Author: Pieter Riley
IT Director at Qbuzz b.v.
When I was a kid, I had a crush on Cindy Crawford. But, like any celebrity crush, I knew she was way out of my league, so I set my sights on someone who was a better fit for me. As silly as it sounds, it’s the same thing in business.
A good reputation and state-of-the-art solutions are just part of evaluating a partner. Companies make better partners when they fit your business style and needs. Only then can you start developing the relationship required to make strategic decisions for the future.
At Qbuzz, a Dutch public transportation company, the future of public transportation is in our hands. Qbuzz operates 900 buses in South Holland, Utrecht, Drenthe, and Groningen. Public transport in the Netherlands is divided between several companies, which presents a difficulty for passengers. They just want to get on the bus to get where they’re going and not worry about whether they have the right transport card for that system.
A few years ago, Qbuzz embarked on a project to develop a new way of payment in public transport. With our new payment system, they can do that by paying with a bank or credit card. It’s a simple change on the surface, but it’s required a massive undertaking on the back end to get the project done right.
I arrived here 18 months ago, and am now Director of IT. When I arrived, Qbuzz had begun work on the payment project, but there were still a lot of challenges to overcome around networking, planning, fleet management, and payment.
We experienced several network outages when dealing with different providers, and we also have legacy network issues in our back-office systems. We were in a vicious release cycle, constantly releasing new versions of the software. We had one person working 40 hours a week on just releases, which bled into operations—rolling out so many releases meant they lacked quality, and we had to spend time on patches and fixes.
We also had to improve throughput. When something broke, it took more than 100 days to fix within our Relationship Management Application (RMA). That’s too long, and there was no sense of urgency. At the same time, we needed to work on governance. We had to establish how we would work together and what we could expect from other team members and our external partner.
We had a rock-solid relationship with our previous provider. Still, to launch our new payment program and boost our technical capabilities, we needed to find a partner better aligned with Qbuzz. Qbuzz is relatively small, and we haven’t had the best experiences with large, corporate-driven companies. We needed a smaller, agile partner to be successful, and we found that in Enghouse Transportation. Now we rely on Enghouse for an end-to-end solution that includes a PoS system at eight service points and a back-office solution that processes payments.
This project happens to be about a payment process for public transportation, but there are a lot of challenges for any large-scale project, including hardware and software compatibility and building, testing, and rollout considerations. These processes are measured in years, making it difficult to switch from one partner to another. So, embarking on a project like this is about building a relationship with a strategic partner who can help with a specific project today and help with your needs tomorrow, next month, and next year.
On my first day at Qbuzz, I got a call from our Enghouse service manager, and we’ve been building a relationship ever since. Every week, we engage in a “Enghouse Wednesday Afternoon,” where my team and the Enghouse team meet to talk about issues, go over new releases, and discuss service levels and operations. This process has created a constant feedback loop, where we depend on each other to catch problems and know who is responsible for what.
Part of setting expectations means asking what needs to change. Our IT department consists of 50 people, but now we have two people solely dedicated to this payment program. On their part, we wanted improved quality assurance from Enghouse when it came to new releases, which they provided by giving us a specific product owner. He’s great: engaged, knowledgeable, and available on-site to perform pre-tests together. That way, if something goes wrong, he can fix it immediately.
In a crisis, people get creative. I joined Qbuzz during the pandemic, but that didn’t slow down the project. We continued to work collaboratively using Microsoft Teams, and eventually, the restrictions eased enough for us to get back into the office to perform testing in our test lab. Enghouse worked with us side-by-side—only masked and six feet apart.
We are now in the pilot phase, testing the new program on two bus lines. We’re learning from the pilot and hope to be ready for a large-scale rollout in the summer of 2022. Under the hood, we have already seen improvements: We have cut down the number of versions from seven to one. We’ve decreased the number of incidents, and instead of it taking 100 days for repairs to return to our stock, it now takes 15. With fewer hiccups, my team spends less time fighting fires, which means they can take on further projects and big goals, like getting us to carbon neutrality by 2030.
Even though Qbuzz is a transportation company, we’ve doubled the size of our IT team in the past few years as we’ve increased our focus on IT. In a sense, we are more of an IT company, because these days a bus is essentially a driving computer. When we changed network providers, we had to change 3,000–3,500 SIM cards for our 900 buses. I can follow the bus along every second of its route, in part because we must substantiate every route completion to the government. The amount of cabling in a single bus only increases as we shift further to electric vehicles. As we add processes to support the increased digitization of transport, we require IT specialists in more roles, from development and support to business intelligence and our website.
This project has been transformational throughout our organization, spilling over to the business side. We will become closer to the commercial marketing, finance, and operations departments as we add more products. The technical parts of a project always have their challenges, but the change management element is much more complicated.
In our world, the driver is the president of the bus. So even though they’re not technicians, we must explain the change in the payment process very clearly, so they know what’s happening. They’re the person who must hear complaints if something goes wrong, so they should know how the technology works and what to do if it doesn’t.
Everything moves so quickly in IT that it’s hard to look a few years down the road. But as Qbuzz and Enghouse continue to work together, we expect the level of operations will continue to improve. The stakes are high because this is a national program, but we’re confident of our success because we’ve got a great partner.
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