Public transport may be valued by millions, but there is no denying the frustrations for both customers and staff when delays hit a service. The major issue ends up being the lack of information to hand, meaning travellers and employees can feel helpless when faults occur, unable to know what needs to be fixed and when everything will be running smoothly again.
However, with mobile technology, these surprise occurrences can be lessened and problems on lines can be addressed faster than ever before.
One transport company which has embraced the advances in cloud computing and remote access via mobile devices is Svenska Tågkompaniet AB (TKAB), the rail operator of Tåg i Bergslagen, X-trafik and Värmlandstrafik in Sweden.
Establish in 1999, the company runs 56,000 train services every year, serving 5 million customers. However, it has a relatively small number of employees, standing at 350.
Before 2005, communications between staff at TKAB was paper-based, leading to a lengthy process and a lack of real-time information for those working on the railways. It decided to adopt rugged Microsoft Windows devices soon after and instantly saw benefits, both in money savings and efficiency.
The devices were expensive to maintain, service and replace, the application was limited and the capabilities of consumer smartphones had come on in leaps and bounds
Håkan Jarl, chief operating officer of TKAB
“But this solution had given us a number of challenges,” explains Håkan Jarl, chief operating officer (COO) of TKAB. “The devices were expensive to maintain, service and replace, the application was limited and the capabilities of consumer smartphones had come on in leaps and bounds with iPhone and Android leading the way.
“We had new requirements for new applications as well so we started looking at the market.”
Knowing mobile could make TKAB a smoother operation, the search began for a new solution. However, the operator had very specific needs.
“There were the large systems integrators of course, but our budget constraints and our project scope didn’t really fit working with those guys, so we looked at a very small group of specialist suppliers focused in this area” adds Jarl.
TKAB settled upon Appear after seeing its work with other transport firms and discovering it was able to offer a cross platform solution, stopping them being locked into one device or operating system (OS).
“Appear also proposed us to join a large European Initiative, MobiCloud, which is a broader program led by the European Commission (EC), aimed at building a number of enterprise mobility applications for industries such as ours in the cloud, says Jarl.
“We were keen to leverage the latest research that comes from that project and learn from mobile deployments in other countries and industries.”
TKAB decided to adopt a number of solutions based on the Appear IQ platform. At the back-end is a cloud based mobility platform which has enabled mobile clients to rolled out on Android and iOS based devices to 330 employees, while 30 users in its control centre, as well as external contractors, have got access to a web application.
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The operator has then built its own suite of applications on top of these solutions giving better functionality and efficiency to the workforce than ever before.
Apps include a team communications system, which includes live mapping of staff to finds the nearest person to help or fix any issues, a reporting solution so damage reports get to the right people as quick as possible – with added photo capabilities – and an app for helping maintenance workers get damaged trains booked in fast, with the capability for other employees to check the progress on the job.
There is also a live traffic reporting programme, live timetables and traffic alerts so everyone is notified of any delays on the network.
“Behind the simplicity of the solution is masked a lot of complexity,” says Jarl. “The whole mobility solution is integrated with our back office information systems, as well as systems from the national rail authorities to provide for example live traffic information.
“The context capabilities of the platform can be used to decide how information is distributed based on who is logged in, what their position is and current assignments.”
He adds: “The platform also provides information back to Trafikverket and Tågkompaniet to ensure compliance to our SLAs - for example helping TKAB avoid heavy fines by ensuring that reports are correct and consistent.
The deployment of these systems took TKAB and Appear six months and despite fears due to its previous mobile experiences, the operator said it was one of the best run IT projects it had ever embarked on.
The beauty of the mobile data platform we now are using is that it's designed to accommodate more systems in our IT infrastructure... over time
“The main difficulty with mobile projects is the satisfaction of the end users (our employees) who are relying on the system day in and day out for their work,” explains Jarl.
“For this project we relied on specific groups of “super users” that we recruited at a very early stage (when designing the application), so that they could contribute to the development process and the training programs, and ultimately, support our implementation to the entire organisation.”
TKAB is currently buying the mobile devices for its staff, but in time this will change.
“A goal of the project is that both employee’s own devices and company-owned devices could be used,” he says. “We can let employees keep the devices after 12 to 18 months and this acts as a great incentive for them to take care of [them.
“We see this as a very smart way to avoid having to invest in expensive ruggedised devices.”
Now the company is enjoying the benefits, estimating it has saved more than €100,000 alone in administrative work it would have spent without the new systems.
Overall infrastructure costs have also been cut by 40%, but the biggest saving is the ability to reallocate resources and manage them more efficiently – something TKAB predicted would save €800,000 annually.
“The beauty of the mobile data platform we now are using is that it's designed to accommodate more systems in our IT infrastructure and even our business partner’s infrastructure over time,” concludes Jarl.
“Following the success of this first phase, new areas will be addressed, [including] mobilising systems such as Remote Rolling Stock Management that provide communication between the rolling stock and the operations centre and monitor the status of the vehicle. We would then not stop at the operations centre, but instead empower our mobile train drivers with this communication.”
TKAB was the winner of cloud innovation of the year in Computer Weekly’s European user awards for networking. To read more about the other winners, click here.