organisations, like DVSA.
Brookes describes how the system can produce period end reports that can really “drill down” into the data. “At Blackpool Transport there was one department where the production of a KPI report was a particularly time-consuming business,” reveals Brookes. “Now, using our systems, it takes no time at all and it means that staff are freed up for more important tasks.”
Meanwhile, by using a combined and unified solution, any incident entered into the system can initialise a chain of events that can allow a variety of internal departments access to information and generate a list of actions to solve issues. For example, a vehicle issue encountered by driving staff can be logged in the system. This then prompts an alert to the engineering team that a bus may have a problem, allowing the engineering team to react accordingly. This may be by attending the vehicle in question out on the road, ordering replacement parts or organising a work flow for when the vehicle returns to the depot at the end of the working day.
In a similar manner, the system can also proactively manage responses to accidents, thereby mitigating potentially costly insurance claims. For example, if a bus and a car are involved in a collision, the EPM software modules talk to one another, generating another list of actions, such as arranging a courtesy car for the third party and arranging for their vehicle to be repaired, reducing the cost of a claim significantly.
Customer service has also been improved by not only giving the customer experience team the most up-to-date information they can possibly have, but by using the system to manage customer contact and any comments. It not only logs complaints and commendations, but also assists in allowing follow-up investigation by the management team. Meanwhile, all lost property can be logged, creating a single process that keeps track of the item from when it is found to when it is reunited.
Transforming Blackpool Transport for the future
Blackpool Transport is also moving ahead with plans to incorporate an HR system within the EPM solution. This will not only allow staff records to be kept as a central and accessible resource, dispensing with the need for a single cumbersome paper-based handling system, but also allow follow up actions that use other parts of the system. As Brookes notes, it will bring everything together. “They were looking at a standalone HR system,” he says. “Our system integrates everything and that’s a big advantage over a separate HR system – so why pay for something else?”
But other systems can be accommodated. Lonsdale says that a key strength of EPM’s systems is that they can be tailored to take on data from other systems developed by third party companies. As he notes, if Blackpool Transport introduces a new software system, EPM are keen to get hold of a data feed that will allow the data produced by that system to feed into OPM.
“A good example of that is the app that we’re currently developing for our customers,” Lonsdale notes. “The data from that app will feed directly into the system. Another example is payment details, be it from the ticket machines out on the road to the ticket sales made by PayPoint retailers. All of this data feeds into the EPM system and allows quick and efficient access to it. It’s such a brilliant tool.”
Mandy Davies, Blackpool Transport’s Head of Operations, adds that the technology is transforming the business. “We were very compartmentalised before with everyone running their own spreadsheets and means of capturing data,” she says. “If you wanted to find something out it meant going to each department and manipulating their spreadsheets. Now we have access to the data instantly across departments and it’s consistent. That helps us a lot.”
Davies describes how she and her team at Blackpool Transport are proactive in using EPM systems to not only monitor day-to-day business operations, but also to inform decision- making. “We are more proactive with the information and I have to admit that it has got rid of a lot of the tedious admin,” she says. “I think at times we were a bit slate and chalk, but these systems have transformed us to being at the cutting edge. It really helps us to keep track of the KPIs we need to know and concentrate on the day-to-day job. That’s just a fantastic tool for us to have.”
This article was first published in The Album Report 2017, produced by Passenger Transport magazine.