National Express may be best known for its ubiquitous white coaches, but the business also operates a sizeable urban bus network around Birmingham and the West Midlands. After adopting business intelligence (BI) software from Qlik for self-service analytics in 2014, the company has now rolled this out to its bus department over the past 18 months, and has been using the visualisation capabilities to optimise its routes, right down to adding or removing stops.
Frank Kozurek, director of business intelligence at National Express told Computerworld UK:"The main benefit we have seen is supporting network planning and asking: do we continue to operate these routes as we always have?
"So that ability to optimise our network will enable us to deliver routes better and optimise our fleet, which is a significant part of the cost base."
The coach company rolled out Qlik View as its first centralised BI tool back in 2014, as reported here, and started expanding its use to the bus division 18 months ago.
When assessing BI tools for that bus division, National Express embarked on a full technology assessment but landed again on Qlik, specifically its more self-service oriented Sense tool.
"I think the key difference is that View has always been very strong in terms of customisation for developers and I think the downside is that ease of use is deteriorated," Kozurek said. "Sense gives enough developer flexibility without impacting the ease of use and the more data you can get using and creating data means more value."
The bus division had "no true enterprise BI capability" but the company had recently installed new ticketing solutions onboard, allowing for contactless payments, so having a BI platform to interrogate this new wealth of data was integral.
"Sense brings all of that data together, but also allows us to present it in an intuitive way with mapping, to give a visual representation of our network to make better decisions and interrogate data with those maps at a high level of granularity," he said.
This enables the route planning department to really dig in and optimise routes for better fleet planning and more constructive conversations with local transport authorities.
Next, Kozurek wants to add contextual data to build up a more detailed picture of how the network reacts to external factors like weather.
In terms of rolling the tool out, National Express built up a network of 'BI champions' to engage with the new end users.
"We identify key people in those teams and get them engaged with what data and analytics they need to capture," Kozurek explained. "As soon as we can, we sit down with them and have a lot of dialogue and feedback. The good thing about modern BI tools like Qlik is that ability to turn visualisations around very quickly to get some feedback and giving them access and letting them have a play.
"It delivers more value when delivered to people at the coalface, the people that work with customers," he added. "As an organisation we want to put customers at the heart of what we do and understand where we are doing well and where we could do better."