Software Disconnect

The other day I attended a half-day (three hour) seminar on Practical Project Management. Although the seminar was very good the events of the day surrounding the seminar made me shake my head in disbelief. The disbelief came from my tendency to analyse and pick fault with computer systems: I am a computer programmer after all!

The severe weather conditions we’ve recently experienced within the UK are dreadful. Flooding has affected a fair proportion of the population. To attend the seminar I had a three hour train journey either side of the event. Yes, for those who do the Mathematics, I spent more time travelling than the duration of the seminar. My journey started a 4:30 am. I successfully arrived at the station; however, the local train station is rather small and no staff were about to ask which train I should board (there was four trains) I checked the departure’s board to ascertain the correct platform. Their system was simple to understand and I determined that I needed to be at platform three. I boarded the train having the whole carriage to myself. I was on the correct train and quite pleased. The train started to pull away from the station, a few minutes into the journey the automated announcement system started. To my surprise the voice explained that this train was destined for “Sheffield”. “What!”, I thought to myself, and started to panic. Thankfully, the ticket inspector entered the carriage a minute or two later and confirmed the train was destined for Manchester. Glitch number one! The rest of the journey to Manchester went smoothly. The journey back was another story.

Having attended the Project Management seminar I made my way back to the station. Again, I headed straight to the departure’s board. I could not locate the Trans-Pennine Express to Cleethorpes at 13:10. Although, I did spot one to ‘Sheffield’, operated by the same train company and departing at the same time. I thought to myself, “may be they only list big cities as the departure and destination points”. To double-check I quizzed an official, asking “Which platform for the 13:10 to Cleethorpes?”. The official confirmed the platform as the same one I had spotted on the departure’s board. Another data glitch? May be. There was another digital display at the entrance to the platform. This one listed each station that the train will stop at. It clearly showed Cleethorpes as the final destination: not ‘Sheffield’. Trivial but potentially confusing.

I boarded the train and found a seat. The train departed on time; however, right before this there was an announcement – by a real person – explaining that this train would terminate at Sheffield not Cleethorpes. This was because the line between Sheffield and Doncaster was flooded. Highly inconvenient, but, with the weather conditions wholly acceptable. The next glitch soon followed.  Minutes after we departed the automated announcement system declared this train would indeed go all the way to Cleethorpes. The same automated announcement repeated within a few minutes. A hasty retort followed apologizing for the contradicting announcements and the human voice re-iterated the termination point was Sheffield not Cleethorpes. Before the train arrived at Sheffied the ticket inspector explained anyone intending to travel beyond Sheffield would need to transfer to the substitute bus service to travel between Sheffield and Doncaster.

As planned the train terminated at Sheffield and those passengers connecting made their way to the bus area. Frustratingly there was no bus to be seen. Even more annoying was the information on the computer system. It read something along the lines of, “There are no problems incurred due to the adverse weather conditions to either the train of bus network”. Really! The bus didn’t arrive for another 25 minutes.

That’s my ramble over. My point here is that this highlights so many small deficiencies within our computer system. For example, if the rail network had passed the information onto the bus network the transfer could have been far smoother. In a perfect world, if this data had been exchanged the bus company could have had a vehicle ready and waiting. Additionally, the subtle differences between each of the departure boards and announcements could have been the same – but only if a consistent data-set was available to all parties. In other words the software must be connected and the information should be shared for the systems to work to the level we all desire.

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