iQrailway: on the right track for smart transportation with SAP Hybris (part 1 of 2)

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There is a lot of new stuff happening right now in the field of transportation. Digitalization and the innovations that come with it have inevitably brought many cool ideas around smart railway.

The thing is, to be able to implement them, we have to look at what we’re building on – the back-end – and start innovating there, bring something new to the foundation.

Being part of the iQrailway means NEW is always on the agenda and I personally relate very well with this context. The Gallup institute defines 34 talent themes as “people’s naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied”. Each one of us holds a unique combination of talent themes, some of which are more dominant than others. In my top 5, the most dominant one is called Learner.

 

Like many other people with this dominant theme, I can’t say ‘no’ to NEW – whatever that ‘new’ may stand for, because NEW allows us to learn the most. Working in IT, I’m quite lucky, right?

 

Having expertise in the field of e-commerce and with the Hybris platform in particular, I was happy to put that knowledge in a completely different context: that of a railway business (or ground transportation in general). Yes, railways have a lot to catch up in terms of digitalization and eCommerce and we are willing to help them by making use of the leading eCommerce platform out there.

The problem is, Hybris platform alone is not prepared to deal with ground transportation business; it has always been mainly driven by the retail needs and until recently, not much has been done in the transportation field. Of course, since last year, there is also Travel Accelerator, but despite its very broad and generic name, it focuses entirely on airlines and hotels. It might sound similar but in fact the needs and challenges are very different, which has a tremendous impact on the architecture and overall data model.

Therefore, over a year ago, after several months of investigations, after being asked by few railway operators to prepare a PoC, we took up the gauntlet and decided to develop on top of Hybris platform our own product dedicated for them.

We see that many railway companies want to innovate their business and improve customer experience. The problem is it’s not easy with legacy systems from the previous era, it’s not possible without changing approach from booking-centric to customer-centric. It’s basically the same revolution that has been started several years ago in retail, it’s just a bit behind.

But first, in order to bring railways over to Hybris we had to face a few major difficulties and design it in a way that leverages the Hybris OOTB functionality but at the same time doesn’t limit operators with the concepts inherited from the retail industry. We had to face the fact that transportation is a completely different business and it requires a slightly different approach for solving their critical issues and needs.

The first example of such challenge is the fact that railways lack industry standards and each operator does things differently. Because of this, the IT setup also looks different from one country to another: each operator has unique IT landscape with many cooperating sub-systems Most of them are considered legacy and obsolete, so preferably could be replaced by a modern solution. Some of them though, because of various reason, are still considered necessary and should be integrated with whatever new comes. Moreover, this integration often needs to happen in a synchronous real-time manner and it serves very important pieces of functionality – like itinerary search or pricing.

We’ve noticed there are three major domains common for all transportation systems which might be subject of such real-time integration:

  • Journey Planner (Searching)
  • Pricing
  • Reservations

We had to find a way of decoupling them from Hybris (so that we can safely delegate their responsibilities to the external systems) but in a way, that still allows us to reuse a powerful Hybris commerce layer.

As a result, we introduced an Anti-Corruption Layer that sits in between the Hybris Commerce Layer and the concrete implementations.

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Thanks to this additional abstraction layer we can support any mixture of these building blocks: search can be served by the existing legacy system, and pricing might be entirely on Hybris or the other way around. The same applies, of course, to the reservation system.

To be continued …

P.S. While waiting for Part 2 of the blog post, there are two events TechFest Cluj where you can have a closer look at iQrailway and how we envision transportation in the future:

  • 1 November: in Sebastian Mekal’s TechJam on SAP Hybris – you’ll get to see a live coding session on how to develop a personal AI-powered Travel Assistant for Facebook Messenger and Amazon Alexa on top of our solution. Here’s the registration page. Entrance is free.
  • 3 November: hands-on demo of the iQrailway solution. Ticket is free 😊, register here.

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