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Sound Transit

"It’s about building confidence, really."

Regional transit authority

A forerunner in the field of smart IT solutions

“You need to be there when you say you’re going to be there,” says Matt Clark, Senior Enterprise Architect at Sound Transit. It sounds like a simple conclusion, but reality is a stubborn thing.

Public transit providers are dealing with fast-changing cities and even faster-changing customer demands. They ask for comfort, convenience and speed, while increasing traffic flows cause gridlocks and delays.

The secret of successful transit companies therefore lies in two things: a strong focus on rider communication and a solid IT backbone to streamline collaboration with partners and clients. A combination of both sounds undoable, expensive and too good to be true. Yet, Sound Transit makes it happen with the help of the Yenlo team.

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The search for a service-based platform

The strategy was clear, and so were the requirements for the new IT solution. With over 30 years of experience in IT, Matt knew exactly what sort of solution he was looking for. A service-based platform seemed appropriate, so he and his team started assessing commercial and open source products. WSO2 caught their attention, so they decided to do a small proof of concept.

Transparent and competitive

Sound Transit is a public transit provider that serves the urban areas of the counties King, Pierce and Snohomish (Washington, USA). They have their own trains and buses, but also manage customer payment systems, track works and the construction of bridges and tunnels. To get every traveler from A to B as fast and as comfortable as possible, Sound Transit closely collaborates with local transit providers, that have their own vehicles and time schedules.

Being a regional transit authority, it is their job to partner with the local transit agencies to create an integrated regional high-capacity transportation system. Quite a challenge, especially when you consider the public character of the agency.

Sound Transit spends public money, meaning they need to be transparent and cost-conscious in everything they do, and the public just entrusted them with a large capital investment to build more innovative and modern transit services.

Better rider communications

Fortunately, people like Matt Clark constantly search for ways to keep Sound Transit a helpful and progressive transit provider. “Until recently, we relied on legacy systems that worked perfectly fine in the old days,” he explains. “But as the number of applications grew, we started to bump up against all sorts of problems. For example, there was a gap to integrate the legacy systems and the cloud based systems such as Human Resources.”

“Sincerity and transparent: that’s the kind of people we want to work with”

At the same time, Matt recognized the need to enable better rider communications. “We wanted to be able to collect real time information from ourselves and our partners and share that with our customers,” he says. “As the region is absolutely gridlock with traffic, it’s never been more important to let customers know where we are. A bus needs to be there when expected. If it’s late, we should tell them. It’s about building confidence, really.” Another example revolves around monitoring passenger trains that can be delayed by the presence of freight trains on the same tracks.

Getting the right people

Building an open source service-based platform to improve customer communication and partner collaboration seemed like the perfect idea. And it was, except for one thing. “My initial plan was to build the platform and hand it over to the internal development team,” Matt says. “But we struggled to hire enough quality people in Seattle’s competitive labor market. So, I changed the approach and looked to hire a partner firm instead.”

Matt wrote a request and contacted companies all around the world to ask for support. Proposals came pouring in, one of them coming from WSO2 leading partner Yenlo. Although Dutch in origin, they had an office in the USA and now these days also in Sri Lanka, next to WSO2's main development centers, making on-premise support possible. It turned out to be the perfect match with the profile of Sound Transit. “Yenlo proved to be most in-tune with what we’re trying to do,” Matt explains. “We’d had previous interactions with them, and they had shown their services were easy to work with. Moreover, they brought ideas to the table. They were sincere and transparent in the way they marketed their services. I think I instantly knew they were the kind of people we wanted to work with.”

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Successfully delivered for Sound Transit by our experts. Delivered by our experts

Moving to the cloud

The collaboration started off small. The Yenlo team was asked to assist in the clustering of products to make the platform more resilient. “When you have multiple installations of the same product serving the same needs, clustering helps ensure availability,” Matt explains. When the clustering part was finished, the hybrid team of the internal IT department and the Yenlo developers moved on to the next challenge: integrating the onsite computers to the cloud.

An API-infrastructure was built, so that the on-premise ERP system could be integrated with the cloud contract management system. DevOps and even NoOps tools were used to automate all of the deployments. In the meantime, the platform was launched and improved on the go, so that both Sound Transit and partners could already benefit from the new solution.

Slowly, things started to come together. Link Real-time was implemented, a tool that provided commuters with arrival predictions and real-time travel updates for the light rail service. Yenlo also will be helping with Sounder Real-time, for the commuter rail service, and Rider Alerts, that allows Sound Transit to send messages out to their riders, such as “Your train’s going to be delayed.”

“If a train breaks down today, our drivers will know. But we want our customers to know too, so they can change their plans and take a detour in time”

Winning team

Matt is far from done optimizing the platform. “We have around six projects that we’ll be working on in the upcoming years,” he says. “In the future, we want to enable our buses and trains to create alerts themselves.” There are sensors on our trains already, but they are only used for internal processes. “If a train gets delayed today, our drivers will know. But we want our customers to know too, so they can change their plans and take a detour in time.”

Apart from optimizing their own communication flows, Sound Transit wants to make the platform available to external developers, and turn it into a hub where smart applications come together and create an all-in-one solution for travelers. By providing customers with more detailed and personalized information, Sound Transit closes the gap between delivery and expectations.

A team of Yenlo developers will keep on providing support for both monitoring and development tasks. This means that for the upcoming years, the winning team will stay together. When asked about their secret, Matt answers: “We made some strategic choices and we focused on being flexible. Second, we managed to get the right people on board by collaborating with Yenlo. In the end, I think finding skilled and experienced IT professionals was our biggest problem, and they fixed it.”

About Sound Transit

Sound Transit plans, builds and operates express bus, light rail and commuter train services. The public agency serves the urban areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties in Washington state. As a regional transit authority, it is their job to build a regional high-capacity transit system that works with its local transit partners. 

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"I wanted the platform to be future proof and I wanted it to be able to replace components. WSO2 simply ticked all the boxes."

Matt Clark, Senior Enterprise Architect

Additionally, Sound Transit manages and coordinates the construction of tunnels, bridges and other regional infrastructure. They are a forerunner in the field of smart IT solutions, that they use to optimize traffic flows, rider experience, and partner collaboration. For more information, visit their website.

Solutions and Services we used to make this project a huge success.

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