ELCA as a mobile app developer in the transport sector: much more than ticketing and timetables
ELCA has worked closely with the transport industry since it was first awarded contracts to work for the Swiss federal railway, SBB/CFF/FFS, in the late 1980s. Since 2004, the ELCA Group, via its SecuTix subsidiary, has also been active in the field of mobile applications for the transport industry.
Ten years ago, ELCA was instructed by the subsidiary of a large French railway transportation group to implement an application for personal digital assistants (PDAs) that would allow railway staff to check tickets electronically, both on the platform and on the train. This application was migrated to Android smartphones during 2012 and is also used by a new budget subsidiary belonging to the French group, that was launched in April 2013.
The trend towards paperless transport tickets, followed by the massive adoption of smartphones from 2010 onwards, has caused a genuine revolution in the transport industry. With its strengths in the fields of electronic tickets and mobile platform development as well as considerable knowledge of transport industry operations, the ELCA Group is the ideal partner for industry players who want to address the revolution that is underway.
1st example: iCare application
The Android smartphone application enhances the service offered by on-board personnel to travellers while carrying out the essential task of checking tickets. The additional functions include:
- provision of travel information;
- creation, sharing and checking of warnings;
- material defect reporting;
- access to information on the line;
- carriage plan display;
- accepting payments (by card, cheque and in cash);
- flagging and dealing with irregularities;
- printing invoices and tickets;
- defining the geographical position (GPS) of the train.
On-board personnel carry two additional hardware devices:
- a Koamtac scanner for reading QRcodes and contactless RFID cards;
- an Ingénico credit card payment terminal with a thermal printer for the ticket.
The fleet of smartphones is administered and managed using SOTI’s MDM tool, MobiControl, integrated and operated by ELCA.
2nd example: Purchase of tickets using the TER-SNCF mobile application
This second example of the mobile application is for users of French regional trains. The TER-SNCF mobile application allows the consultation of timetables and ticket purchases for many regions of France. This includes:
- journey selection;
- paying by credit card;
- storing payment data for future purchase;
- receiving mobile tickets (m-tickets);
- benefitting from personalised offers;
- tracking order status;
- retrieving tickets, even when not on line.
The website for ticket purchases was developed using responsive design so that it could be made available on three different types of devices – mobiles, tablets and computers.
In response to the increasing use of smartphones, the transport sector is seizing new opportunities to enhance customer service by combining “expertise in physical transport” and “mobile applications”.
Your mobile apps: from start to finish with ELCA
Discover the opportunities that ELCA’s mobile applications can offer your organisation. ELCA’s expertise and methodological know-how are key to the success of mobile solutions in the long term. We start with an analysis of strategy, governance and requirements and go on to define the user experience, perform the technical implementation and oversee the operation of your applications.
Opportunities resulting from mobile solutions
Why do mobile applications offer special advantages, and what opportunities are there for your business?
The advantages of mobile solutions and their application scenarios result from the following four dimensions:
- mobility: services are not restricted by place and time;
- reachability: services may be offered proactively
- context sensitivity: services may be offered according to place, time, preference, etc.;
- identification: services can be provided according to equipment-linked user authentication.
When dimensions are cleverly combined and mapped on business processes, mobile solutions can provide companies with the following top three opportunities:
- improved employee productivity;
- faster employee response times and decision-making;
- faster processing of customers’ concerns.
Source: Forrester, Enterprise and SMB Networks and Telecommunications Survey, North America and Europe, Q1 2010.
Challenges of mobile solutions
There are plenty of challenges to overcome in realising these opportunities. Due to the rapid pace of technological change, mobile solutions have shorter life cycles than the traditional IT systems that must be integrated into them in order to provide services to customers and employees in a dynamic business environment. Life cycles and investments in these applications are therefore asynchronous and awkward to coordinate. As a result, the challenges begin at the strategic level.
Another issue is ensuring a consistent user experience across different platforms and devices, for instance when a customer advisor wants to prepare documentation on the computer and then present it to customers on a tablet. The increasing influence of personal habits on corporate IT (consumerisation) is key for user acceptance of mobile applications.
The difficulty from a technical point of view lies in the numerous mobile platforms and devices available. Whereas in 2012 the number of different Android configurations registered via OpenSignal was 3,997, by 2013 the figure had almost trebled, to 11,868 (Source: http://opensignal.com/reports/fragmentation-2013).
The special competencies of ELCA experts
When we analyse mobility requirements in connection with an application, the first part of our work involves an analysis of company processes that must be supported by a mobile application. The results are then taken into account within the overall architecture of the application in order to ensure that it operates perfectly based on a comprehensive and standardised solution. This applies regardless of whether interactions are with mobile devices, a web application or a conventional application within a multi-functional organisation.
Mobile applications place particular demands on ergonomics. This is due to the limited size of the display, the need to take specific interactions into account (alignment, movement) and mobile usage. When these issues are not adequately addressed, users will reject the application. Provision must also be made for interactions with the company’s branch-based services (back end) so that users are offered a thoroughly professional service.
ELCA deploys a flexible method (Agile IT) in its development work. This allows us to take users’ responses into account within a short time. Thanks to our technology observation team, we are always up to date with technological developments in this field.
Our consultants can help you choose the best architecture for your application, taking account of your needs and the requirements that are non-negotiable in your organisation. Our engineers are able to give you appropriate guidance and advice in connection with the development of native apps for one or several platforms (iOS, Android, WindowsPhone), or in relation to multi-platform technology such as HTML5 or a harmonious combination of these scenarios.
ELCA’s engineers and business consultants help you with all aspects of your mobile business:
- Mobile usage and strategy consulting
- Integrated business processes
- Multi-channel user experience
- Mobile user interface, responsive design
- Multi device and platform engineering
- Cloud-based mobile apps
- Integration of mobile peripheral hardware and standard software
- Mobile security expertise and strong authentication with ELCARDm
- Operation and mobile backend hosting
- Mobile device management and BYOD
- App distribution and enterprise app stores
Native vs. responsive: aligning business goals and technical considerations
A few years ago, the debate about mobile native applications vs. mobile web applications came into the spotlight with the arrival of a new approach based on responsive design. While classic web applications used to be quite limited on the screen of a mobile device, responsive design extends the use of desktop websites with a mobile and tablet-optimised experience.
Responsive design: a single, cross-browser approach for web applications
The major benefit of a responsive design strategy is that it ensures an optimal viewing experience for a wide range of screen sizes by focusing on a single standard and widespread web technology.
ELCA’s SecuTix subsidiary delivers ticketing solutions for major events including sports, theatre and exhibitions. Due to the large audience for such products, responsive design is very efficient for online points of sale and for ticket shops. It helps organisations convert prospects into consumers by offering a seamless experience, whichever channel they use. SecuTix assisted Effia, a French company specialised in the field of public transportation, to increase end-user engagement by extending its service offering to mobiles and tablets.
Native applications continue to have strong advantages too
A native application requires code to be re-written for every specific platform that will be targeted : objective-C for iOS, Java with the Android SDK, etc. and possibly some customisation for each family of devices (e.g. computers, tablets, mobiles). While targeting more than one platform naturally leads to higher development and maintenance costs, native applications can sometimes answer specific business requirements, cover technical solutions or provide close hardware integration that HTML5 cannot. Some examples include: the provision of sufficient control for device cameras or external paired devices; requirements related to low-level features (Bluetooth, network, etc.); security considerations (storage of sensitive data), etc.
On a less technical level, it is claimed that the native experience is perceived as deeper and richer by end-users because it is easier to stick to interface patterns, specific mechanisms and common layouts that are proper to each platform, and for which people have developed usability-based habits over time.
Depending on your technical requirements or the strength of the experience you want to offer end users, native applications are an option to keep in mind, and apart from user-experience considerations for the B2C market, native is also sometimes more suitable for business orientated applications.
SecuTix developed an iOS application for a client to check the validity of tickets and obtain additional monitoring information. As the purpose was mainly B2B, targeting just one platform was well accepted. The project required good knowledge of the mobile fleet to facilitate evolution and support of the solution. Advanced features with better granularity were used, such as pairing an external barcode scanner via the Apple Accessory Protocol, using the camera as a barcode reader to process an input stream in real time, and a high level of control on server-related transactions and web services. ELCA has also completed a similar project in the field of transportation.
Channels, marketing & business goals: important considerations
Beside programming considerations and constraints, part of the business analysis must include channels as the choice of approach may depend on it.
An existing website that is to be extended with responsive design will inherit the search engine visibility that has already been built. If traffic is essential to growing your business – in the case of e-commerce for example – then responsive web design is the way to go. Little or no extra work is needed for your SEO and advertising campaigns as only one URL will be used. This means you can extend your current marketing strategies and efforts as well as your published content to the mobile version at reasonable cost. The responsive design approach is even more relevant when you consider that a large proportion of consumers declare that they are more likely to purchase on a mobile-optimised website than on a standard one.
For companies, such frameworks also enable the deployment of web applications over pre-determined channels for internal purposes (e.g., Enterprise App Stores), which represent a major asset in mobile fleet management. ELCA built a strategic mobility roadmap and reference architecture for internal applications for the Swiss Post, which uses PhoneGap as a medium to leverage productivity through mobile devices.
A mix of deployment strategies is always possible. If analytics reveals that iPhone users drive a large percentage of your mobile web traffic, you could have both a responsive approach and a dedicated mobile iPhone application to address those specific customers. Alternatives such as mobile websites exist, and should be considered in addition so as not to miss the entire range of opportunities.
In conclusion, there is no single correct path for a company to develop a relevant mobile presence. Companies should focus on business goals, technical requirements and budget and choose the solution(s) most aligned with these three parameters.
ELCA spent two successful days at the X.Days in Interlaken. Particularly noteworthy was our interesting presentation with the Liechtenstein Financial Market Authority (FMA) about “Integrated and networked thinking – the gradual implementation of CRM, DMS and BI”.