Harnessing hybrid

Harnessing hybrid

MV Transportation is building on its rich 40-year legacy by investing in hybrid innovation, both in its own internal applications and customer facing solutions.

“It is so easy within a technology company of today to build what you think a customer needs,” muses Ray Lowrey, CTO at MV Transportation. “The real challenge is to truly understand and build what a customer needs, and this philosophy is testament to the core of what MV Transportation is about.”

Recent years have seen a stark movement of the goalposts in the transportation industry. Modes of transport are being integrated like never before with customers reliant on real time data to plan their journeys. Gone are the days of paper timetables and waiting in hope for a bus or train to arrive.

For the past four decades MV Transportation has provided safe, reliable and affordable transportation services to cities, counties, municipalities and other jurisdictional entities, as well as for private corporations, non-profit agencies and community organizations. From paratransit to fixed route operations, the company is now looking to add new solutions to meet current and future needs, harnessing the power of its own team of engineers and expert partners to develop and deliver solutions angled at passenger and, just as crucially, driver needs.

Central to this is CTO Lowrey and his team. “I focus predominantly in three key areas,” he says. “First is traditional infrastructure across our 200 US locations, ensuring all of our servers, networks and phone systems are all operational and meeting our needs. The second area relates to our internal applications – our financial, sales, marketing and operational applications, making sure they provide the functionality needed to run the business. The third and arguably the most exciting is development of customer facing solutions. We work very closely with our business development team and customers on extensive market research to see where the industry is heading, using all of that input to develop and deploy new solutions.”

Technology is being taken seriously from the very top of the business. In the late summer of 2015 MV held a detailed strategic planning workshop, outlining a number of paths the company plans to invest people and capital into. Technology was one of these four key areas.

Internal transformation

In order to develop and deliver the hybrid transport solutions of the future, the company recognises that ongoing change from within is an important pre-requisite.

An example of this in motion has been MV’s expansion of the use of Salesforce.com over the past year. Lowrey explains: “We carried out a very detailed analysis of all the business development processes and how we can make greater use of the platform, evolving from traditional sales functionality and automation to become more of a customer health checking application. Visibility of information is key to this.

“We have already seen a number of enhancements, from improved business development processes to making sure we focus time and energy on the right opportunities, and making sure we communicate the status of these opportunities effectively to our staff. The workflow functionality within Salesforce has been leveraged much more effectively as a result.”

MV Transportation has made a several advances in its product development processes. For example, the company has established product teams and reinforced its focus on understanding and interacting with customers, making sure what it builds into various products is what they want it to deliver.

Migration to the cloud is another vital component to be explored this year. “We’re looking at the cloud both from an internal and external point of view, whether it be looking to move our email and office products to Office 365 or moving our customer facing products to a cloud platform,” Lowrey says. “As far as Office 365 is concerned, we need to make the move a non-event for employees to minimise disruption to the business. It is not something we are going to rush into and requires very careful planning.”

Moving to the cloud will allow the business to scale in a more cost effective manner, removing the need for heavy investment in on-premise hardware and physical equipment. Lowrey also believes that the ability to integrate internal and external systems is enhanced through the cloud versus a legacy platform. “Cloud will add value to both the customer and us as a corporation,” he adds. “The focus now is on the ability to integrate as much as it is to develop new software.”

Paratransit and fixed route: shrinking boundaries

MV Transportation’s own drive to become more agile as an organisation has been spurred by a key industry trend – the blurring of boundaries between what were once standalone divisions in transport services.

The next 12-18 months will see MV cater for this growing trend through development of its own on-demand, real time transportation solution. With a number of clients operating a mixture of paratransit, fixed route and bespoke shuttle services in between, Lowrey is pressing ahead with the development of a system to match these needs.

“We are building on our investments made in 2016 by adding new features and functionalities,” he says. “The area we see a huge amount of potential in is the shuttle market. For example, corporate clients looking to move individuals from A to B or even a university campus with a mixture of fixed route and specialist shuttles such as journeys with wheelchair access vehicles.

“The ability to have a real time on demand-type service is what we are looking at. As we invest in that platform other opportunities will present themselves – the lines are becoming much greyer and we must respond to that. This presents both challenges and opportunities. If you stay in the mind-set of the past where there were black and white divisions between those services, then you will be left behind.”

Shuttle services are becoming ever more popular facets of transport systems and networks across the USA, often serving as a private extension to public transit infrastructure. Key benefits include the reduction of traffic congestion, improved responsiveness and increased mobility of consumers. They also serve as a means to improve the attractiveness of an employer or public venue.

Although this is very much an internal project, MV has for decades been partnering with technology vendors to maximise efficiency and speed to market with a number of solutions, especially in the paratransit arena. Among the systems developed with external suppliers include Automated Scheduling Systems, Mobile Data Terminals/Mobile Data Computers, Automated Inspection Tools, Farebox Equipment, On Board Video Systems, and Maintenance Management Information Systems.

MV has established strategic partnerships with industry leaders such as Trapeze, Syncromatics, Verizon and others.  “In order to achieve the optimal balance between time to market, strategic value and overall cost, we have forged strong relationships with a select group of companies to deliver the best solutions for our customers,” states Lowrey

Maximised knowledge

Combined with MV’s internal development team, the knowledge base from which Lowrey can draw upon is vast.

“We have a very experienced, very talented core development team. Individuals with years of experience within both the industry and technology, which is the perfect balance,” he explains. “We have also worked very effectively with vendors who allow us to scale rapidly if we need to.”

That MV is a household name in the industry, whose products impact the daily lives of thousands across the US, also helps attract the finest engineering talent. “Being the largest private provider of managed transit services in the US and drawing on the true success stories over the past 40 years certainly makes MV an attractive place to seek a career,” Lowrey adds. “When you sit down with individuals and explain how their solutions will impact so many people relying on transport systems, it is a big pull factor. We are all about our customers and how our engineering can deliver for them, their passengers and their drivers.”

By continuing to develop its own bespoke solutions and harnessing the power of expert vendors, MV Transportation will continue to lead the way in its domestic market.

Lowrey concludes: “There are so many opportunities in our domestic market, not least with school buses and shuttles. We believe that the runway in the US and Canada is very long and this is very much where our attention is right now.”

Ray Lowrey