In the past decade, the face of mobility has seen significant change – and shows no sign of slowing down. Transportation providers will continue to face challenges that arise from increasing financial pressure, shifting demographics, and disruptive technology. To keep pace, providers need to seek out solutions that will allow them to do more with less.
Transit software comes into play to enable scalability and flexibility in this changing industry. It provides a suite of powerful, platform-independent tools and services to manage, monitor and improve service delivery, ridership and employee performance in real-time.
Before diving into the implementation plan itself, it’s important to understand what an agency stands to gain from this technological investment. Here are the 5 key benefits:
The right software will improve transit metrics such as ridership, on-time performance, fuel costs, and satisfaction rates. As your business scales, automation in scheduling and dispatching processes become more and more vital in increasing operational efficiency. Through automated optimization of schedules, transit software allows providers to redeploy internal resources dedicated to maintaining cumbersome systems and performing manual time-consuming processes, ultimately increasing vehicle capacity utilization to provide more, and better quality trips.
Across the US, government entities and transit agencies are facing the challenge of providing higher levels of transportation services with less funding support. Freeing up internal resources and increasing the utilization of transport capacity directly brings down cost.
The second aspect of cost reduction lies in schedule optimization. Running the right routes in the right order is essential when it comes to cost reductions. With the help of transit software, agencies can identify any route excess and be able to adjust based on time spent to complete a route.
Transit software gives you full visibility into the day-to-day operations and systems, from scheduling to dispatching, which allows you to easily identify areas for improvement. Some transit software can monitor the actual utilization and lifecycle of your agency’s vehicles. It identifies the actual number of passengers onboard during the hours of service. This helps prevent the use of more costly vehicles when possible and guides procurement. It can also help to keep track of scheduled maintenance.
Transit software gives you the ability to monitor driver behavior which increases accountability. Drivers are made aware of early or late status, and you’ll be able to review their current locations. With their everyday tasks streamlined and automated, dispatchers will also be able to be held accountable for issue resolution.
With rider safety as a top concern, agencies need to find a way to address this concern effectively. Transit software gives you visibility into the rider experience and operator management. Good software will also prevent drivers from being distracted by the software while driving, allowing interactions only when the vehicle is stopped.
Just like with any other agency change, software implementations are challenging, and anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something. Without the right knowledge and approach, your new transit software could end up causing more problems than it solves. Here is a strategic plan for a successful implementation:
Understanding the ‘Why’: Software Requirements
Before even looking into your options, take a step back to understand why you’re implementing new transit software in the first place. This boils down to problem-solving – identifying the issues you’re currently facing, and what you hope to achieve out of the software (goals). In other words, build out your software requirements.
It’s crucial to be specific about what you need in a software package. Adding modules you don’t need adds to the cost of the purchase. On the other hand, not having must-have functionality you need to solve for your issues defeats the purpose.
Deciding the ‘Who’: The Right Transit Software Provider
Transit software solutions aren’t off-the-shelf products. They usually include an RFP process tailored to your pre-defined requirements. This is where you’ll need to do your due diligence in selecting the right transit software provider.
Software vendors provide various solutions incorporating several aspects of operations such as reservations, dispatching, service scheduling, fleet maintenance, and customer feedback. In addition to the operational aspect, you should also review other key differentiators such as customer support, flexibility, and reporting platforms.
Determine the source of funding: Will you use grants or existing funds?
Timeline of cash flow: You’ll want to know when the money will be available to be able to plan out a timeline accordingly.
Return on investment: Figure out what the ROI looks like in order to justify the purchase.
Definition of Agency Roles
Project manager: This person will act as the point of contact and agency representative to ensure the project stays on track with timelines.
Software champion: This is the internal resource who will be the subject matter expert for all software-related questions.
Key operational staff: These are the people who need to be involved early in the implementation process to be familiar with the product and how it works before in-person training sessions start.
Identify stakeholders: Determine early on who you’ll be dealing with to ensure project success.
Determine influencers: Identify the stakeholders who have influence within the community and with whom you’ll need to actively engage.
Keep stakeholders engaged: Build out a plan for how you’ll keep key stakeholders involved throughout the project.
Long-term process: Determine how this implementation will fit in with big-picture organization efforts and how that affects when the software can be implemented.
Staff availability: Identify resources who will work project tasks at any given time during the implementation.
Sticking to the timeline: Assign the project manager the responsibility of ensuring the project schedule is maintained.
Deadlines: Clearly state deadlines along with the consequences of failing to meet them.
Communication is the single most important element of any project and the best predictor of its success.
Identify all parties you’ll need to communicate with: Partner agencies, customers, internal staff, and stakeholders.
Establish a communication framework for each party: Decide who needs to be responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed at specific points in the project, when those people should be communicated with, and by what methods.
Maintain the communication: Follow the communication plan including regular project meetings with distributed notes, action items, and upcoming tasks.
The 3D Approach: Data, Drivers, and Dispatchers
Data: Don’t blindly import data “as-is” from the software you were using. Use this as an opportunity to perform a data clean-up and standardization for future operations. Take advantage of data templates from your new software provider that show all the fields that your new system can manage for you. Like all computer systems, the accuracy of your results is going to depend entirely on the quality and quantity of data being inputted.
Drivers: The speed at which you transition from going live to claiming success on the implementation is heavily dependent on how effectively you get buy-in and compliance from your drivers. While you may have experienced professionals behind the wheel, some drivers may not have a strong grasp on technology. Having structured on-the-job training with them and practice with the new technology is worthwhile to help familiarize them with the new system in place.
Identifying a champion among drivers is also essential. Find people who can influence others to be open-minded about the changes, and who can mentor other drivers and answer their questions both on the technology and how any new procedures fit into agency policy. This will expedite and ease the process far more than you might imagine.
Dispatchers: Dispatchers see obvious benefits of transit software in their day-to-day operations. They can view and track all the vehicles in their fleet at a glance and enjoy automation in previously cumbersome processes. However, in order for them to truly be able to reap these benefits, they need to be fully comfortable with how the new transit software works. Similar to educating drivers, time and effort need to be put in to train dispatchers on new systems to get them fully operational.
Full Transfer of Operational Knowledge
It’s important that every level of your organization, including managers, understands and knows how to utilize the software to its fullest potential. The goal is for all internal resources to be able to leverage and maximize the benefits of their new transit software implementation. It’s important that this happen in advance of the Go Live, at a pace that allows them to not only understand the system, but to become comfortable with it in their new workflow.
Go-Live Game Plan
Have a clear and defined plan for the Go-Live of the new transit software itself. You’ve put in the work in building the foundation, and now it’s time to execute effectively.
All hands on deck: Be fully staffed during the software launch. This signals to customers that you care and that every effort is being taken to make sure the transition goes as smoothly as possible.
Procedures for common situations: You’ll also want to ensure your team is fully prepared to handle the transition. Prepare scripts and procedures for situations that are likely to arise in this phase of the project. This will help take the pressure off your staff from having to think on their feet and gives them a better idea of what to expect.
A system for unanticipated problems: No matter how well you prepare, there’s bound to be unforeseeable issues. Provide staff with a clear system, or guidelines on how to react. Make sure staff knows how to professionally handle feedback, how to report them, and how follow-ups should take place.
Rely on your software provider: This won’t be your software trainer’s first rodeo. Ask plenty of questions in advance and rely on their judgment during and after the Go Live sequence. A good software company will not only have experienced staff in the field, but also a robust team backing the on-site staff in real time to support and multiply their efforts.
Your new transit software has been fully implemented, and the Go-Live procedure was a success. Now what?
Ongoing training: Even though training took up a significant portion of the implementation schedule, there’s still a lot of on-the-job learning and development to be done. You should also conduct regular check-in with employees especially in early days to ensure they are applying training correctly.
Role modification: Now that your transit software has enabled efficiencies in various areas, roles and responsibilities may need to shift accordingly. Perhaps fewer people are needed on a task and those resources can be dispersed to other more pressing matters. Perhaps staff with particular skills may now be cross-trained to back up their colleagues in different areas.
Ongoing monitoring: Transit software implementation lasts for a set amount of time, but there will always be room for improvement and optimization. It is up to you to leverage its reporting abilities to continually monitor and track progress. Also, make good use of your ongoing relationship with your Support department to leverage their experience and ask questions about how to make the best use of the insights you’re now able to gain from your system.
In some cases, communication can make or break a project. Proper communication during the implementation of a new technology is crucial to the success of the project, and one of the most important groups to update is your agency’s customers.
2. Not Communicating with Partner Agencies
All partner agencies that you provide services to should also be receiving proactive communications from you. It’s important that time is taken to understand how the system and operational changes connected with new transit software implementations may affect these organizations – and to share this information with them.
3. Not Communicating with Drivers
Your drivers are your agency’s ambassadors on the road and are ultimately responsible for enacting any procedural or technology changes in daily operations. They need to be included early in the implementation process. This allows for their concerns to be heard and addressed and any operational issues associated with the transition resolved beforehand .
4. Not Reviewing your Data
When implementing software, it is really tempting to just import your data “as-is,” and then clean it up later. Like all computer systems, the accuracy of your results is going to be completely dependent on the quality of the data being put into the new software. Fix those errors before you import data. Your daily work will become much easier.
5. Assuming Management Does Not Need Training
Among other reasons, it is important for agencies to have managers who fully understand the software system so that they can clearly communicate new requests, tasks, and explanations in a way that takes into account new processes and applications.
6. Not Having A Go-Live Game Plan
Even with the best of efforts, software Go-Lives don’t always run perfectly smoothly. It is important to have a clearly laid out plan to prepare for any major or minor hiccups – both anticipated and unanticipated.
7. Forgetting to Cheer
Congratulations, your new transit software has been fully implemented successfully! You’re still making one big mistake, though. With all of the time and energy put into the implementation of the new system, it can be easy to forget to celebrate a job well done at the end. Make sure to take some time to celebrate your agency’s victory and thank all of your staff for their input, hard work and dedication; they (and you) have certainly earned it.
An agency-wide adoption of a new software is no small change. It affects every level of your agency and every aspect of your operations. Mistakes during implementation could mean causing more problems rather than solving existing ones.
A successful implementation requires a significant amount of evaluation and planning with the ultimate goal being a smooth transition to new transit software, where you can confidently handle problems so that partners, staff and riders maintain confidence in your operations.
In summary, it is important for transit agencies to be strategic in the entire planning process. Answer key foundational questions before diving into the project itself, lay out a thorough plan, and be persistent in the execution. This will ensure your transit software implementation will in fact be able to support your business and operational needs.