As the world is finally opening up again, our project leads and business development managers are back on the road. After almost two years of remote collaboration with our Belgian partners, we were finally able to visit them in April 2022. Not only did we decide to visit our existing partners, but also took the chance to meet potential partners and extend our geographical reach in Belgium. After meeting with three out of the four public transport operators in the country, we have a better understanding of the current challenges to implement multi-operator projects but are also excited for the great opportunities to come.
Since May 2020, our pilot app “FTQ Lab” is available in Belgium on the SNCB (National Railway Company of Belgium) and TEC (regional bus operator) networks. The two pilot projects started during the pandemic and have the goal of testing our innovative technology and providing a new and easy access to public transport tickets for SNCB and TEC customers. Even though the projects have been running for quite some time, the FAIRTIQ team had never met the partners before. So when the world opened up again, we knew it was time to go visit them.
Preparing a market visit after such a long time of working remotely is not to be underestimated: our goal was to discuss as many topics as possible and talk to as many people as possible in just a few days. First, with our existing partners, we defined the topics which we thought should be covered face-to-face at least once in the project: finance and controlling, project scope and future roadmap. Then, we contacted potential partners to present our technology and discuss project opportunities. For existing as well as potential partners, discussing a multi-operator project was the number one topic, so we prepared accordingly. As in other regions in Germany and Austria, we know that FAIRTIQ is a great enabler when operators are looking for a common ticketing channel. Our product is able to combine several tarifications, tariff optimisation and can help with introducing a common barcode and inspection process.
Off we go
So in early April 2022, Reto, Bruno, Julie and I made our way to Brussels. We travelled by train which was very convenient to finalise the content of our upcoming workshops and discuss the last details. Once we arrived, we had one thing in mind: testing! It was the first time that we were able to use our own technology in Belgium and were very happy to see that everything worked as expected. We spent the evening riding around the city and testing use cases to prepare for our meeting with a potential partner the next day. This was a great way to understand how public transport works in Belgium, especially with regard to ticketing and validation.
The next day, we met with the local operator in Bruxelles. They operate a very complex and dense network of public transport in the city including bus, tram and metro so our journey mapping technology is crucial there. We learned about the challenges to detect the right public transport mode taken by STIB customers (especially the metro), not just to sell the right ticket but to be able to optimise their operations. Later that day we also met with another potential partner in Mechelen, which was once again a great opportunity to test our technology ourselves and showcase it. The next day, our workshop with SNCB was divided into different topics (e.g. finance and controlling, project scope, marketing, future collaboration) and we met with several collaborators, each responsible for a specific subject. It was particularly important to meet face-to-face to dive into complex and strategic topics and we learned a lot from each other. Such workshops can be very interesting when they are conducted onsite, not just for the content and the outcome but for everything else you learn around it during breaks and small talks.
We get to know Belgium
While work was the main incentive for our visit, we were also delighted to spend some time outside of the office with our SNCB collaborators.
They took us to local places and we enjoyed getting to know each other on a more personal level.
The pandemic showed us that projects rolled out remotely are just as successful as onsite ones. However, we truly believe that meeting in person strengthens personal relationships and gives a unique dynamic to projects. While working remotely offers flexibility and speed in some cases, meeting our partners in person once or twice throughout a project has a real added value and is something that we will keep doing in the future.