Despite still not being able to meet up in person, we held our quarterly virtual customer event in March. This enabled us to reconnect with customers (as well as prospective customers) to discuss challenges that have come to light since our last event in December. We also gave an update on the current roadmap and considered any specific requirements from customers.
We value the insights rail operators share with us and appreciate the time they commit to explaining how our products are working for them in service and telling us about the latest challenges they are facing – short-term planning dominated the discussion which is not surprising as rail operators continue to respond to lock-down easing.
Short-term planning (STP) is especially challenging when rail operators need to hold multiple timetable scenarios on standby in response to service level commitment instructions from Government authorities and, at the same time, anticipate actual flow of ridership as schools, offices, retailers, and venues re-open. Rail planners in the UK, US, Canada and Europe usually hold two main timetable changes a year with one or two emergency timetables to cater for anticipated severe weather.
Some of our attendees in this discussion were reporting more than 12 stand-alone working timetables held on standby for deployment. For rail planners that is a significant amount of work and analysis and it was fascinating to hear how some rail operators were within hours of deploying a fully operational timetable only to deploy another scenario. The level of data crunching needed to align trains and anonymous crew to train schedules – that are robust and conflict-free – is a mammoth task.
It was good to hear that our software materially helped ease this process – it contains a scenario/layering process combined with powerful calendar so that multiple train services could be validated and updated ready for use. But life is not perfect – we heard that the process itself can lead to archiving, data-overload and the emergence of bad habits. We are considering offering a ‘health-check’ service to remedy this i.e., best practice and reminders/tips for using the software and re-introducing functionality/short-cuts that some planners may not be aware of.
There is also a recurring theme about the ease of access to data across all systems from all suppliers within each rail operator. This is something that all enterprise software providers will need to respond to. We heard the phrases ‘ease of access to data’ and ‘joining things together’ frequently so we recognise how critical interface management is becoming. We are actively working on data feeds at the current time – not just to products in our own portfolio such as Energymiser® or Fleet Manager used for on-the-day train management, but also to software deployed by our competitors which is essential to keep the railway running.
In January we began upgrading our ‘Resource Manager’ product which is a powerful on-the-day disruption management tool for train schedules. Several customers in the US showed particular interest in looking at this further so a presentation/demo is coming. We have re-named this web and cloud-based product ‘Fleet Manager’ as it is the single source of truth on the actual status of all trains in service within a rail operators’ fleet on-the-day of operation. The software is available for deployment now.
Once again, we really appreciate the time our attendees take to attend these sessions. They are not recorded, and we have no set agenda other than to listen to insights and take feedback on our performance. The next session will be in June 2021 and we will send out calendar invites well ahead of time.