This week, Irish Rail launched the Online Payments facility for Fixed Payment Notices (which are penalties for fare evasion and other infringements).
The Dovetail-developed system allows passengers to pay a Fixed Payment Notice online. It is mobile-friendly and allows customers to pay a Fixed Payment Notice on their mobile, tablet, laptop or desktop computer.
The system is built using ASP.Net, C#, CSS and HTML5 and it is integrated with the Irish Rail Fixed Payment Notice Management system (a version of the Standard Fare Backoffice Management System which Dovetail previously developed for Dublin Bus).
Our work with Irish Rail, LUAS and Dublin Bus is all part of Dovetail's continued involvement with the transport sector.
The following article appeared in the February 2016 edition of Rail Brief, the Irish Rail staff magazine. You can view the PDF here.
John and Martin with the Irish Rail Team in Connolly Station.
A FINE NEW SYSTEM
In 2015 there were 9,606 Fixed Payment Notices issued. There was a 22% increase in the number of Fixed Payment Notices issued in 2014 compared with 2013 and this trend remains in an upward direction putting more pressure on the system in use. As a source of revenue for us, it is critical that there is an intelligent information system to ensure detailed reporting and timely payment of fines.
Main Triggers for the New System
1. Two separate systems existed, one for DART and one for Innercity
The back office was using two disparate systems; Access and Infopath as both the Intercity & Commuter (ICCN) and DART had individual systems. This meant inputters were moving between systems with differing designs. These disparate systems continued when the RPU was centralised, meaning that the Head of Revenue Protection and the Revenue Protection & Prosecutions Manager had to interrogate each system separately and add the results together. Often they had to physically count original fines for statistics purpose as the original system didn’t allow for any meaningful interrogation. Another issue with the existing system was there was no single view across one person. A person could have a fine on the DART database but the ICCN database had no visibility of it.
2. Everything was manually typed
Prior to the new system, everything was manually typed, for example, there were no drop down boxes with list of stations, Revenue Protection officers’ names, train times or routes. This
lead to the likelihood of poor quality data as typing errors/spelling errors could occur due to the high volumes to be input.
3. Inconsistent design between forms and databases
The fields on the screen and the form didn’t match. As a result, it slowed down the speed of inputting as everything on the screen had to be matched to the form field for input. This contributed to a growing backlog and as a consequence, reminder notices, at times, were late going out to customers. This type of backlog can be very demotivating for an employee – no matter how hard the team worked, there seemed no end to it!
4. Databases were not built for high volume
There were over 38,000 records on the databases which were not built for high volume and as a result crashes often happened. Up to eight people could have been inputting at any one time
and the input may not have updated correctly. The resulting consequence was that a letter could go out to someone who has already paid a fine.
Leading the Change
Roger Tobin, Head of Revenue Protection, has been leading the change project with support from Dave Cannon Manager Revenue and Prosecutions and Shauna Fitzsimmons on the systems side. The back office team have also supported the change process. The team worked with David Bettles Information Systems, Keith Faherty Online Manager, Group IT and Customer First in specifying and clarifying what the system requirements were before Dovetail could commence their work.
Communications and Training
The team had been briefed on the full extent of the system change. These briefings were supported by the Customer First, People and Communications Lead, Linda Allen and were made
by Dave Cannon and Shauna Fitzsimmons. A training test system was set up by Dovetail to ensure all the team were comfortable with the system before it launched. They all found the system to be very straightforward and could really appreciate its benefits. The Dovetail systems supplier facilitated the training for all involved. They also provided systems support for the team to ensure the team were fully supported in the ‘go live’ and beyond. Brian Quinn, Business Process Lead, documented the new processes arising from the implementation of the new system. This was to ensure there was no ambiguity in the implementation and ensured the process in place was the optimal one.
Phase 2 Online Payment Facility
Work is currently ongoing in setting up an online payment facility with a Go Live expected in February 2016. Currently there are limitations on payment options as a customer can only pay
during office hours, Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. There will be huge benefits to the customer to pay online anytime as the back office team had received complaints from people who wanted to pay but couldn’t get through. This will also mean a reduction of phone calls to the office to allow the employees allocate their time on the key tasks of managing repeat offenders, analysing areas to target and managing files for maximum court prosecutions.
Phase 3 Customer First
Customer First is currently looking at electronic solutions to make the RPU more efficient. Currently Revenue Protection Officers write out Fixed Payment Notices (FPN’s) which would mean real time inputting. There will be real benefits in the adoption of these portable devices.
Benefits of the New Dovetail System
One of the biggest benefits for the team is the removal of the backlog. All their hard work has significantly contributed to this. Other benefits include:
1. One single view of a ‘customer’
The new system can highlight fraudulent persons or highlight repeat offenders. It is able to supply fraud lists or repeat offenders across both systems.This allows for a more intelligent type of reporting and more successful prosecutions.
2. Better targeting of fare evasion
It allows the RPU team to more intelligently target times and services where there are fare evasions above average. The system allows them to interrogate information by multiple fields
e.g. by station, by time, by ticket types, by day of the week and by any other fields stored. The new system has all the information in the one place, it reduces the dependence on physical files.
3. One single system in place and customisation of screens
There is now one single system in place for all the back office team capturing all Railway Undertaking fine data. Customisation took place for ease of use for the inputter on all screens. The new screens mirror the FPN form and will follow the fields of the form as it appears on the page.
4. Template letters created for all scenarios
Template files for all types of letter have been supplied to the new system and can be generated automatically.
5. Preloaded lists and drop down boxes
The new system will have these all lists preloaded along with the actual timetable. It will also have an address link with google maps eliminating the need for freeform typing.
6. Appeals process standardised
The time spend on appeals has reduced as the appeals process has been standardised and the appeal is done via email with the addition of the attachment on the system.
7. Flexible to change
The new system is more flexible to change. The systems allows the addition of new routes, times, officers and can allow the addition or amendment of any fields.
Well there it went, January has been and gone and it has been quite the adventure here at Dovetail. We haven’t had the chance to post a blog recently as we've been ‘snowed under’ (bu dum tish!) with work. This week we've had to say farewell to a dear friend of ours. Mossy made the brave (and slightly rash) decision to humanely put down the office plant.
Unfortunately, this was met by jeers and taunts and now Mossy’s ‘on the hunt’ for some brand new office plants. Drama aside, we've all had a busy few weeks.
On top of various fixes on different systems, John has been working on a new feature for Gift Voucher Solutions and has been updating LUAS websites for PCI compliance by changing the payment system to accept payments on hosted payment pages.
Mossy has been working hard on a new allergens feature for MenuCal which will be launched in the coming weeks. He is also launching a new feature for the FSAI website next week, which should hopefully help both staff and customers of the website.
Trevor has been out and about on a tour of the Dublin City Council traffic control room, kindly organised by ITS Ireland www.itsireland.ie. Check out the action shots below.
Tomás has been building snowmen and in his spare time has been working on adding function to help CIS identify and rectify duplicate company data in their leads database.
Martin’s been busy working with Mossy on an Allergens add-on for MenuCal, on the new national Lobbyist Register and some upgrades for Luas TaxSaver system. He also spent a good part of the week interviewing, which can only mean one thing… We’ll be announcing some new team members very soon.
I've been doing as all good interns, getting involved with various projects and honing my developer skills.
That’s a neat, little summary of our on goings. Have a great weekend and we’ll see you all back here soon for the grand unveiling of our new Dovetail crew members.
We are having our Christmas party today, so there is a festive mood in our office in the GEC as we put up decorations while enjoying some office beers. There's nothing as refreshing as an office beer, that's a fact!
Ger, our new intern, has been taking up the slack on a few of our smaller projects and helping John triage support cases. This takes the pressure off our other developers and also doesn't throw Ger in too deep. Ger is also improving some of our internal management systems.
John has started working on some additional features for the RPA web apps. He also put some new features live for Blue Portal. Blue portal is run by Bandwidth and allows local councils to analyse foot and vehicle traffic using CCTV. Blue Portal is another one of our successful Intelligent Transport projects.
I have been continuing to work with the FSAI on 2 projects. We recently upgraded the FSAI website with a new version of Ektron. Website users wouldn't have noticed any changes, but the underlying Content Management System was long overdue an upgrade and the process went very smoothly. We are also working on a new iteration of the MenuCal system which will be launched early next year.
Most of Tomas' time over the past few weeks has been spent working with IKEA. We are preparing for a new version of the Kiosk system and he has been putting additional tracking into the system so we can measure performance and the user journey better. He has also been doing some smaller pieces of work with Acquirer Systems.
Sales and business development have taken up a lot of Martin and Trevor's time of late, as they prepare for 2015 and we line up new projects and clients. There is lots good news coming from them, but that will have to will remain hush-hush for now.
In other news, our beloved Pinchy has not been returning the love for us, as she's been trying to escape. Here is some footage of one of her attempts.
I've started collecting links that go past my Twitter feed, Facebook stream, Slack channels and many other news sources (read: distractions). These are my notable saves from this week. P.S. this won't be weekly, I'm not a machine!
Designing for Website accessibility. A nice checklist of, mostly obvious, but often overlooked details on designing for visual impairments and other disabilities. The internet is is like any other public space. It should be open and accessible to all who wish to use it.
IBM's new smart chip. We still haven't figured out why our brain is so powerful. Okay, we (not me, scientists) have a fair idea why it's powerful. I find it interesting that the faster chips are the ones trying to mimic a neural network.
The feature guy. You don't always make software better by adding features. Sometimes, taking away features or polishing existing functionality is a better use of time.
Balancing bike stations. A discussion cropping up here a lot is the difficulty in keeping the Dublin Bikes stations with bikes and also with spaces. Turns out it's a lot more complicated than we thought, and it's not quite been solved yet.
We like to think of Dovetail as a pro-bicycle company, and there are many card carrying subscribers to the Dublin Bikes scheme within the office. When the expansion of the Dublin bikes scheme was announced, we were eagerly anticpating a much shorter journey to our nearest bike station.
Last week, as part of this expansion, the station beside the Guinness Storehouse opened, which means that we now have a two minute walk to our nearest station. Hopefully, with the Guinness Storehouse station such a popular destination for tourists, this station will be stocked with spare bicycles thoughout the working day so we can make our cross city meetings on time.
Apologies to our regular readers for the absence of a blog post last week. I imagine it left a big hole in your week! The good thing about missing a week is that there's plenty of news this week.
Trevor has been busy as usual. He attended a talk on Horizon 2020. He also attended the Dublinked Real Time Passenger Information (RTPI) meetup in The Digital Depot last Thursday. Dovetail has plenty of experience in Real Time Passenger Information, we built the software that converts live tram information from LUAS into the industry-standard SIRI protocol. Our SIRI server then produces information for the National Transport Authority's RTPI site and for the Transport for Ireland Real Time apps and website. And of course we have developed the live LUAS iPhone and LUAS Android apps.
Work has started on another IKEA project which will be going live very soon. Mossy has been working on a small-ish pilot (a Minimum Viable Product if you will) that will involve a number of IKEA UK stores. All going well, we will extend the prototype over the next few weeks and it will become a valuable part of the IKEA FAMILY ecosystem.
A short iterative process really helps validate ideas with real customer feedback. IKEA have been doing this for a long time, and we have been finding it very useful with some of our other clients too. FSAI and CIS have both benefited from this recently. If you are interested in these techniques, Mossy recommends Lean UX, which he has found excellent to kick-start the thought process.
Tomás has been very busy over the past few weeks building a shiny new system for Acquirer Systems. Once complete this will be an extension of their existing product offering. We're using our latest technologies including ASP.NET MVC 4, LLBLGEN and this project is test driven. Test Driven development is being heavily promoted by Tomás internally and he is ensuring that the rest of the team are up to speed by the end of 2014.
There have also been a couple of changes here in the office since the last post. Martin managed to get rid of a large server and as a result increased the usable floor space in the office by about 100%.
And we got new Herman Miller Aeron office chairs yesterday. I'm sitting on one now and they're very comfortable. I think that initally they resulted in a slight decrease in productivity, with everyone trying to discover what each of the many levers do, but looking around the office now, everyone looks like a poster child for good posture. I think they've ruined normal chairs for me.
Finally, Dovetail are looking to hire another developer. I'll have to tell Martin to update the perks on that page to include the Aeron chairs!
It's been another busy week at Dovetail HQ. I'm learning lots and becoming slightly less of a burden. I still ask questions, but the most common response I get now from Mossy is 'Google It!' I think he actually likes the opportunity to show-off his knowledge and occassionally I'll throw him an unanswered stackoverflow question from 6 months ago, just to keep him on his toes!
On Tuesday, Trevor attended the first ITS Ireland seminar of 2014. Tim Mullen of ARUP presented an update on the National Roads Authority's new Design Manual for Roads and Bridges which is currently in development. It wasn't very directly relevant to our software development work, but is very good background information for us in our work in Intelligent Transport Systems in general.
In other good news, the IKEA 'Swipe a Surprise' holiday to Sweden has been won. The lucky winner's prize includes 4 nights' accommodation and flights to and from Stockholm for up to 4 people, and £500 spending money.
The Lucky Winners of the holiday to Sweden, with the IKEA Southampton co-workers
We are delighted to say that Dovetail has been nominated for another award, this time for the Realex Fire Web Awards categories "SME/Small Business Website" and "Agency of the Year".
The awards are on in the Four Seasons on November 6 and it's a great night out, so we're all looking forward to that one.
Back in the office, you may remember mention of our new crayfish, Pinchy. Well when we first introduced him to the tank a couple of weeks ago, he got very busy very quickly, burrowing passages into the pebbles along the bed -we were all very impressed at his work ethic. He was completely out of sight for a couple of days, the only evidence that he was still there was the rearrangement of the architecture of the gravel. Then he re-emerged - a much bigger specimen. He evidently buried himself to shed his shell, and the new Pinchy is a far more confident creature. He's great fun to watch, marauding around the tank, trying to grab at the fish but always missing, clambering around the wood and stone ornaments. He's a very entertaining addition to the tank, it's like a David Attenborough documentary - thanks Ollie!
Work this week progressed on several projects for several clients. Tomas and Mossy worked on CIS Ireland - and it's looking very well:
I did some more work on the Luas Leap Card Taxsaver project, enabling monthly Taxsaver tickets. Annual tickets went live last month, so monthlies are in testing now with the project team. The project team is a large consortium consisting of a several organisations: Hewlett Packard runs the helpdesk; IBM provides the backend technology; the National Transport Authority co-ordinates the project across all transport operators; the Rail Procurement Agency provides operator-specific management, such as ensuring the validators and payment network works; Transdev (Veolia) provides customer-facing operations for ordering and fulfilling; and Dovetail provides the Taxsaver tickets ordering and management and interfacing with the Irish Integrated Ticketing System.
Trevor worked on an interesting little piece of development - he added telephone integration to an existing system for one of our oldest customers, Highlife Adventures. This used TAPI to comunicate between the desktop application and Highlife's Alcatel Pimphony phone system. Highlife staff can now dial their customers with a single tap of their touchscreen monitors. An unexpected benefit is that the phone starts to ring immediately. They report that the new system not only saves time, it also reduces the mental load on staff as they no longer have to dial the phone. That may not sound like a big deal for many office workers, but the Highlife team are very busy, make a lot of calls as they provide their renowned customer service.
This week we gained two more users of our Integrated Ticketing Solution, as used by Luas. They are none other than Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. We are now very proud to be helping three public transport providers to handle products on Leap Card and provide integrated tickets to the public.
I'm a bit late blogging about this since it happened a few weeks ago, but I'm proud to announce that Bandwidth Telecommunications has taken delivery of a new portal developed by Dovetail.
It is called Blue Portal and it allows Bandwidth to disseminate data to their clients including Cork and Limerick City Councils.
The portal gathers data from sensors such as motion detection video cameras and can count cars, trucks, pedestrians etc. It can also integrate with other devices such as traffic lights to allow the recording of red-light offences.
This is another successful project in our portfolio of Intelligent Transport Systems development, and we look forward to helping Bandwidth use it to deliver innovative new services.