.NET helps wheels go round at bus company

Replacing a manual procedure for recording customer information with Web-based software is a major overhaul for any business used to doing things ‘the old fashioned way’. According to Western Sydney bus company Westbus, introducing a Microsoft .NET solution for its day-to-day operations has given staff a user-friendly way of easing into online business management.

Westbus business development manager Daniela Fontana said the company’s new .NET-based system was developed to log customer requests and complaints taken at the Westbus head office in Parramatta as well as its five bus depots.

Information received by Westbus customer service representatives is typed into a Web-based form and added to the company’s central database. This information is then accessible to head office staff for use in company reports and statistics. The system incorporates Crystal Reports to generates reports which are exportable to Adobe Acrobat PDF.

In addition, the new .NET-based system is used to take bookings for Westbus’s charter bus services.

“When the charter clerk has an inquiry from a school or individual about booking a bus, they can type the information into the database, which uses specific criteria to help them calculate the quote,” Fontana said.

Westbus also uses the new system to produce daily driving sheets and depot schedules, she said.

Rather than a cost savings exercise, the decision to implement the .NET solution was driven by the need to improve the company’s overall business efficiency, she said.

Prior to .NET, the customer service team would hand-write requests or complaints, which were then manually entered by a third party into Excel spreadsheets.

The .NET-based system is now being used by each depot’s charter clerk, as well as its customer service representative. At the Westbus head office, the company’s small call centre team and management staff also have access to the system, Fontana said.

Although staff were initially resistant to learning a new computer system, Fontana said feedback so far was positive.

“With any change, there’s slight resistance,” she said. “Overall, however, staff have found it easy to use.”

The new .NET-based system, which has been in place for the past month, was produced for Westbus by Microsoft software development partner Superior Software for Windows (SSW).

Cameron Shaw, a project manager from SSW, said the system was developed as an ASP.NET intranet application system and is based on a four-tier layered application design. These layers consist of a database to store data, a data access layer (reading and writing from database), a middle tier (containing business logic used to develop criteria for Westbus’s charter bookings for example), and a user-friendly presentation layer (Web pages).

Shaw said .NET was suitable from the development perspective because of its rapid application tools and datasets. It also integrates with Crystal Reports as well as Microsoft Great Plains software used by Westbus’s accounts department, he said.

The development and deployment of the system took around a month and a half to complete, Fontana said.

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