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Bringing Car Hire to the 21st Century — Modernizing Allowed & Service Month

— RailConnect™ Car Hire

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Role

• User Research, product design
• Met constantly with Class l, Class ll, and short line customers and other stakeholders
• Figma, Zeplin, Miro, Adobe suite
• Duration: March 2021 - September 2021

What is Car Hire?

Car Hire is a rail car lease management software used by both car owners and leasers to automate their accounting processes. It has three main services; Payables, Receivables, and Reports. This product solves a massive need within the industry by efficiently managing the processing of car hire for railroads, while quickly and accurately calculating car hire and reclaims for hundreds of payable and receivable customers.  

Why are we Modernizing?

Car hire happens to be one of the top three short-term expenses/liabilities of railroads in addition to fuel and labor. Unfortunately, this product has not been revamped in 10 years which has caused delays in working car hire or fixing bugs. Our old data architecture has prevented adding new and cool features which have become a standard for our newer competitors. We have even lost customers to them. As is, Car Hire is incredibly complex and requires heavy training to even understand the information presented. The bar to entry has been set high and sadly we are seeing a loss of knowledge due to the aging workforce. 

Understanding the Context

Product Feature / Data Structure Auditing

First, we audited the product to map out the main features and the connected data modules of each. This helped us sort out the volume as well as the complexity of the data modules under each feature.

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Operational / Data Structure Map

Second, we split features into two categories and divided each into three tiers. A pyramid structure helped us identify the most used to the least requested features and the data. This give us a clear picture of the feature's priority which help us set up our roadmap for modernization. Our conversations also elicited many ideas to fix or upgrade features that were captured on the Miro board. 

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Cross-functional Team Workshop

Lastly, we conducted a workshop with the product owner, product manager, subject matter experts, customer service representatives, and tech leads to collectively define our vision and goals for CarHire modernization.

The outcome revealed three overarching issues: constant back and forth between modules and long drill-downs to find exact information, lack of ability to manipulate data to extract suggestions, and heavy dependence on the 'knowledge of the elders' creating a massive learning curve.

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Goals

Business Goals

• To stay ahead of the competition by meeting the updated functionality standards and be able to add more. 

• Revisiting the codebase by starting from scratch in a new coding language to better align the architectural logic and build a stronger connection between products in the Wabtec product portfolio. 

User Goals

• Have a modern UI to attract new users and to shorten the length of training. 

• Enable users to easily find the information sought by reducing the back-and-forth between screens and flattening the navigation. 

• Provide recommendations to help make decisions or solutions to problems through training sessions or community support to enable users to take charge of their own Car Hire.

Vision

Car Hire is a modern streamlined industry-standard service that provides visibility into tailored data analysis for customers and end-users/analysts to efficiently manage beginning to end of leasing and/or renting rail cars without leaving money on the table. 

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Primary Research 

The goals and vision set the stage for modernizing Car Hire. We followed this up by conducting surveys and interviews with our customers and end-users to understand their needs.

Key Insights

  • High bar to entry application because need lot of learning sessions

  • Easy and faster access to appropriately scoped data analytics. Reduce navigating and consuming multiple reports to find the information they need.

  • Easy access to solutions either from other customers or us. Lack of knowledge of reading reports and taking necessary actions in Car Hire. Reports do not help make decisions by providing recommendations.

  • Reduce disorientation and back-and-forth different modules within the CarHire apps.

  • Flatten navigation so that information is on a single page (drill-down) The UI to be less structured on drill-downs and improve the efficiency of screen

  • Outdated appearance does not delight users and isn't following any accessibility design standard.

Attitudinal UX KPIs

After synthesized all the interview notes and survey results, we defined our three main attitudinal Key Performance Indicators to measure if we qualify qualitative data at the end of the day.

1. Efficiency — to reduce disorientation and find information quickly
2. Flexibility — to scope data based on need
3. Intuitiveness — to reduce the learning curve 

Archetypes

CarHire user community is divided into two groups: renters and leasers. Each of which uses specific services within the Car Hire ecosystem, Payables, Receivables, and Reports, to meet their needs.

In order to encompass the many variations of our users and their needs, we encapsulated them into 3 archetypes based on what they can do in the system; the superuser, the editor, and the viewer.  

By creating archetypes, it helps us to immersive ourselves in user's behavior and motivation and what the different groups is doing and what they desire to achieve. 

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Behavioral Parameters

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To start with
— Allowed Month

Allowed Month Module is a heavily used research and report tool used by both analysts and executives. Working on this will create a high impact and even get buy-in from our customers as well.

Allowed Month provides users calculations on how much they are paying for car hire in the current month, how many discounts they will receive, and how much they potentially will pay for the next month. In addition, users can drill down into data to answer questions like fluctuations in amounts, patron or car-specific aggregates, etc.  

Current Situation

We mapped out all existing workflows of Allowed Month to learn of its capabilities, to identify inefficiencies in information and working process, and to define missing capabilities. By doing this activity we found the same sets of data being repeated on multiple screens, long drill-downs without cross-connections forcing the user to repeat the process over and over to compare and connect information, and lack of flexibility in breaking down the data. None of which was bringing the user value. 

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How Did we Modernize?

Data Taxonomy

We mapped the column structures data taxonomy of different pages to understand where the data was fed on and how they are connected across the pages. This exercise brought to light the repeated tables and their many variations.

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Information Architecture

At this point, we needed to drive efficiency by standardizing each page to have it's own functionality. Creating a IA diagrams helped us determine the best structure and hirerchy to organize and label content at hand. This could make the screens more intuitive and find information fast without disorienting the user.

As an outcome, we streamlined the columns into three main level of pages: Monthly Breakdown, Equipment List, and Equipment Detail page. 

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Task Flow

Based off the new IA, we connected the dots and create a new task flow. To better explain the new flow, we drawed the current task flow to help rest of team members easily compare and understand the direction we are moving forward as well as the potential feasibility concern from data architechture side.

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Prototype &
Usability Testing

We knew we needed more than a diagram to illustrate a new idea and so began wireframing to develop the prototype. We were able to visually showcase potential features to enhance the module like a query feature, column customization. This allowed us to clarify details on the pages like data structures, component arrangements, visual hierarchy, and interactions.

Wireframing

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Interactive Prototype

The Grouping feature was a response to feedback from users need to dissect data without knowing what to look for. This feature essentially breaks down the data based on categories selected and their hierarchy. Both of which can be altered based on questions uncovered.  

The dynamic Summary and the Grouping features provide users with the flexibility to analyze and dissect data per their needs.

When the user knows what they are looking for, they can take a targeted approach of querying the data. Thus getting them to the information fast. 

Usability Testing

We runned sketch prototype with internal stakeholders and once we got the go-ahead, we recruited users from different company scale such as short lines, class 1's, and holding companies, etc., to test the Hi-Fi mockups.

We broke down the validation sessions by the three main level pages that mentioned earlier: Monthly Breakdown, Equipment List, and Equipment Detail page. This allowed for each conversation to be an hour long and be more targeted to the many features on the page.

At the end of each session, we asked pointed questions to evaluate against our three main attitudinal UX KPIs to ensure our model was successful.

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Design Iterations

Monthly Breakdown

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Equipment List

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Equipment Detail

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Flow Chart Revisit

While we were iterating on UI, the feedback from customers also lead us to revisit the flow chart. We explored different approaches to guide users from A to B instead of a linear process.

This land us a brand new feature - Create grouping, in which users can easily group a category of content to be a set and have the flexibility to reorder the tier of different sets. As a result, the grouped Data table could help them detect the business risks and the potential growth.

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Create Grouping

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Final Delivery

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Takeaways

  • Socialize efforts across the company to ensure everyone knows what is being worked on and to get buy-in to push the project into reality. 

  • To draw the line between flexibility and standardization, we evaluated our users' requests against technological feasibility and the number of requests. 

  • We constantly connected with our UX peers to share outputs, get feedback and create UI/UX standards for RailConnect's portfolio of products. 

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