EPM Group aims to support bus operators as they grapple with uncertainties.
It’s a challenging time for bus operators with continuing uncertainties surrounding future funding, the building back of patronage following the Covid-19 pandemic, driver shortages and increasing traffic congestion.
Many are placing their operations and networks under the microscope, but software solutions specialist EPM Group (EPM Bus Solutions and Omnibus Solutions) believes the answer to many of the problems created by these complex issues can be found by focusing on improving efficiencies and streamlining processes.
“We’ve been working very closely on the efficiency chain,” says Nick Brookes, software director at EPM Group. “We are looking at the complete range of interactions that take place in any bus operator to see how we can help them realise savings and become even more agile.”
The focus of EPM Group is on realising efficiencies by creating an integrated operational platform. The key components of this vision are drivers and depot allocation, customer services and accidents, and engineering processes.
“We want the data and processes from each of those stages to talk to one another,” explains Nick. “Bus operators create huge amounts of data, but a lot of it is lost in translation. We want to take the data and translate it into information that enables bus operators to become more efficient.”
Helping with driver retention
Driver and vehicle allocation has been a key focus for the group. The Omnibus depot allocation system, OmniDAS, for real-time driver and vehicle management has been enhanced with a move to the cloud and the addition of a smartphone app that creates a complete self-service system for drivers to manage their working life. This includes the ability to offer remote sign-on facility, meaning drivers don’t even have to visit their home depot to sign on for work each day.
Nick believes the sum of these parts is a system that can assist operators to improve their driver retention goals, an important development at a time when much of the industry is struggling with shortages.
“It can really help drivers manage their home life while ensuring they are informed and connected with their colleagues,” he explains. “They can see their shift patterns, apply for overtime, swap their shifts – in other words, they don’t have to go to a front desk or speak to someone. There’s still oversight of what’s going on, but it becomes a back-office process. It makes things more efficient for everyone.”
Nick reveals there are plans to build on this self-service approach. A new bulletin board system within the app aims to supplement the traditional depot noticeboard, allowing staff to review important company information on the go.
Further enhancements are likely to see the app integrated into EPM’s accident management systems, in other words, drivers will be able to record vital details and evidence in the immediate aftermath of an accident. And on that EPM plans to later this year improve its accident reporting solution with new features that will assist operators in tracking accidents from when they happened right through to closure and then analysis afterwards. Nick adds this will allow operators to scrutinise insights that will help them drive down the possibility of a similar accident reoccurring.
Those plans to integrate the app and accident reporting hint at other aspirations. Nick is keen to evolve the EPM Group of solutions into an expanded platform that helps bus operators realise efficiencies. He describes this as being about creating a “single source of truth”.
“What we want to do is create outputs for operators that offer a good, accurate and consistent overview,” he adds. “We want to streamline workflows and integrate them across the business.”
Nick highlights the operations platform elements of EPM’s offering. “Our Customer Resolution Centre is integrated into that,” he explains. “We wanted it to work harder to help operators rebuild patronage and it’s an area where some operators have struggled in the past.”
While other systems are about logging these interactions, EPM’s platform aims to be more proactive in addressing them. It can automatically consolidate customer feedback from multiple sources to produce a complete overview of customer interactions.
“It means operators can respond to customers quickly and efficiently from a range of platforms, including social media,” adds Nick. “Downstream processes, such as creating feedback forms from the staff involved or evidence requests are automated. It’s about resolving the issue quickly and creating a consolidated view of the entire process.”
Another example of that integration is in engineering systems. While EPM has no plans to create an engineering solution of its own, it is working with third-party providers to ensure systems ‘talk’ to one another in order to streamline processes.
Nick says a good example is if a vehicle is off-road for repair: the engineering system will talk with EPM’s systems to ensure the depot allocation system (OmniDAS) knows that the vehicle can’t be allocated for work for that day. It means that telephone calls or potentially unreliable paper-based methods between engineering and operations departments are avoided and there’s also the advantage that the entire process is automated.
Tying it all together
A big focus for some time for the EPM Group product team has been on control room processes.
“Our BIRS (Bus Incident Reporting Screen) solution enables operators to work flexibly and efficiently, but we want to expand on that,” explains Nick. “A lot of information already flows into and out of the operator’s control room, and we want to consolidate that data into a single dashboard. This is a key focus for us because it will allow control room staff to make more informed and proactive decisions.”
He adds that this process will take disparate systems out of their silos, consolidate them and then use historical data to allow operators to determine trends.
“Efficiency is a big focus for us this year,” Nick concludes.
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