Putting tomorrow’s travel app on the rails

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If you regularly commute via public transportation, you may find yourself consulting various travel apps to figure out the real-time timetables of your train, bus, tram or metro. Some will allow you to buy a ticket digitally, some won’t. Now, IBM iX®, the business design arm of IBM Global Business Services, and NMBS/SNCB have joined forces to create a smart travel app that in the future will enable you to plan your entire itinerary in a single app.

In 2019, the National Railway Company of Belgium (NMBS/SNCB) launched a search for a partner to help them reinvent their mobile app experience for travelers. With 1 million unique users per month and anywhere from 400,000 to 800,000 unique users per day, the NMBS/SNCB app is one of the most popular apps in Belgium. The NMBS decided to redesign their app to better meet the needs of travelers today. IBM Belgium was chosen to help put tomorrow’s mobility app on the rails.


Creating a customized mobility experience

Design and tech experts at IBM iX and the NMBS Innovation Lab had quite the challenge ahead: create a future-proof app with a wide variety of functionalities, ranging from a personal MySNCB account, the enabling of in-app payments and the purchase of both train tickets and rail passes.

“Our ultimate goal is to create an app that takes you from start to finish, and not just from station to station”, explains Stefan Costeur, head of the NMBS/SNCB Innovation Lab. “This also means including anything from buses and trams to car sharing or bike sharing.”

“Secondly, we want to create a customized user experience. We want to be able to suggest to each customer the train ticket or rail pass that matches their unique profile. If, for example, a young adult takes the train during the summer, the app will automatically show them special season tickets.”

Last but not least, ordering your train ticket and even ‘Multi’ rail passes online will soon be as easy and user-friendly as ordering a takeaway meal on your favorite delivery app

Never waste a good crisis to pivot quickly

Stefan Costeur Digital Sales and Marketing Manager / Head of Innovation Lab NMBS-SNCB

The launch of the brand-new NMBS National app was planned for November 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic decided otherwise. However, not in the sense one would expect: the health crisis actually accelerated the innovation process.

“Nowadays, people are more likely to take the train when they know there will be enough room”, clarifies Stefan Costeur. “Secondly, the Belgian government decided to hand out free rail passes to every Belgian citizen. Over 3 million people have already requested theirs.”




MoveSafe App: why agile thinking matters

This seemingly counterintuitive situation prompted the railway company to add a new feature to the app and launch a first version on September 9. The MoveSafe app (available for iOS and Android), was upgraded to the full app that now also allows purchase of tickets. This major upgrade was released on 18 January. You can use the app to plan your itinerary, receive a real-time prediction of train passenger density and purchase tickets. This enables people to travel as safely as possible by avoiding the busiest trains.

Adding these new features in a relatively short amount of time also showed the importance and strengths of agile design thinking. By using ReactNative (Facebook’s open source platform) for the front end, NodeJS for the middleware, the IBM iX and NMBS innovation team created a flexible structure with the different building blocks. Contrary to the former legacy systems, this enabled the team to keep on adding features, depending on customers’ demands. The new traveler app is well on track to becoming the future-proof mobility app we’ve all been wishing for.


Discover how an agile and innovation approach helps SNCB/NMBS to create an improved customer experience.

Watch the on-demand webcast


About IBM iX

IBM iX® the business design arm of IBM Global Business Services and one of the world’s largest digital agencies, works at the intersection of progressive strategy, creative vision and transformational technology to tackle the biggest business challenge: tomorrow. IBM’s global team of 17,000+ business designers across their global studio network, help its clients reinvent their business by design, successfully tackling every challenge in today’s changing technology landscape. For more information on IBM iX, visit http://ibm.com/ibmix. Follow @IBM_iX on Twitter


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