Warrington’s Own Buses is an independent bus operator which has been operating since 1902, serving communities in Warrington and surrounding areas.
With a fleet of 118 buses, carrying over 6 million passengers per year, and covering approximately 5 million kilometres per annum, they needed easily accessible and accurate data to inform their improvement plans.
As part of running the operation and measuring performance, the team at Warrington’s Own Buses were manually collating data from several systems across the business to gather basic information on their operational KPIs.
Collating the information from a number of different reports was time intensive, there was an increased risk of error, and had the potential to impact data integrity. They needed a solution that enabled them to have easy access to the management information and confidence that it would be accurate.
“Generating management reports involved a lot of manual work and it wasn’t just one person in the business undertaking this, a number of team members were doing the same task for different reasons. It wasn’t a smart way to work, taking up a vast amount of hours which would have been better spent on managing the business rather than on collecting data.”
Katie Cringle, Operations Director, Warrington’s Own Buses
Warrington’s Own Buses, an existing customer using EPM and Omnibus solutions, selected EPM’s Insights platform to overcome the challenges they faced with data and reporting.
“I like the responsiveness of EPM and Omnibus, they strive to go above and beyond. They are always looking to evolve and meet customers’ needs, we were impressed with the Insights software and were confident it would provide us with the management reporting we needed quickly in an easy-to-use platform.”
Katie Cringle, Operations Director, Warrington’s Own Buses
EPM worked closely with Warrington’s Own Buses to develop a suite of dashboards specific to their requirements, covering a wide range of their business operations, drawing the data from their existing EPM and Omnibus systems. Each dashboard provides insight into an area of their business, and where appropriate, the dashboards allow them to drill down into the detail.
Areas covered include:
Passenger numbers and revenue
Driver absences, interviews, and disciplinaries
The data is refreshed multiple times a day, ensuring it is always up to date, with no involvement required from the team at Warrington’s Own Buses. The dynamic reporting capabilities enable them to interrogate data and investigate the root causes of any identified issues.
The implementation process allowed for a seamless transition of data from the multiple reports on various systems into the Insights platform. Workshops were undertaken with key stakeholders to ensure their requirements were met with the final output.
Warrington’s Own Buses now has complete visibility of the data from across their network which has improved integration between departments, allowing them to drill down into the data and determine root causes. The platform is used daily across the business to monitor and review performance, having the capability to spot trends and patterns has enabled them to make immediate decisions and put interventions in place where necessary.
Gathering data to create progress reports was time-consuming, but with Insights they have the information available immediately, saving them valuable time each week which they can now use to focus on other areas of the business.
“We all strive for the same metrics and Insights has allowed us to quickly assess the KPIs across different departments. Having complete visibility across the business has led us to work more collaboratively and ensure we’ve all got the same understanding of what the drivers are for the metrics. The platform provides us with the knowledge we need to make informed decisions and drive improvements across the operation.”
Katie Cringle, Operations Director, Warrington’s Own Buses
The future – working in partnership
Warrington’s Own Buses is working closely with EPM on reviewing their dashboards, understanding what other requirements they have, and how we can increase value and evolve the platform further.
White Bus, part of the Rowgate Group, was founded in 1921 and is Berkshire’s oldest independent bus and coach operator. Operating around East Berkshire & North Surrey, they have a fleet of 35 vehicles providing bus services and school and coach contract work to the community.
Previously, White Bus had their Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) claims certified by their statutory accountant, but with an increasing workload and a growing business, they found the process was taking up valuable resource and time.
“I’d go through the terms and conditions, and it was challenging to understand what we could claim for, as the wording can be subjective. It would take up a lot of my time and I felt that our claim was not being maximised.”
-Simon Rowland, Chief Executive Officer at White Bus
White Bus was recommended to speak with EPM Bus Solutions about their BSOG auditing service.
During the audit, the EPM BSOG auditing team discovered that the operator had vehicles that qualified for the low carbon incentive which they had not been claiming for and the AVL & Smartcard incentives. The team reworked the fuel consumption data to account for odometer changes.
“The claiming process has been very straightforward with the help of EPM Bus Solutions. They know the industry, the systems the industry use, and where to look for the data. The BSOG auditing team was helpful throughout the process, and I look forward to continuing the relationship with them.”
– Simon Rowland, Chief Executive Officer at White Bus
The operator received a full audit report, including an evaluation and the completed PSV311 claim form. The report included recommendations such as improving the control and housekeeping over the fuel issues and simplifying the reporting.
The EPM BSOG auditing team increased the claim for White Bus by 23%, saving them valuable time so they could concentrate on other areas of their growing business.
“The EPM auditing service is value for money, our claim has increased, and even when taking fees into consideration, there is still a significant increase in our claim. I recommend all small and independent bus operators to seek the help of the EPM auditing team.”
– Simon Rowland, Chief Executive Officer at White Bus
Claiming Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) funding can be a complex and time-consuming task for an operator, as well as challenging to know whether they have claimed for everything they are entitled to, which was the case for Roberts Travel Group.
Roberts Travel Group is an independent operator founded in 1995 with a fleet of 85 coaches and buses. Based in Leicestershire, they provide a variety of services including coach holidays and day trips, private hire, school services, and park & ride services.
For an independent operator like Roberts Travel Group, the BSOG claiming process can be time-consuming and takes up valuable resources. Previously, Roberts Travel Group had submitted its own BSOG claims that were audited and certified by its statutory accountant. As the scheme has developed and the rules have become more complex, they found the process more difficult.
Jayne Sabido, Finance Director at Roberts Travel Group, said, “the rules became increasingly difficult to understand, we knew the basics, but we were unaware of the extra things we could claim for. We used accountants in the past for auditing, but it wasn’t their field of expertise.”
Following the initial call and a review of previous submissions, Matthew Hanlon, BSOG Director at EPM Bus Solutions, identified areas where they were underclaiming. Roberts Travel Group were unaware that they could claim for their tendered services, which is a common misconception. The EPM BSOG team also identified several vehicles that qualified for the low carbon incentive that had not been included in previous claims, and they reworked fuel consumption data to account for odometer changes.
Jayne Sabido commented, “The EPM BSOG Auditing team are amazing. The whole process from start to finish was smooth, they explained each stage of the process to us and handled the correspondence with the Department for Transport. This meant we could focus on other areas of the business, and we were confident the BSOG claim was in safe hands. I would recommend EPM Bus Solutions to all operators, no matter how big or small, who is struggling with their BSOG claims.”
EPM Bus Solutions provided a full audit report, including an evaluation and the completed PSV311 claim form, which was signed and dated by Roberts Travel Group. After the submission, the Department for Transport raised some standard queries as part of their processing routine, which the EPM BSOG team responded to on behalf of Roberts Travel Group with no changes to the figures as certified.
Matthew Hanlon, “It’s common for areas to be missed when submitting BSOG claims, especially for small and independent operators who may not have the resources. EPM Bus Solutions has over 30 years of experience in BSOG auditing, and we are dedicated to ensuring all claims are compliant, accurate, and maximised for our clients.”
Through EPM Bus Solutions, Roberts Travel Group increased their BSOG claim by 17.5% as well as freeing up valuable management time to focus on other business priorities.
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.
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.