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This is one of a series of live blog posts directly from the site of the 2013 IFS World Conference in Barcelona. Business journalist Adam Tinworth is a veteran of Reed Business Information and a lecturer on digital journalism at City University in London. His first-hand impressions are accompanied by illustrations of Matthew Buck, cartoonist for Drawnalism.

Mike Gosling, Cubic

WoCo2013_CubicCubic was founded in 1951, and has two core businesses, defense support and automated fare collection systems. In the latter group, they have 400 systems in use across the world – and all are unique. They’ve just secured installations in Sydney and Chicago.  They handle London’s Oyster Card, which has been incredibly successful – 30 million cards in use since 2003.

Each system they provide has specific service level agreements (SLA)s. No two customers are the same. Big electric gates that move have health and safety issues. Some SLAs are as quick as an hour for a breakage. This is partially due to the safety issue, but also the huge revenue loss while gate safe out.

They been using Metrix since 2002. Metrix has since been acquired and integrated by IFS, and is now the IFS Metrix Service Management product. It’s very configurable, and you can model your workflow and business processes in the system. They have 30 or so contracts in the UK, and can model each of them in the system. They’re using the software completely without customizations – they can do everything at the configuration level without modifying the source code.

They use functions like call logging, contract management, call management workflow, asset management, and workshop repair. They don’t just install the gates and walk away. They support them, and that begs a number of questions each time there is an issue with a deployed piece of equipment.

First thing: who owns the task? That’s assigned within the software to an appropriate technician, and the system shows the technician what needs to be done, and how to resolve the issue. They put tight escalations on the tasks, so they are driven through to completion expediently.

Some of their deployed equipment reports their own faults, which may be fed automatically into Metrix.

Allocation of work used to be done by a team of resource controllers. Transport for London (TFL) is an innovative company. Cubic don’t want to take them for granted as a customer. TFL wanted subsystems at every booking hall in London. They went from 6 SLAs to thousands. That was more than the controllers could handle. The best way to get around the tube network to effect repairs is to ride the tube – but that constrains the ability to carry spare parts. So, you have to run a repair and logistics stream in parallel. Oh, and the engineers disappear from IFS Metrix Service Management when the go underground – there is of course no signal down there!

360 Scheduling

With 170 engineers, multiple SLAs and competing priorities, dispatching was just getting too complicated for people – even very smart people – to handle.

Enter IFS 360 Scheduling, a very, very powerful calculator. It used advanced algorithms to take into account SLAs, skills, schedules, current technician location, preferences and certification, and assign and dispatch the right technician for a given task. But to make it work, they had to understand the SLAs. They couldn’t have one customer “bullying” or cannibalizing service from another. They and to go through the SLAs page by page to get the information to feed into IFS 360 scheduling.

Once the information is in the system, IFS 360 Scheduling makes the hard choices. Engineers would typically do a job at their local station first thing – but that might not be the most important job to get done. It takes an overview of the whole situation, and the consideration of multiple variables.

IFS Metrix Service Management can also run two transport networks side by side. They have a tube and a road system, and they can switch engineers between the two. That means they can have parts delivered to tube-travelling engineers. IFS worked with us to create an Advanced Shift Planning Module that is now part of the product, because they didn’t want to integrate IFS 360 Scheduling with Cubic’s HR system for auditing reasons.

There was some trepidation about the implementation of automated scheduling – engineers were worried their preferences wouldn’t be respected. Resource planners and dispatchers were worried their jobs would become redundant. That wasn’t the case. They’re now managing the exceptions rather than the routine ones.

There’s a fine balance between giving the engineers too many jobs and driving out flexibility, but also frustrating them by only giving them a job at a time. A member of Mike’s team spent time in the field, supporting the engineers. They came to see the benefits, including scheduling of jobs near home towards the end of their shift. Cubic’s service organization held the line, and encouraged the business to adapt to the system, even as they fine-tuned IFS 360 Scheduling to conform to expectations.

The key SLA they mange is downtime. They managed to reduce downtime by 20 percent using the same number of engineers and resource controllers. That allowed them to take on new or expand existing contracts.

Today, if a gate malfunctions – it reports that to IFS Metrix Service Management. The software’s business rules know that the best thing to do is to send an engineer, and sends the job to IFS 360 Scheduling, which allocates it to an engineer. That engineer then gets everything he needs, including the work package, on his mobile device. He does the job and reports completion, which is fed back through IFS Metrix Service Management. One human touch only – the engineer.

Lessons Learned

Engage the users of the system and those affected by it early in the process. The can supply gems of ideas and will end up buying into the system more. Don’t accept the push-back – get the board to accept managed change. Hold your nerve. The routes automated software like this makes will look very different – but they work.


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