NS

NS Employees Can Inform Travelers Faster with Revamped Railpocket

NS replaces outdated Railpocket, used by 10,000 employees, for a modern system. Info Support took on the development of the new software, using a collaborative DevOps team and Continuous Delivery for an efficient and effective implementation.

NS

Challenge

The Railpocket’s hardware and software were outdated, preventing NS from innovating.

Target Audience

10,000 conductors.

Result

New software for the successor to the handheld computer, allowing NS to continue to innovate and passengers to be quickly and fully informed again.

Railpocket in need of replacement

If you have ever traveled by train, then you know it; the conductor’s handheld computer that reads your OV-chipkaart, among other things. For about 21 years, conductors, drivers and service staff proudly walked around with this device, but nowadays it is mainly a somewhat bulky device that is dwarfed by the speed and functionality of a modern smartphone.

The previous Railpocket was clearly at its maximum capabilities. Jan Heesters, PSO manager at NS: “At one point, the Railpocket could no longer provide the conductor with information quickly, mainly due to outdated hardware and software. As a result, NS employees could not quickly provide travelers with up-to-date information. Sometimes travelers were even up to date with the latest travel information faster than employees. That was a clear signal that the Railpocket needed replacing.”

Info Support is a party that takes responsibility for results.
Jan Heesters, Manager PSO at NS

Flexibility first in development

NS therefore decided to replace the Railpocket with a more modern device, namely a smartphone with all the trimmings. NS called in Info Support for the ‘all the trimmings’. Marco Kuiper, Info Support project leader: “We set to work designing the software for the Railpocket’s successor, looking in particular at how to keep the device as flexible as possible. After all, technological developments are moving so incredibly fast that you have to try to ‘get stuck’ as little as possible to previously made choices, such as certain operating systems.”

Test group crucial for success

Although many NS employees have been eagerly awaiting the new Railpocket, the transition from a handheld computer to a smartphone with a completely new look and feel is still an exciting change. Kuiper: ”We knew that 10,000 employees would soon have a new and unfamiliar device in their hands that they would have to work with every working day; you shouldn’t underestimate the impact of this. That’s why we involved the employees closely in the development process.”

NS and Info Support tested each new functionality of the new Railpocket with a test group of one hundred employees. Heesters: ”About 10,000 employees are going to use the new Railpocket, but it is impossible to interview all of these people. That’s why we chose a test group as a kind of ambassadors, so that we know whether the choices we make in the design process actually match the user’s wishes. When you test a functionality in daily practice, you only notice whether it works well; that experience is necessary. This test group is therefore crucial to the success of this project.”

Continuous delivery

“The findings from the test group were immediately implemented in the design. This way of working, where small changes are incorporated immediately, is also called continuous delivery. Following this method, Info Support continuously delivered software in small, manageable pieces that are immediately tested and put into production. As a result, any errors are immediately identified and addressed. Kuiper: “By using continuous delivery as a working method, you can design very quickly because you incorporate end-user feedback directly into your design. So you can implement new plans quickly, which makes this way of working very efficient.”

In addition, continuous delivery means that developers remain involved even after the design is delivered. Marco: “Even after the delivery of the Railpocket, we continue to ask for feedback from users, so that the Railpocket is continuously improved and also keeps moving along with technological developments. You also see this continuous delivery method at WhatsApp and Facebook, for example. Users receive an update from the app store on average every two weeks; this means that, as a user, you can have an improved version of WhatsApp or Facebook every two weeks. This is typical of continuous delivery; you are constantly improving.”

A well-oiled development machine

Because of the method used, NS and Info Support worked very closely together. Kuiper: ‘We think it is important that the end result is good and we are happy to take on this responsibility. After all, you are trying to achieve a common goal.” This vision was an important reason for NS to choose Info Support as its IT supplier. Jan Heesters: ”We are not looking for the cheapest programmers, but for a party that takes responsibility for the result. Info Support does that very well and that is the core of our smooth cooperation. The NS and Info Support teams were soon up and running as a well-oiled development machine after the project began. Working together as one team was certainly one of the main reasons for the great success. This resulted in a revamped Railpocket that fits well with the needs and preferences of our employees, ensuring that NS travelers are once again quickly and fully informed.”