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Flytoget’s digital transformation accelerates express train service

Flytoget implements a development platform to enable it to respond quickly to the demands of digital-minded customers

Flytoget, operator of the airport express train in Norway’s capital Oslo, is halfway through a four-year digital transformation project in the face of increasing competition in transportation services.

New competitors such as Uber and Lyft have forced Flytoget’s hand to provide digital customer services.

“We face new competition from the deregulation of the railway sector in Norway. We have to compete for [the attention] of our customers. Customers are also becoming more digital,” Bjørn Hole, head of innovation and IT architecture at Flytoget, told Computer Weekly. “We established the digital transformation programme to meet these challenges.”

A major step for the programme has been the deployment of Red Hat’s JBoss Fuse integration platform and application programming interface (API) management tools from 3Scale, which Red Hat acquired in June 2016. For Flytoget, this means a shift from scattered integration implementations to a shared, more structured system with improved control over its APIs and their scalability.

Hole sees the transition as a vital part of the state-owned company’s efforts to modernise its IT capabilities and create new services for customers.

“The benefits of this investment are that with standardised interfaces and good management of APIs, both internally and externally, we can create faster projects,” Hole said. “We needed a new technical platform, and a competent contractor to help us build a solid foundation to be fast and efficient in facing new integration opportunities. [This was] the rationale for the decision.”

Flytoget chose Red Hat through a public tender competition. The value of the contract has not been disclosed.

Focus on partnerships

The first implementation of the integration platform includes the same APIs as Flytoget plans to supply its external partners. Although Hole said there were initially some “typical niggles” in the deployment process, the train operator has been satisfied with the results and its faster project delivery.

“We have developed an [internal] customer service application which uses the platform to connect with all our back-end systems,” he said. “From the start of the project, which was just before Easter, we had this deployed and ready for production in mid-June. We were able deliver the app in three months.”

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The next step for Flytoget is to expand from internal services to customer-facing applications and deeper cooperation with its partners. A prime example of this is improved data collaboration with the largest airline in the Nordics, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS).

“What is currently shared in terms of our APIs is real-time transport information. We have partnered up with SAS, which is looking at how it can use our information in its own customer channels,” said Hole. “We want to be the preferred part of the customer journey by exploring how customers use available technology to choose transportation between the airport and the city centre.”

Moving to DevOps

Another focal point in Flytoget’s digital transformation project is to bring new value to the company’s business and the 6.5 million passengers it transports annually.

Infrastructure is only one part of this transformation. For Hole, a key issue is to ensure all digital projects, whether they are internal or external facing, have a clear link to Flytoget’s business strategy. This has meant repositioning the role of IT in the mindset of the company’s management and its 400 employees, making sure everybody understands the goals of the new digital strategy.

Furthermore, to better benefit from its modernised IT system, Flytoget is moving towards adopting a DevOps approach for its 10-person IT department.

“We want to be the preferred part of the customer journey by exploring how customers use available technology to choose transportation between the airport and the city centre”
Bjørn Hole, Flytoget

“This requires IT operations to let themselves into a project a lot earlier than they used to, have a more general understanding of how different systems work together and how development changes these systems,” explained Hole. “The developers also need to better understand IT operations’ concerns about stability and security, as well as all other quality areas critical to the operation of an IT system.”

Hole believes that making IT operations and development work closer together will improve the speed, agility and quality of project delivery as the whole team has a better understanding of the entire process.

No longer a train company

Flytoget estimates it is now halfway through its modernisation project and expects it to be completed by the latter half of 2018. But Hole acknowledged change is a constant companion in IT.

One of the trends Flytoget is looking at is open data and what it will mean to the company. The new integration infrastructure enables Flytoget to better share its data. However, while openness is already expected to some extent in the transportation industry, Hole believes its biggest impact in the sector won’t be felt for some time.

And it is this future where Flytoget expects the competition to intensify.

“We are going to face new competitors in the digital arena. It is going to be hard for us to make sure all the customers know we are there and establish our digital presence,” said Hole. “[But] we are increasingly becoming a technology company. Before, we were a train company doing some technology to support it, but now we are making those focuses more and more equal.”

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