B.C. bus company on the road to Microsoft platform

The Coast Mountain Bus Co. said Monday it is starting on a project that would integrate applications affecting much of the Greater Vancouver multi-modal transportation network.

Starting in June, public transit provider Coast

Mountain Bus Co. (CMBC), said it will migrate from a mix of Novell and Microsoft platforms to an environment based entirely on SQL Server and Windows Server. As part of that plan, the company will also use BizTalk Server 2004 to integrate its PeopleSoft HR, financial and fleet management systems.

Abby Kidd, CMBC’s director of IS, said the company has already standardized to the SQL database and rid itself of most of its Sybase databases. The integration effort is important, she said, because CMBC provides shared services to its parent firm, as well as many of its other subsidiaries, including West Coast Express, Albion Ferry and West Vancouver Blue Bus.

With financial and fleet maintenance applications on two different databases, Kidd said there was great difficulty moving data back and forth. At one point, CMBC thought it would be too expensive to deal with this problem in-house, so it turned to outside vendors to create custom interfaces. That created what Kidd called a “black box” effect that has cost CMBC up to $150,000 in the past.  

“We did not know what was coming through the box. All we saw were the inputs from one, and the outputs from the other side,” she said. When there was a problem reconciling numbers or trying to find out why things didn’t come through, it took great pains to trace everything and to run separate transactions to just identify what was wrong.”

David McJannet, Microsoft Canada’s senior product manager of e-business, said one of BizTalk’s advantages is its integration with Microsoft Office. Customers such as CMBC, for example, could tie in maintenance and financial information from its database into an Excel spreadsheet and monitor the metrics that are important to their business. The Excel file in turn could be used in a Microsoft SharePoint portal to create a real-time dashboard.

“Say they want to know every time something happens and alert them if a particular expenditure gets above a certain amount,” he said. “It may be that in their minds they have a key performance indicator which, once reached, they have to make a business decision.”

That kind of availability would be a lot more appealing to CMBC than the process it had for gathering business intelligence in the past, Kidd said.

“When we went back to vendors to ask them what’s happening in here, they were quite happy to talk to us — for a fee,” she said.

CMBC expects to complete its over-arching Microsoft migration project within the next two years, and will do the work in three phases. This is another advantage of working with BizTalk, Kidd added.

“You can just use a little bit of it and to the point-to-point transaction of moving the data across,” she said. “The next phases will be a little bit bigger using the orchestration tool, the transformation capabilities.”

Although CMBC has an IT staff of about 50 employees, the plan is to tender out the work to some system integrators, Kidd said.

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