The newly formed Virgin Trains USA is planning aggressive expansion across Florida and the rest of the United States, and has turned to the integration platform as a service (iPaaS) vendor Dell Boomi to link up its various systems ahead of this.
Announced in November, Virgin Trains USA is a partnership between Virgin Group and private rail company Brightline. It currently serves three city pairs in the state of Florida, with plans to now expand quickly to the Orlando and Tampa areas, as well as Las Vegas and Los Angeles on the west coast.
Speaking at The Boomi World Tour in London this week, Geoff Schappert, senior VP of technology at Brightline - which will soon be rebranded to Virgin Trains USA - spoke about the need to do away with its custom middleware to modernise its ticketing systems.
The first thing Schappert had to do was "stabilise the platform", as he put it in very general terms. Next, he turned his attention towards four year's worth of custom middleware linking up its various backend systems. This led to plenty of downstream issues, including customers sometimes not receiving their booking conformation emails. "Not good," as Schappert succinctly put it.
"I quickly decided: custom middleware, why? Are we in the 90s? No. There's lots of good platforms out there that will provide you with a product that continuously will evolve," he said.
By a stroke of luck, Schappert said he was at the Dell facility in Bangalore in 2011 when it announced the Boomi acquisition (Dell actually acquired Boomi in 2010). "So here I am, seven years later, remembering that's what I need," he said.
Diving into the reasons why, Schappert said he wanted a system that easily integrates with SOAP APIs, has out of the box connectors for Salesforce and Netsuite and would "alert, monitor and log transactions seamlessly, without a lot of effort. Custom middleware doesn't do that," he said.
"I wanted a product that was nimble and small, yet part of a large ecosystem, and Dell Boomi provided that balance," he added. "We wanted a partnership with a company that was going to help us grow to be the large company we are going to be future."
Once they had selected Boomi, Schappert and his team went about rebuilding that four year's worth of custom integrations "in a matter of months".
This meant approximately 40 RESTful JSON web services supporting mobile, Brightline.com and our custom kiosk, representing 90% of total bookings for the company.
The results, he says, is a ridership which continues to increase, serving 600,000 riders last year.
Right product, right person, right time
For example, by having all of its systems integrated, Virgin Trains USA can start to push more personalised upgrade offers to customers.
"So now what do I need to do for an upgrade service? Well I need to know when you're traveling, I need to know what class service you're in, I need to know when you're train is departing to time that offer, that's easy now," he said.
"What's going to happen in the future as more and more riders come though? I can't give upgrades everybody, right? I have limited capacity. So the next thing is going to be: what do I know about you? Should I offer you the upgrade or someone else? So Boomi is going to help us do that, because now we have that capability in that platform in place... to deliver the right product and service to the right person at the right time."
"So putting this platform in place is going to allow us to expand very quickly without a lot of effort, and we're building reusable capabilities," he added.