As London buses say ‘goodbye’ to cash fares, travel and mobile payment apps will become increasingly important, predicts Tom Levey, chief technologist at AppDynamics
There are so many methods of paying for things today that it seems amazing that ‘old’ money has not just survived, but continued to prosper in the age of Barclays Pingit, contactless cards and PayPal. There is, however, at least one thing that cash itself can no longer buy – a simple bus ticket.
On 6 July, London’s buses went cashless in a bid to reduce boarding times and speed up journeys. It makes sense – travellers have long been incentivised to avoid cash thanks to lower Oyster fares, and barely one per cent of all bus journeys in the capital were paid for using cash.
But the future of transport in London will no longer be monopolised by Oyster: since 2012 contactless payment cards have been accepted on buses. Soon, we’ll be able to pay by using the NFC capabilities on our smartphones, which means we can expect a whole new class of travel app that combines information, payment and updates.
While this is another great example of the world becoming increasingly defined by software, any replacement for cash – whether it is a contactless card or smartphone app – must be robust enough to deliver perfect performance during the very highest levels of demand. After all, these apps will probably be the most important and most-used app on any Londoner’s smartphone. When it becomes user’s sole means of payment, any downtime or performance issues will be unacceptable.
Moreover, there will be no shortage of competing payment and travel apps on the market, so any performance problems could mean that whole tranches of your customer base will be gone for good.
This is an extremely important issue for Transport for London (TfL) to address. First of all, if users cannot make or pay for journeys, TfL loses revenue. Should large numbers of users be affected by poor performance or unavailability, it could cause the same sort of economic damage as a tube strike. The long-suffering London commuter will be taken to even less tolerable levels of frustration, while visitors – including the five million tourists who visit the capital each year – are also unlikely to be impressed.
London’s reputation, its economy and its quality of life all depend to a large extent on how well its public transport infrastructure functions. Now, applications play a crucial role in this as well. How can TfL and application developers ensure their own payment apps do not go off the rails when even Twitter, Facebook and major banks cannot guarantee 100 percent uptime for their own apps?
The answer is for app providers such as TfL to have incredibly deep and up-to-the-second intelligence of how their apps are performing. This must be in place from the very beginning – there can be no repeat of the well-publicised problems that the Oyster card system experienced during its introduction, especially now that we no longer have the traditional fall-back of cash.
The rush hour is coming
This ‘application intelligence’ should be able not only to identify availability and performance problems, but also to highlight the root cause and users, devices or locations which have been affected – right down to the code level. And while bad news travels fast, putting transport bodies in the (somewhat) fortunate position of having almost immediate feedback from users when an app goes wrong, it’s much better to ensure that issues are identified and resolved before they begin to affect the user.
That is why it will be important for organisations to ensure that their monitoring approach includes end user experience monitoring. Ultimately applications and infrastructure can seemingly be performing well but what really matters is the customer’s experience.
Many solutions offer both synthetic (simulated user) and real user monitoring. Providers will need both to ensure holistic monitoring here. Real user monitoring can help to identify unpredicted customer behaviour caused by a configuration update error – such as when Delta Air Lines website incorrectly began offering ultra-low fares at the end of last year.
It is vital, then, that TfL and other organisations have an application performance strategy in place well before they introduce any travel app. Only with these tools in place can they ensure that they can monitor, fix, and even predict any performance issues before they become at best a major annoyance, at worst a real hindrance to travel in London.
The Oyster card has brought more intelligence to the way we pay for public transport and subsequently revolutionised London travel. App providers have the opportunity to reap the rewards of this transactional shift by approaching their apps with intelligence. The ones who do this will be the ones who win.
This comment was contributed by Tom Levey, chief technologist at application performance management company AppDynamics.
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