After decades in the IT in­dus­try, Ian Mitchell trans­ferred his skills to buses by de­vel­op­ing an au­to­mated sys­tem to aid op­er­a­tors in their day-to-day deal­ings

After decades in the IT in­dus­try, Ian Mitchell trans­ferred his skills to buses by de­vel­op­ing an au­to­mated sys­tem to aid op­er­a­tors’ day-to-day deal­ings

ABC (Australia) - - CONTENTS - WORDS RUZA ZIVKUSIC-AFTASI

The job of a bus op­er­a­tions man­ager is all-em­brac­ing – from plan­ning, di­rect­ing and co­or­di­nat­ing bus op­er­a­tions to su­per­vis­ing staff and know­ing the where­abouts of a sin­gle stu­dent.

That’s why Ian Mitchell cre­ated his own bus op­er­a­tions soft­ware sys­tem.

He dis­cov­ered that smaller bus op­er­a­tors have even more prob­lems, so he de­vel­oped a ‘pa­per­less of ce’ to en­sure all as­pects of the busi­ness were as au­to­mated as pos­si­ble.

Hav­ing driven school buses in Bris­bane for three years to earn ex­tra cash while re­tired, Mitchell soon re­alised the con­straints a bus op­er­a­tions man­ager faced on a daily ba­sis.

Not only did ev­ery­one within the com­pany de­pend on the man­ager’s knowl­edge, but that per­son be­came in­creas­ingly irreplaceable. The smaller com­pa­nies faced an even greater chal­lenge be­cause the owner/man­ager had to do it all on their own.

Mitchell, 76, who’s been in­volved in the IT in­dus­try since its early days, took it upon him­self to re­write the ma­jor sys­tem – which was started in 2003 – and cre­ate a sim­plied, web-based soft­ware sys­tem that would take away the chal­lenges a small bus com­pany faced. This has led to a ‘pa­per­less on­line sys­tem’ called ToursBW (www.toursbw.net).

The pa­per­less on­line sys­tem can be run on any com­puter de­vice which has a browser, in­clud­ing smart­phones, and main­tains a list of cus­tomers, ad­dresses, ve­hi­cles and driv­ers, with all the data stored se­curely on the web­site. Cus­tomers are of­fered a free 60- day trial, with the on­go­ing cost be­ing $50 a month.

“When I was work­ing at a bus com­pany, I re­alised the chaos that re­sulted when­ever the sched­ules were dis­rupted by some crises or other,” Mitchell says.

“The op­er­a­tions man­ager had to do ev­ery­thing; essen­tially they were the cri­sis man­ager.

“When you’ve got 40 buses on the road, there is al­ways a cri­sis. When you have one or two buses on the road, es­pe­cially when they may be sub­con­tracted, there are still crises. The man­ager had to make de­ci­sions based on their knowl­edge of where the bus was, as well as any re­lated is­sues such as a par­ent who needs to take their kid off the bus.

“They would have to ad­dress all th­ese is­sues from ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause there was noth­ing else avail­able ex­cept in spread­sheets that helped them con­trol which bus was go­ing where,” he adds.

“Many de­ci­sions I’m sure cost the com­pany a hell lot of money be­cause no one is per­fect, cer­tainly not un­der those stress­ful cir­cum­stances.

“Also, if they weren’t there, it of­ten didn’t get sorted out at all.

SIM­PLE YET EF­FI­CIENT

De­signed for small op­er­a­tors, ToursBW of­fers 24/7 cus­tomer as­sis­tance.

“My per­sonal be­lief is that I’ve cre­ated soft­ware which is a ser­vice to the in­dus­try,” Mitchell says.

“The cheap­est com­peti­tors, with sim­i­lar func­tion­al­ity, are $150 per month. They prob­a­bly are a lot fancier than mine and cer­tainly ashier.

“Mine is a bit pedes­trian be­cause it en­sures that all the bases are cov­ered, so it’s much more ef­fec­tive and efcient.

“The dis­ci­pline of us­ing my soft­ware makes your busi­ness to­tally sound. If you make use of all the fea­tures, you have a com­plete busi­ness.”

Be­cause the sys­tem has been de­vel­oped mak­ing use of open source soft­ware, ToursBW’s over­heads are min­i­mal, which makes it af­ford­able.

USER FRIENDLY

Even those who have never used a com­puter can eas­ily get the hang of ToursBW, Mitchell says.

There are many videos on the ToursBW web­site that ex­plain the sys­tem in de­tail. Th­ese are avail­able with a click or two of the mouse.

“It’s re­ally in­tended for char­ters and tour peo­ple so it com­pletely han­dles all the ofce work they need to do,” he says.

“A cus­tomer can make a book­ing by go­ing to the owner’s web­site, which is linked into ToursBW, and en­ter­ing the re­quired de­tails. The owner can then call or email the cus­tomer with a quote.

“The cus­tomer con­tact is in­ten­tional, so that the cus­tomer then feels that they are deal­ing with real peo­ple: cus­tomer ser­vice.

“The book­ing en­try in the sys­tem en­ables the owner to send the cus­tomer quotes or in­voices or any other rel­e­vant doc­u­ment.

“When the book­ing is con rmed, the sys­tem au­to­mat­i­cally pre­pares the jobs re­quired for the work­sheet, which is ef­fec­tively the daily di­ary for the busi­ness.”

While ToursBW has only been live for six months, it con­tin­ues to grow.

“It’s ideal for op­er­a­tors with as few as one to ve buses,” Mitchell says. “And this price will only in­crease when the eet grows be­yond six buses.”

Mitchell, who’s been in the com­puter in­dus­try since 1963, says he’s pas­sion­ate about the bus in­dus­try be­cause, for some, it’s a “real bat­tle” out there.

“The guy that’s run­ning his sin­gle bus has got a lot of pa­per­work to keep check of; he has to run a di­ary, have a cou­ple of books and usu­ally needs an as­sis­tant,” Mitchell says.

“He needs some­body to be able to look after the sys­tem while he’s not there.”

There is one bus com­pany cur­rently us­ing the sys­tem and Mitchell hopes to see the num­ber of cus­tomers grow soon.

Mak­ing use of 50 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in com­put­ers, he has de­signed ToursBW with its own se­cu­rity, in­de­pen­dent of any other se­cu­rity sys­tems.

If you make use of all the fea­tures you have a com­plete busi­ness

Clock­wise from op­po­site

page: ToursBW founder Ian Mitchell; The in­ter­face is easy to use; It’s sim­ple to keep track of costs

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