Need, the mother of invention
Whether through business acquisition, merger or demerger, significant restructuring of any organisation presents opportunities to reinvigorate process and champion best practice. What’s more, if implemented correctly, considerable time and cost efficiencies can be achieved.
Here, Bruce Gardner for NSL recalls how need really was the mother of invention for the business. In addition, he explains how the system that was developed has gone on to provide a platform for continued cost-savings across new NSL contracts.
Business critical situation
NSL is one of the biggest transport services businesses in the UK. The company is the largest provider of on-street parking management services in the country, working with over 40 local authorities and two government agencies as customers. The business also provides a range of transport and related services to public and private clients, such as debt recovery, CCTV monitoring, coach and patient transfer operations, notice processing and street design consultancy.
Although launched as a brand in 2009, NSL‘s history goes back more than 75 years, originally as part of National Car Parks (NCP). Rapid growth and significant change in the new decade saw it demerge from NCP to NSL Services in 2007.
At that time, the company faced one of its biggest challenges to date. The solution to which ultimately led to its back office processes being revolutionised, providing immediate cost savings.
Under the terms of the demerger, NSL only had a six month transitory agreement within which to replace NCP’s existing software system used to collect, record and reconcile cash from car parks and on-street parking machines.
"It was, without doubt, a business critical situation," explains Bruce, "as failure to replace the system meant we would be unable to operate."
However, rather than taking a ‘quick fix’ approach and look to replace like for like, NSL chose to re-evaluate its process completely and brought onboard software specialist Enable, whose team has a significant track record in the industry.
Counting the cost
"The Enable guys had the capability to understand the business issue first before developing the optimal technical solution to resolve it," continues Bruce. "By interrogating the underlying processes employed at that time, Enable was able to identify what systems and operations could be made more efficient, and allow technology to do more of the processing."
It seems an obvious approach to the situation, but with such a short, rigid timescale and significant budget constraints looking to develop and implement a bespoke solution could be perceived as naive.
"The potential benefits far outweighed any time and cost constraints," explains Bruce. "As the lifeblood of the business, the system developed had to not only solve the issues we faced at that time but be robust enough to meeting the need of our growing business. Otherwise it would have simply been total false economy—we had to see this challenge as one of opportunity."
The system developed had to not only solve the issues NSL faced at that time but be robust enough to meeting the need of a growing business.
In the initial consultancy phase, the Enable team identified three daily processes that were historically carried out:
- Collecting money from ticket machines, counting it and inputting the data into the company’s system
- Hand-filling a daily analysis sheet on a car park by car park basis to provide detailed management information, for example, if people were let out without paying and the reasons why, and manually entering the data
- Processing of an audit ticket on a per machine basis which would then be entered into the company system manually
These were then run through the existing software system to identify any discrepancies, allowing management to review, investigate and reconcile the company’s figures.
Having understood the business challenge, Enable then designed and developed a software system that not only met the existing system requirements but improved them. By developing a daily analysis system as part of the new software package itself, the Enable solution reduced the three business processes to just two; effectively creating an efficiency and process saving of 33%.
"The solution from Enable delivered time savings in reporting and reconciliation, as well as improving the quality and robustness of our cash management business," continues Bruce.
"The software is used to manage hundreds of parking machines on a daily basis and in the first four months of operation, there were a nominal number of issues raised with the Help Desk team, some of which related to users forgetting their login details or requesting changes. The number of post implementation bugs and support calls is at an unprecedented low for the business relative to other projects from the past."
The system, delivered on time and to budget, has been deployed in all new NSL contracts which involve off street car parking. Providing significant flexibility, it has allowed for extensive customisation to meet the specific needs of local authorities working with NSL.