Dynamics Matters Podcast: Ep 51 - How Power Apps changed the life of a bus driver (Part 1)

With special guest Keith Whatling, Solution Specialist, HSO

How Power Apps has changed the life of a bus driver
✔ The use of Power Apps within different industries
✔ The benefits of Power Apps

Transcription

Welcome everyone to episode 51 of the HSO Dynamics matters podcast.

Your regular sonic dive into the world of Microsoft technology related matters and much more besides.

I’m your host Michael Lonnon and in this special two-part episode, I had a great chat with HSO Solution Specialist Keith Whatling.

This guy has such an interesting – and inspiring – backstory as to how he got to where he is today.

And for anyone sat in a job wondering if they do more, or be more …

And for anyone wondering if they have what it takes to stand out from the crowd …

And for anyone thinking they’d like to try something new, but are afraid to just do it …

Then after hearing from Keith you’ll soon realise that anything is possible.

I mean, this is a guy who once drove buses for a living and is now one of the leading Microsoft power application specialists.

So, grab a brew, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Michael Lonnon

Work in the office or work at home?

Keith Whatling

Both. I will literally machine gun everybody if I work in the same place for a duration. So, leaving me at home allows me to not kill everybody in the office and leave me in the office allows me to not kill everybody at home.

Michael Lonnon

DIY or pay someone to do it

Keith Whatling

DIY all the way.

Michael Lonnon

While we are on DIY, particularly when it comes to technology in your own area of expertise around Power Apps, for those listening can you give a bit of background about yourself and where you come from Keith, because you are quite an expert when it comes to Power Apps, but it hasn’t always been your way has it.

Keith Whatling

I’ve done a lot of things in my little life. All the way from selling loo roll and picking up dog’s mess to driving a bus to making applications. It started when I saw a multimedia PC at my college when I was doing electrical installation course and I managed to wangle my way on to a multimedia course back in the day and play with CD ROMs and all this kind of stuff. Making all these cool things back in the 90s when the CD ROM was everything and the Internet didn’t even have a background, your modem made a noise and video conferencing was something you needed a special computer for. I stuck at that for a while and I really wanted to be a graphic designer, but I had no training in it whatsoever, so I just learnt all the software and learned by doing and experience. Then I got into web design e-learning, then the dot com bubble popped, and I found myself on a Sunday on a boat at an office party and on the Monday, everyone was made redundant. It’s one of those things you remember until you die. It’s quite emotional as it was the first time I’d ever been out of work in my entire life. I’ve always had a job ever since I was able to carry a sponge to wash the cars down the street. I’ve always worked, and it was the only time I’ve ever been out of work in my entire life and I had a bit of money so I mooched around for a month and couldn’t figure out what to do. The company I had worked for they had failed because they weren’t selling anything, so I went off in my DIY nature and I found a job selling. I went knocking door to door selling British Gas and standing in the High Street and saying do you want to sign up for this special deal. And it was brilliant and great fun learning to sell, learning to talk to people, and that was the summertime. But when the winter came, my goodness the wind was blowing sideways, I was wet through to the skin it was dreadful and I remember walking out of my house and I saw this bus go past and it had on the side earn around £400 a week or something driving this bus. I went down to the bus garage, and they immediately saw that I was a cut above the rest. Taking the mickey out of me for having red hair, which turned out to be my new nickname for the rest of my life at the bus organisation which was ginger. I worked there and I drove a bus for a bit and worked my way up to being a supervisor and playing a great big computer game, which is controlling the buses. We used to do it by the side of the road with pen and paper. Then we went digital, and we did it all behind a screen and it was there that I got frustrated with this massive carbon copy pad that we had, and someone had a go at making an Excel workbook for that, but it didn’t quite work the way we wanted it to. It was very difficult to update, it wasn’t flexible enough to enable creative control of the bus service. It just wasn’t right. And we kept getting fined and told off. We would even print out weekly sheets at the end of the day and fax them off to all the different carriages and all this kind of stuff. I thought this is bit crazy, so I had a go at building something in Excel that was better. Then they said would we have a crack at redoing this so, me and the guy who built it, we worked together, and we rebuilt it and we gave them a system. They didn’t know what mileage they had lost on a road for seven days so we took it down to telling them what it was like and what mileage they would lose and that was revolutionary. Managers could go in and we had Excel sending out emails with stats, what we’d lost throughout the day and our managers could go into a meeting at TFL and say we lost this much, and all the other bus operators are sitting there with only a rough estimate from some pens and paper. Then we worked on a predictive system for service control.

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Michael Lonnon

How did your background take you from where you were to developing?

Keith Whatling

When I was doing multimedia, I’ve been playing with computers since I was sort of seven or eight years old. I’m not with the programming languages, I get to a level and it’s just like I want to actually make something. I’m a very visual person, I like my graphic designs, I want it to look nice, it needs to work well, like that’s the bit to me that’s important. I can make all the stuff behind the scenes work but I got really annoyed with trying to become a coder it was just so much to get to the end goal that you could never do it, you could never make quality stuff. Back in a day with multimedia, we had these low code, no code tools like Micromedia Director, and author web, which were like, you put a shape on the screen, and it became an ‘if’ statement and then you could kind of build an interface around it. So, when I found power platform, it was a friend of mine I was lamenting the fact that we’ve made this system in Excel and we got, I think, about 12 columns of intel on a workbook, and it changed the face of the company. The way in which we gathered this data, it was only little bits of data. I got into my head that if we just had a few more columns, if we had a few more instances like that, where we got some additional intel that we didn’t have before, some more data that we didn’t have before then all of a sudden, we would have more epoch moments where we were catapulted off to do something even better, even greater. I thought, right, we really need ways of getting rid of the rest of the paper forms that are knocking around. A friend of mine said look at Microsoft forms and it was great, but it didn’t do context sensitive dropdowns. It wasn’t the best user experience. It didn’t handhold them. It didn’t give them any actions after. But what I did find is there was all these QR codes dotted around the engineering base for different forms and they were QR coding them to fill stuff into their checks. They got so bored of waiting for SAP or whatever ERP coming along, because those things take a long time to arrive at the station, that they were just doing it themselves. Imagine if we could connect that up to data. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do with forms Pro so that week, this little power apps thing appeared in Office 365. Like it literally just came up and said Power Apps and I went what’s that?

Michael Lonnon

How long ago was this?

Keith Whatling

This was 2016 just after power apps G8 and I immediately opened it and opened up power apps, looked at it and thought this is too difficult and I shut it. Then I thought no, hang on, I’m going back and have another stab at this and a week later I got in. There was no app in a day, there was no training so I went in, and I took apart a couple of templates that did roughly what I wanted to do. There was a building inspection template and I thought, well, I want to inspect a bus or I want to take a picture to show what’s wrong, it’s the same process I just want to shape it differently. I took the template, and I built a demo. Then I said what else can I do? So I brought in live positioning. So if I wanted to tell the engineers this bus is broken down instead of just sending details that it’s between these two bus stops, which is what the mileage system could account for, I could say to them it’s two minutes prior to that bus stop and give them an on the map location of where it is. Because if I said it’s at the dog and dumpling, or it’s at a bus stop in such and such a street, the engineers don’t know all the 1,500 bus stops their buses serve, but they know the high street. Then when they’re at the location, I could capture the latitude and longitude to see exactly where the bus was broken down, so I’ve got that lovely little ping on the Power BI map. You just found the whole platform expanding from there. And my claim to fame with that app, built as a proof of concept, is that it was shown to Mr Gates himself at an internal Microsoft demo. I’ve got an email from the guys who showed it. And I showed it to my mum, and she was very proud and finally understood that her son had done something right for a change.

Summary

The good news from part one of this special podcast is that Keith’s mum now knows what he does for a living.

I tried to explain to my mum the other day what I do with great difficulty – so, work for me to do there.

One of the key messages that came through from my chat with Keith is that in whatever job it is you do, if you see there is a challenge to be solved – something that will make your life, or the lives of others easier – and you feel that you can come up with the solution, then don’t hold back.

A different perspective to a known challenge can often lead to a solution no-one else has considered. And from there you’ve opened a whole new world of opportunity.

I hope you enjoyed part one, stay tuned for part two coming next week.

Until then, take care of yourselves.

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