Wednesday, May 14, 2008

About another view on SOA and selling train tickets

On this blog I occasionally mention two perspectives on SOA; one is the composite application construction perspective and the other is the business organization perspective. Both perspectives have an internal viewpoint; they look inside the organization. It's the inside-out approach to SOA. I neglected another approach to SOA which I now think is at least as important, if not more: the outside-in approach to SOA. (Mind: I am not talking about the outside-in design of services, which is something different)

With the growth of Internet, or the "cloud", organizations are surrounded by high quality pervasive connectivity which lies global wide in the hands of individuals (employees, customers) at no cost. Until now I did not blog much about this giant technology leap of the last decade. But I no longer can ignore this evolvement as a highly valid justification to introduce SOA, outside-in.

Let me confess, I was triggered by this book...

The book is set up around the case of a manufacturer of popcorn makers. One of its employees found out - via his personal weblog - that there existed a huge market for popcorn makers that got the logo of the buyers favorite sports team printed on it. The authors of the book talk about "shadow IT" as a kind of home-brew IT at the edge of the organization managed by employees in contrast to "hub IT" in the center of the organization managed by the IT department. The authors stress not to ignore this shadow IT, as I did, but to promote and support it. They supply rules, tell the reader how to put these rules to work, and they provide some real life examples. They show the very, very recognizable resistance, scepticism and pitfalls and how to overcome these challenges. In essence it's about supplying Web services based API's on the core systems to support light weight mashup code distributed widely on the Internet. Every site applying the mashup code automatically changes into a selling channel.

This video shows a playlet of a part of the fictive case in the book.

Of course opening up your applications with a SOAP-based API doesn't make an SOA. But what is interesting is the approach the authors chose to evolve to a mature SOA: it doesn't start with rethinking structure and governance, but with allowing and even promoting some sort of chaos! For the sake of new business revenue and business innovation...

A (not too) fictive example

I tried to jump from the case in the book to my real life working environment. What has selling popcorn makers in common with people transportation by train? More than you would think.

Buying a ticket

We (Dutch Railways) want more people on our trains. We attract people on the train by offering clean and comfortable trains and pleasant stations. But everybody knows that selling something works best by making buying as easy as possible. So getting people on the train can best be achieved by making buying a ticket as easy and convenient as a few mouse clicks at home (or on a mobile PDA or laptop). The tag cloud on our website even shows clearly that many visitors are searching the site for buying tickets ("kaartjes kopen"). Unfortunately however, there is no possibility to buy tickets online; the site directs to vending machines on the station as the most convenient way to buy a ticket (...!).


Create Javascript (or Flash or whatever) code (to be embedded as a mashup on any website) with a SOAP call to a ticket ordering application including payment facilities (e.g. credit card payment).

Not printing but world wide delivery at home

Printing tickets on a home printer is susceptible to fraud (illegal copies), so why not send genuine tickets to the home address with an ordinary one day delivery service? In Holland this costs 44 cents per sending, with discounts for printed matter and discounts for bulk mail. If you decide to travel at hoc by train today, then just buy your ticket in the conventional way.

Japanese (or any other foreign) holiday travelers can buy their train tickets during preparing their visit to beautiful Holland. They receive their tickets at home and need not find their way to and on any "difficult" vending machines nor do they need to line up the queues at the selling counters.

Copy and paste selling points

The mashup code can be offered to relevant site owners to be embedded on their site (sports events, meeting room providers, hotels, airlines, theaters, travel agencies, discotheques, pop festivals, our own homepage, etc). The mashup code is freely to be distributed to virtually everyone, so every employee (or whoever) may promote the selling of tickets from his own private weblog or home page without the buyers leaving the webpage.

To promote the deployment of the ticket selling mashup, mechanisms could be created to pay incentives to owners of sites from which tickets are sold.

Ticket becomes collectors item

The ticket handling can be ad-supported. Just print advertisements on the tickets. Or the tickets can hold the logo of the football team from whose site the tickets are ordered. You may even have the possibility to upload you own image to be printed on the ticket in case you offer tickets as a "present" to your grandchildren in order to stimulate them to come over to you for a visit. Relevant travel information like platform numbers, time tables and change locations may be printed on the backside of the ticket or on an accompanying leaflet. To foreign travelers some extra guidance could be sent on traveling with the Dutch public transports in general. The train ticket may in the end turn into a collectors item like a stamp.


To accomplish this, the tickets need to be printed on demand. That requires to contract a printing house to do this job. And we need to bulk mail the tickets every day. Another specialized service provider could be contracted to fulfill that job for us. This kind of service oriented organization is a win-win situation for all parties involved. The traveler gets his tickets delivered at home, the printing house and mailing service provider gain business revenue, and Dutch Railways is pervasive visible in the "cloud" with numerous selling points all over the world.

Commercial features

Some other easy to be implemented commercial features are:
  • Offering targeted and ad-hoc discounts is a piece of cake which would hardly be possible using the conventional vending machines or selling counters
  • Combined ticket selling for traveling and entrance to an event are easily possible
And last bus not least, possibly the number of vending machines can be reduced by offering discounts on online ordered tickets.

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