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Public transport made smarter as Estonian companies team up abroad

Notwithstanding the competition that they can encounter within the borders of their country of origin, Estonian companies play here their home games when developing and implementing solutions aimed to change the way we do things over here. But when two of these companies team up to export real responses to real problems to other places in the world, well, that’s when we start seeing the sparks.

Let us get this clear, it’s not a matter of militant xenophilia – we just can’t help but celebrate when expertise and knowledge are rewarded with international recognition. And that’s what happened to Estonian companies Ridango and Singleton, that have recently completed all the stages to set up a new platform for smart and easy-to-access public transports in Sweden.

Ridango is the Estonian market-leader in the provision of transit solutions and connected services, from ticketing to real-time updates on traffic and timings, while Singleton is an Estonian company specializing in the use of React Native technology to develop apps and user interfaces. We put together for a chat Erki Lipre and Norman Saarso, the two CEOs of the companies, to understand what they have done for public transports in Sweden and how did they get there – and please, forgive us for this last transportation-related pun.

Erki Lipre, CEO at Ridango

Ridango is now providing solutions for smart public transportation in Sweden as well. What are the ongoing projects and the most interesting features?

One innovative project in Sweden has definitely been Movingo, which is Mälardalstrafik’s new rail ticketing central system, web portal and mobile application. For this solution, we used new ticketing system structures and API-s. It is called BoB, which is the new Swedish standard and defines how the ticketing system communicates with other ticketing systems. It also defines how the ticket is packed in Aztec code – which is like a QR code for mobile usage – for validation. Ridango was one of the first to roll out a new system following BoB standards in such scope.

Our project, in the end, is much more than a central system and a mobile application only. Technically it was very a complex solution to realize, but of course, travellers only see the web portal and its mobile application.

Are we talking about solutions that have been implemented or in use in Estonia first, or whole new functions?

We always use the main system that we have developed in Estonia and in Sweden as a baseline, then we make customizations and changes for new customers according to implementation-related needs. In this occasion, the central system based solution was adapted to fit with BoB standards. We built a new web portal and a whole new mobile application. The new mobile application provides a better and more seamless user experience compared to previous works, and this is definitely a big milestone for us, also for future projects.

What were the main challenges in implementing this solution in another country and, specifically, Sweden?

To be completely honest, Sweden is a familiar place for Ridango, as we have realized projects there since 2013. However, each project is challenging and unique in its own way. This one, in particular, was unlike anything we’ve done in the past because of the new standards introduced in Sweden. Being the first company to implement something new is rewarding, but it also carries a few disadvantages.

You need to be extra cautious whilst operating, as there are many stakeholders involved and practical aspects that need additional work and attention compared to what the standard outlines.

We also engaged for the first time our new partner, Singleton, to develop the mobile application for this project with us. Getting everybody on the move towards the same goal and timeframe is always a challenge. I am happy that our team managed to do it so well!

How did the cooperation with Singleton start, and what were the strongest points of this joint project?

We saw that Singleton was the organization we wanted to work with on this particular programme, and beyond: if we start working with somebody, we also know that this relationship can last for long. Thus, we have started to look into our other mobile ticketing solutions as well.

What are the future plans for Ridango? Is the company planning to expand to other countries, or municipalities in other countries, even further? Is there anything new coming up for Estonia too?

Ridango has done well over the last years. We used to be operative exclusively in Estonia, but since we entered the Swedish context we have gained a very strong market positioning in Sweden. We have also done projects in Greenland, Lithuania, Ukraine. We always seek out markets and programmes that fit our customer type, as well as technical beliefs for better ticketing solutions. The same we expect to see in the future.

For what regards Estonia, one major news and change is the contactless bank card (EMV) acceptance project in the city of Tallinn. Basically, we are rolling out acceptance for Mastercard and VISA contactless cards directly at the validators. This makes the travel so much more seamless: tap your card on the validator and the price is automatically deducted from your bank account. It’s a very convenient solution for public transport users and even more convenient for occasional users or tourists! It’s a big thing indeed, as Tallinn is in the top 3 of the capitals of Europe employing such solutions – with London being the first one.

Norman Saarso, CEO and Co-Founder at Singleton

What was the starting point of your cooperation with Ridango? What was your part of the job specifically, and what was the end result?

The Movingo app was the first project born out of the cooperation between Singleton and Ridango. When the project was in its planning phase, Ridango was looking for a new mobile app development partner for their solutions that was professional, flexible, and had a strong background in React Native technology – which is quite a new and rapidly evolving technology. Negotiations went well, and we became Ridango’s mobile partner, meaning that we’re the ones developing their mobile applications. I hope our cooperation with Ridango will be fruitful also in the years to come!

The outcome of this project, in particular, was a mobile application now used daily by thousands of Swedes travelling in Stockholm and areas nearby to purchase and validate their train tickets on Movingo (a Swedish transport operator) trains. Since there are up to 50 000 people commuting daily in the region, the app has to be reliable as a Swiss clock.

What were the challenges (if any) you encountered in implementing your solutions in the public transportation sector and in a country like Sweden?

A major challenge was to make sure that the Aztec-ticket validation works on every single type of validator that’s out there, on different devices, screen sizes, light conditions and so on. If the mobile ticket is your only ticket, it simply has to work everywhere. Period. Evenly important is the reliability of the ticket purchasing process. We put a great effort into making these two core functionalities reliable and efficient. Making sure we meet the accessibility requirements, as it’s a public transportation app, was demanding too.

However, I think the biggest challenges were encountered by Ridango, since they handled the backend development and they had to comply with the local technical standards which are quite demanding. Also, as the React Native technology is evolving quickly, another challenge for us on the app side was to always be in control of the situation to make sure that the outcome will always be there and up-to-date.

What are the strongest features of your solutions?

The app is a complete traveling solution. You can purchase and validate your train tickets using your phone, and you can check the train traffic in real time as the solution is integrated with the Trafikverket systems, the Swedish national Transportation Administration: departures, delays, traffic interruptions etc. You don’t even need an NFC card or similar, you can just show the validator your mobile phone screen with an Aztec code ticket and you’re good to go.  The solution as a whole is cutting-edge in a public transportation sector!

Future plans for Singleton alone, and abroad in cooperation with other Estonian companies

Singleton will keep growing. We’re a relatively young company (turning 3-years old in November!), so we want to keep growing like we did so far – doubling the team and the revenue every year. And we’re putting great effort in exporting our know-how outside Estonia, since we’ve learned that we can often offer better quality than local companies. For this reason, we’re always looking for partnerships like the one we built in this case with Ridango. The overall level of competence in the Estonian ICT sector is very high, but I think we would be more competitive globally if we export full solutions and not just competence in technology A, or know-how in sector B. And that’s the case where you have to join forces, like we did with Ridango.

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