Advanced mobile apps to enhance NCT’s understanding of customers in real-time
Posted: 13 October 2016 | Anthony Carver-Smith - Nottingham City Transport (NCT), Tom Quay - Base | No comments yet
Nottingham City Transport (NCT) are introducing a significant upgrade to their existing mobile app offering, including a new mobile ticketing and data analytics system that will allow them to gain greater understanding of their customers in real-time. To learn more, we interviewed Anthony Carver-Smith, Marketing Manager of NCT, and Tom Quay, Managing Director of Base – the company behind the upgrade – who has worked with NCT since 2013 on a number of digital technology projects, including the current NCT mobile apps.
“Over the last three years we’ve learnt a huge amount about what matters to passengers and what doesn’t when it comes to travelling around the city,” explains Tom Quay who founded Base1 almost a decade ago at the age of 27. “We’re now well aware of their expectations when using an app to help them catch a bus. It may seem obvious, but until you live and breathe the feedback on a daily basis you can make a lot of assumptions about what people want in a given situation – and you will rarely get it right the first time.”
Tom describes how his team have used this experience to incubate a transport technology start-up from within their existing software business and built a system that they’ve called ‘Passenger’, which he says will help to put real-time information about customers at the heart of the company’s operations. In an industry that has historically experienced difficulty with implementing cutting-edge technology, he’s open about the challenges he faces.
Tom continues: “It’s not just about building an app and then stepping back. Customers expect a response to their questions and feedback quickly and they want to see that you understand their issues, whether they are technology or service related. Too often, we as an industry have created a digital solution and thrown it over the fence, without any real clue as to how it has landed. If we’re genuinely going to disrupt the customer experience for the better and keep pace with the changing world, we need to work in different ways; we need to innovate.”
The key enabler that Base has built into their new product isn’t the technology itself, but the agreement made between the partners. The contract has been designed around Agile software principles, allowing the apps and system to evolve rapidly and change in response to customer needs and feedback. Experimentation is important too, including provision for controlled tests with customers who are keen to trial beta features and new user experience ideas. The first two Agile principles2 are as follows:
- Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software
- Welcome changing requirements, even late in the development stage. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
The contract isn’t just a license to use the company’s software either. The partners will transfer knowledge at quarterly innovation events, which are an opportunity to strengthen a collaborative culture through interactions between the software developers, designers and operator staff. Shaping the product roadmap and agreeing the priorities together will help to create an ongoing dialogue that helps both sides to empathise with the challenges faced by the other, as they become part of an extended cross-company team.
Anthony Carver-Smith, Marketing Manager of NCT, adds: “We know that in order to embrace the speed of change, we must adapt and explore new types of collaboration with experts who share our goals. Opening up data, backing disruptive ideas and sharing our new-found knowledge widely within our own industry will be instrumental in creating public transport networks that rival the comfort and convenience of the car. As we look ahead, the concept of ownership is already being challenged. Fleets of automated taxis and cars won’t solve the huge congestion problems our towns and cities are facing, so mass transit has an important role to play. Even if we’re not sure what that will look like yet.”
In the era of ‘big data’, companies such as Uber and Lyft are leveraging data to provide the best transport option to customers, and public transport operators cannot afford to be left behind. To this end, the ‘Passenger’ system will help to provide useful insight from the data generated by millions of users as they travel the NCT network in and around Nottingham. The partnership between Base and the Data Science Initiative of Bournemouth University is underpinning the possibilities of ‘Passenger’ to create disruptive applications from such big data.
Anthony comments: “Understanding who our passengers are, their journey habits and where they want to go in real-time is the true power of mobile apps and big data. We’re excited to be leading the development of this capability, as we all start to envisage the city of the future and how our lives – as the people that live in them – will change.”
At launch the new NCT Android and iOS apps will provide a single experience for passengers to buy tickets without the need for cash, or the pre-registration requirement of smartcards. Passengers will get real-time departure information via the INIT SIRI feed; be able to plan a journey; and will also benefit from 24-hour expiry on all tickets. A new mobile-exclusive five-day ticket will complement NCT’s Easyrider range of products, and allow the operator to learn how it might be used by passengers, particularly those who work less regular hours.
“Tom and his team have a real understanding of two key elements for success; transportation and app technology,” says Anthony. “When we saw what they are working on and how they are thinking about the challenges we, as bus operators, are facing now and in the future, it was a no-brainer. Being a partner in the development of these tools is fundamental to our success, and we’re excited to be able to adopt the technology as an upgrade to our apps.”
Anthony adds: “We have chosen Base and their new venture Passenger Technology Group for a number of reasons. Firstly, they know their onions. Secondly, and most importantly, they are challenging our industry to raise the bar in customer service. We know expectations are increasing all the time and apps are fast becoming the main touch-point between companies and their customers. Transport is no different. As an industry of bus operators we need to get good at apps, and everything that goes into delivering the always-on service our customers expect.”
Tom ends with: “We are delighted to be launching ‘Passenger’ with NCT. We already have a long-established relationship with the team in Nottingham and we are looking forward to creating new opportunities for NCT to lead transport innovation in their world-class delivery of bus services.”
Tom Quay founded Base (We Are Base Ltd) in 2008 and has a background in user experience design and programming. With over 18 years’ experience of working in creative technology roles, Tom has spent the last eight years enabling transport innovation and behaviour change through well-designed technology. Tom’s key skills are in unifying stakeholder vision and turning complex requirements into real-world applications that are simple to use. Under Tom’s guidance, the team at Base have delivered large-scale smartcard management, mobile app ticketing, network dataset management and real-time journey planning systems for transport.
Anthony Carver-Smith joined Nottingham City Transport (NCT) in 2002 and is a bus man through and through. After a couple of years working on the front-line in Customer Services, whilst he completed his degree in Business and Technology at Nottingham Trent University, he has undertaken several roles within NCT including network development, customer complaints and quality control. Since 2009 Anthony has been the Marketing Manager for NCT and has responsibility for all customer communication across all channels. NCT’s award-winning social media and approach to digital technology comes from Anthony’s hands-on involvement and – dubbed “Mr NCT” by followers – he enjoys direct conversation through social media with his customers.