Can a smart mobility app propel Italy’s century-old railway?

Nugo brings multimodal service to passengers

By and John Kultgen | 4 minute read | November 15, 2019

Nugo connects destinations in Italy with dozens of transit modes

When Gruppo FS Italiane set out to create a mobility app, it knew the variety of transportation options had to be as diverse as the landscape itself.

“It’s the story of Italy,” Danilo Gismondi, the Head of IT for FS Technology, told Industrious. “In a small area, we have all the problems of a big country—mountains, sea, urban, rural, different climates and different cultures.”

Within the first year of its summer 2018 launch, the Nugo app added more than 200 transportation providers to its platform. Together, they offer more than a dozen transit options, including bullet trains, subways, taxis, tour buses and ferries.

Best of all, the Nugo interface conveniently combines them all into a single, seamless ticket.

The app is a cornerstone of Gruppo FS’s Extended Customer Experience project. The century-old, state-run rail and infrastructure company launched this initiative to reimagine its relationship with customers and technology.

To Alessandro La Rocca, CEO of FS Technology, even a short journey has the potential to be optimized.

“One minute you’re on the ferry,” La Rocca said, “the next it’s a funicular,” a cable-incline rail car that serves dozens of hilly cities and towns.

The density, diversity and geography of Italy is what makes state-run Gruppo FS uniquely suited to developing the country’s premier smart mobility app. And thanks to the company’s 114-year experience traversing Lake Como to Calabria and everywhere in between, Nugo has a distinct advantage over startup rivals.

Smart mobility moves ahead

A bus and a train car accessible through NuGo | Image: Gruppo FS

The app’s team was even set up independently from Gruppo FS’s dozens of existing units.

“We knew that Nugo should be very fresh and very young,” La Rocca said. “It doesn’t matter if it was state-owned or not. All that matters is moving people from here to there how they want to move.”

It starts with the first and only thing users see when they open the Nugo app. A single prompt appears: “Dove vuoi andare?” In the international version: “Where would you like to go?”

Say you’re on the isle of Capri and want to have lunch in Naples before heading home to Rome. After answering “dove vuoi andare?” a series of itineraries pop up.

The journey begins with the ferry to Naples harbor, then a choice: go by bus, taxi or the scenic route, a short walk to the Funicolare Centrale. Following lunch, it’s the Metro to Piazza Garibaldi, where a bullet train awaits, as well as more affordable but slower trains. Once in Rome, a taxi or shared bike finishes the last miles.

You select a route from all these choices, and a single ticket appears that works on every leg of the journey.

Multimodal travel gains popularity

A funicular railway line in Naples | Photo: Wikimedia

Keith Dierkx, IBM’s global leader for Rail, Freight and Logistics, sees Nugo and the Extended Customer Experience as satisfying travelers’ greatest desire: simple, straightforward journeys.

“What people care about isn’t so much whether they’re taking a train, a bus or a plane—what they care about is getting to their destination, and getting there easily, safely and at the right price,” Dierkx said. “Through mobile technology, traditional transportation companies finally have the capabilities to deliver these seamless, multimodal trips.”

Nugo evolved from the app’s underlying one-click ticketing system, which Gruppo FS first developed a decade ago with IBM to serve Trenitalia.

In 2000, the European Union mandated greater deregulation of the rail industry. To stay ahead of new competitors, Gruppo FS put renewed emphasis on customer service and multimodal integration. This culminated with PICO, a digital reservations and ticketing system built on IBM Cloud that more seamlessly integrated the Gruppo FS network.

PICO proved so versatile, it became the back end for Nugo. New transit modes such as taxis and sightseeing buses were integrated into the PICO framework. Then the Gruppo FS-IBM team created a new interface in the form of Nugo’s multimodal smart app.

“Our history, traditions and technology combine to give us a long-term vision for mobility,” Gismondi said.

It’s a vision that continues to evolve.

 A mobility platform propelled by AI

A train on Italy’s Adriatic Coast | Photo: Gruppo FS

The Extended Customer Experience project emphasizes the need to keep up with customers’ rapidly evolving demands. Nugo’s newest features exemplify this consumer-first approach.

There are new tools where customers can transfer trips to a friend or relative via text, email, even social media direct messages. There will be smarter route choices, such as shorter transfers, for the less mobile, and “more ecological,” La Rocca called it, which encourages walking and mass transit.

The addition of voice recognition and AI-enabled bots will allow users to naturally order tickets from virtual agents using texts or voice commands.

Nugo proves how Gruppo FS can not just evolve but transform the transportation habits of an entire country.

“I used to drive 20,000 kilometers a year, and last year, it was less than 9,000,” thanks to Nugo, Gismondi said. “I’m honestly thinking of giving up my car entirely.”

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