Category: Case Study

Partnership boosts business performance

man with headphones in bus

McGill’s has worked closely with EPM to enhance its operational performance with new software solutions that aim to put managers in the driving seat.

For any business, having critical data and information about operational performance is essential. With a myriad of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to keep track of however, for many bus operators it can be a case of relying on a variety of paper-based systems and spreadsheets.

However, this methodology can lead to significant drawbacks, including inconsistencies between company depots. It can also take time for the data to be inputted into disparate systems and the process of bringing it together into a consistent and coherent format can be long-winded. There are also issues in creating a suitable format from which that information can be manipulated and examined.

McGill’s, Scotland’s largest independent bus operator, was experiencing those sorts of issues several years ago during a period of frenetic growth. Operations Director Colin Napier describes how the company began a journey in 2010, shortly after he joined McGill’s, that saw the firm expanding rapidly. “Back then we had just been through the process of acquiring six smaller operators,” he says. “It had been a period of significant growth for McGill’s, one which cemented its position in the Inverclyde and Renfrewshire area where the company has its roots. That rapid expansion continued in 2012 with the purchase of Arriva’s business in the west of Scotland.”Napier describes this time as an exciting one where the business just continued to “grow and grow and grow”. However, with that growth it became clear there was a need to integrate these businesses into a single McGill’s operation, one where business performance and KPIs could be simply and easily identified and tracked.

It led McGill’s to the door of Worcestershire-based bus industry audit and software specialists EPM, an established company that has developed a range of special software tools which aim to bring clarity to the wealth of data that is generated by bus operators.

The company has a background in auditing services for the bus industry, developing a specialised niche in BSOG certification, concessionary travel consultancy and operational audit for bus operators. This background led to the development of a range of software tools to assist with the day-to-day management of these tasks and functions. EPM’s first software product was launched 30 years ago and today the company supplies a range of software solutions to bus operators across the country, from the major groups to municipal and independent operators.

“We wanted to be able to keep control of and track the data,” explains Napier. “We had looked at a variety of solutions, but it seemed to us that the suite of tools available from EPM were easily applicable to the needs of our business.”

McGill’s started a process of introducing EPM software solutions across its business. This includes the Operational Performance Module (OPM), a clever piece of software that is designed to bring together a wealth of operational data from other EPM software modules covering, amongst other aspects, incident reporting, customer feedback, driver and bus activity, including maintenance and engineering.

“OPM streamlined a lot of our processes,” says Napier. “Previously we relied on a reams of paper and various different spreadsheets to capture the data. There was a lot of toing-and-froing to capture and present the data and it was just too cumbersome. Significant labour was needed to maintain those systems and we had doubts about the accuracy of the process. OPM transformed that overnight as it’s a resource that can extract data directly from the source.”

McGill’s rolled this system out to every department across the company over a period of between six months and one year. Its impact was instantaneous.

“We went from being in the dark over many aspects of the business to being highly informed,” says Napier. “We had such clarity and consistency. We suddenly had a wealth of data at our fingertips and there was such flexibility too. We spent a lot of time talking to EPM about how certain aspects of the software could be improved, how we could tailor the reporting to meet the needs of the business. They delivered on that.”

He jokes that EPM “made a rod for their back” with their flexibility and it led to discussions about how the software could be further developed in order to help keep track of those all-important business functions and KPIs. McGill’s and EPM have worked closely as development partners to extend the reach of the software’s powers by producing a ‘dashboard’-style solution that allows business trends to be displayed in an easy to grasp, and graphical way.

“We were fortunate that McGill’s had opted for the full suite of software modules,” explains EPM director Nick Brookes. “They were in a position that they had a system that was creating tremendous amounts of data, but they wanted something tailored to a very specific need, namely a tool that would provide better reporting.” Mark Jones, Software Development Manager at EPM takes up the story. “We had established a good working relationship with McGill’s and they were routinely using our software solutions throughout the business,” he says. “However, they began to ask whether there was a way in which they could analyse that data more responsively to their needs. They really wanted something that would look at the company’s entire performance.“They were already using the full suite of EPM modules including OPM and this produced standardised reporting tools, but they wanted something more dynamic that would allow them to quickly examine trends in, for example, lost mileage, vehicles, route and passenger analysis, depots and so on. In essence, something that would give the McGill’s team the information they required quickly and efficiently.”

Jones gives one example of this “dynamic reporting”, namely a route and passenger analysis package. This allows McGill’s to examine bus patronage on any given route and see where patterns form at any given time or day of the week. It can also closely examine historical data to allow trends to be determined. This can easily be replicated across a number of business operations, for example, in customer relations, accident analysis and vehicle maintenance cycles. Jones highlights that accident data can be analysed to produce a ‘heat map’ of vehicle accident hotspots. This very visual way of displaying the information allows managers to create an action list in a bid to mitigate accidents in the hotspot areas.

“There are a number of companies out there offering ‘dashboard’ style solutions that allow businesses to examine their performance, but I think we are unique with this package,” says Brookes. “Principally, we know the bus industry and the unique environment of the industry, so we can tailor a package that will meet the needs of bus operators. Our knowledge and experience within the industry is a real benefit.”

The expanded range of reporting tools has been in place at McGill’s now for some months and Napier believes it is already reaping benefits. It followed an intensive period when McGill’s and EPM worked closely to ensure the best solution possible. Now the two sides have rolled out the solution to McGill’s management team across its five depots.

“It’s a great business intelligence tool,” adds Napier. “We now have a system that allows us to pull up all sorts of information. We’re finding that it is already informing our own decision making. The days of people having to thumb through bits of paper or tracking through a myriad of spreadsheets are over at McGill’s.”

This article was first published in The Album Report 2018, produced by Passenger Transport magazine.

How EPM is streamlining processes at Blackpool Transport

bus driving through street

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.