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How Does Technology Help Bus Operators?

One of our recent projects was to build a data warehouse for a bus operator and this post has been written to reflect upon how technology is helping this industry.

As a starting point let’s look at the business drivers for the project before expanding out to other areas not directly involved in our work.

The project was sponsored by the commercial team at the customer and the first phase concentrated on revenue with the primary goal to:

“Ensure consistent and meaningful data comparison for all types of bus revenue, using the tools that are currently available to develop a central tool available to all Commercial Teams”

This would lead to delivering the following objectives:

  • Better informed ticket pricing decisions (across all ticket types)
  • Improved route profitability analysis as off-bus revenue will be more accurately assigned
  • Improved budgeting/forecasting
  • The objectives will be delivered by allowing Commercial Teams to coordinate efforts, moving away from “data extraction” to “business partnering”

The primary goal highlights one of the main issues that the customer faced and this was the wide distribution of data. Revenue from bus travel can be generated from various sources including:

  • on the bus itself
  • contracts from local authorities
  • concessions from local authorities (e.g. students, OAP’s)
  • private hire
  • tickets purchased at shops (eg newsagents)
  • on the web and via mobile technology

Here is the first place technology can help. By using ETL tools (in our case Informatica and DAC) all these disparate systems can feed into a single target warehouse where the revenue data can be stored.

However all of the above sources will have various methods of storing the data, from relational databases to spreadsheets to paper invoices – pulling all these sources together into a state that Informatica can use also requires the use of various technologies.

  • Spreadsheets will require moving to a central location for processing, requiring file servers and ftp technology to move the files
  • Databases can be accessed directly but this does rely on the infrastructure to support this (e.g. suitably sized network to cope with the data traffic)
  • Paper invoices need manually entering into some form of data store to be processed (in our solution we had a spreadsheet upload facility via the Web ADI technology within Oracle E-Business suite for manual revenue upload)

So now we have all the data on the revenue transactions in one place already using a lot of technology. But just having the transaction data doesn’t help the customer in making business decisions or being able to meet their goals. It needs contextual data to go with it. For example which financial period was the transaction in, what’s the name of the bus route it was on, which bus was used on that journey on that route, what was the source of the revenue? All this type of information needs to be gathered as well, so similar technologies where used to gather this data and load into the data warehouse in a similar method to the transactional data.

One of the interesting dynamics of this project was that we had various systems which used the same attributes on its data (e.g. Ticket Type) but had different codes for the same thing. For example something as simple as the code for an Adult Single bus ticket would be ‘AS’ in one system but ‘AdultSing’ in another. The management of these kinds of issues is Master Data Management and for a project like ours having a single system to control this makes things much easier, so again this where technology comes into play. There are various dedicated products available for this but these can be expensive and the benefits are generally not seen outside of the IT department, this quite often leads to them not being high on the budget priority! It is possible to make do with other non-dedicated systems, and in our project we made use of the Lookup functionality within E-Business suite as this was already available and being used. It did however lead to quite an overhead for maintenance and wasn’t ideal – although was functional.

At this stage we have a database full of useful data but no way of accessing it, so again it’s still not of much use to the customer. Here the next layer of technology comes in. Our customer already used Oracle Business Intelligence for other areas of the business and specifically Oracle Business Intelligence Applications, so this was an obvious choice for analytical software (and we designed the warehouse as an extension of the BIApps warehouse to leverage this functionality). After the use of all this technology we had a system where the customer had consistent data coming directly from the sources, which enabled them to perform all types of comparison of revenue against various attributes and allowed them to meet their objectives.

So in order to realise this project and help the customer meet their goal, the technology included:

  • Technological infrastructure (network, servers etc)
  • Desktop tools (Microsoft Excel, Web browser)
  • FTP and file servers
  • ETL tools
  • Databases and development tools (SQL)
  • Business Intelligence software
  • Master Data Management

Outside of the project we ran, the customer uses various other technologies to solve problems within its business and some examples are:

  • Getting transaction data from buses into central systems – Wireless technology is used to download data from tickets machines on the buses every night at the depots
  • Making bus use easy for customers  – Mobile technology (mobile app) is being used to allow customers to buy tickets and monitor when the next bus will arrive at a bus stop
  • GPS technology for bus location to feed into the above app
  • Proprietary software for the generation of timetables and bus schedules
  • Office software (email etc for communication)
  • VPN software for remote working of office based staff
  • Garage technology for vehicle maintenance and testing
  • Security technology for access to offices

As can be seen from the above technology is now critical to the bus industry and helps in many ways, not just in the Business Analytics arena but throughout the daily running of the company.

 

Written by Robin Harris

11 Feb, 2016 by

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