OV-fiets: how do you keep the service agreeable?
08 October 2018
OV-fiets, the simple and typically Dutch concept that is meant to get the traveller to his or her 'actual' destination, has been a success for more than ten years. But the use of public transport bicycles – the OV-fiets – has grown so fast that it is no longer a matter of course that you can get a bicycle at any time of the day. The software platform behind the bicycle service is also under pressure due to this growth. So how do you ensure that the user of OV-bike continues to find the service agreeable?
More than 3.2 million OV-fiets rides in 2017
The blue-and-yellow public transport bicycle is an integral part of the Dutch streetscape. The concept was launched in 2003 and last year the fleet amounted to 14,500 bicycles, equivalent to more than 3.2 million rides, a third more than in 2016. The number of subscribers rose to no fewer than 500,000.
These trends have been visible at OV-fiets for a number of years. Fast and scalable software is needed to support rapid growth. What NS (the Dutch National Railways) had was not sufficient so they approached us to design and develop a new system.
Three pillars for development
The development of the new public transport bicycle platform consisted of three main pillars: product vision (how the user will use the system), technology vision (how we will make the product as well as how it can migrate from the current platform to the new platform while the operation continues), and the collaboration vision. The goal: jointly create a sustainable platform that puts the traveller first, but at the same time keeps the employee in mind.
To start with, we researched the ecosystem. It is precisely customer service and the people who maintain the bicycles and issue them at one of the three hundred rental locations who know where operational friction is located in the old system. Through qualitative research and the application of different service design methods we delved deep into the OV-fiets ecosystem. This gave us insight into the real problems underlying the bicycle service:
- The workflow was not optimal – the back-office employees had to consult a large number of systems to be able to do their work;
- Unit leaders and the district manager do not have all the data needed to properly plan fleet capacity;
- The data was incomplete and the customer flow was inconsistent, partly because there are manned and unmanned rental locations with their own pick-up and delivery processes.
A practical example: minor repairs are usually done at the rental locations but for major problems the bicycles are sent to external repair shops. It was then not clear to the unit leader where a bicycle was during maintenance and how long it would take before it could be included in the operation again. In addition, the data was not always in order, so errors were made in invoices and bicycles went missing.
In order to determine how it should be done, through various service design workshops together with specialists from the NS, we drew a picture not only of the OV-fiets ecosystem but also of all the different 'customer' journeys. The 'customer' is both the traveller and the different types of users who work with the OV-fiets platform. We then went on to talk to real users, looked with employees and analysed exactly how the communication between different parties proceeds. This created a picture of the desired situation and the potential for improvement.
The next step is to devise a service blueprint, including the roadmap and a step-by-step plan to get from the current situation to the new platform in a controlled manner.
The starting point for developing a new system was that if the main stakeholders can do their work better, the whole flow will be better. And, of course, the traveller notices that too. The analyses we did showed that there was a need for two solutions: a fleet management application and a repair application.
Fleet management application: FRAME
The fleet management application is called FRAME. It is a dashboard with almost real-time statistics showing the use of the bicycles, the history of bicycle transactions and all other information needed for a proactive operation. This has made it much easier to prevent complaints by anticipating them.
From the dashboard application you can deduce, for example, that a rental location has structurally lower demand than the available capacity. You could then transfer those bicycles to a busier location. Without this application, the operation was mainly reactive and due to lack of time and missing information, action was taken mainly in response to questions from users.
An important part of good fleet management is knowing where bicycles are during the repair process. Minor repairs to bicycles are usually carried out at the rental location itself, but major repairs are carried out by external parties, and it is precisely those that were not part of the OV-fiets processes.
New automated communication channels have therefore been opened between the parties concerned. Repair orders are automatically created and sent and can be tracked in FRAME. This makes it clear to everyone which phase of the repair process bicycles are in and how long each step takes. This efficiency boost gives the back-office employees more control and more time for other matters, while bicycles are picked up for repair earlier and can therefore be taken back into circulation more quickly. As a result of this new workflow, there is also better cooperation.
Repair application: FIXIT
As mentioned above, minor repairs to bicycles will be carried out at the rental location if possible. This is a chaotic place, which makes it difficult to keep track of what exactly is happening. As a second application, we therefore developed a tool to make all this easy to manage, called FIXIT.
In the old workflow repairs are noted on a piece of paper that is placed on the manager's desk. The tablet app makes this easier, making employees feel more comfortable at work and standardising the data feed. The workflow is tailored to someone with dirty hands working in a workshop. This requires visualisation and simplicity.
For example, a bicycle is now repaired when a defect has been reported, but preventive checks are rarely carried out and certainly not recorded. By incorporating warnings in the new system and drawing up a maintenance plan per bicycle, fewer unexpected repairs are needed. With FIXIT you know which repairs are regularly needed, which take too long, which cannot be carried out due to lack of parts, and so on. And in time, this information can also be seamlessly reintegrated into FRAME.
Faster handling of customer cases
In summary: FRAME is a real-data analysis tool that provides an overview of the entire ecosystem and is accessible to both customer service and back-office employees. FIXIT is the repair tool for the teams at the rental locations and feeds FRAME with data on the history of the bicycles. Together they provide the necessary insight to enable the processes to run more smoothly.
This has a direct effect on the consumer. Not only is it easier to hand in and collect bicycles, but the number of bicycles in the storage facility according to the trip planner app is also more accurate. FRAME feeds the planner directly with this information, so users rarely miss out.
The employees of OV-fiets think it is an improvement: the user experience of FRAME is given a 7.4 or higher and the time needed by customer service to handle cases is reduced by 25 to 50 per cent.
Over 80 employees now use FRAME, and FIXIT is being rolled out further as MVP, before development continues in stages. Work is also continuing on FRAME. As long as OV-fiets continues to grow, the system will grow with it. Because OV-fiets must, of course, remain the most popular share bicycle in the Netherlands for the next ten years.
This article was published earlier on Emerce.