Railinc Tracks Blog

Railinc tracks are everywhere although you don't always see them. The Railinc Tracks blog reveals them one at a time and shows you how we help to keep railroads, railcars and rail shipments moving across America. The blog is staffed by the Railinc Corporate Communication team and will give you news and insights about our company, our people and our products.

Entries with tag agile .

Railinc Releases 2017 Annual Report

Last year, Railinc continued working to deliver value to customers through innovative technologies that help to address some of the freight rail industry’s most pressing challenges. Leveraging our people, processes and technology, we completed critical industry projects, advanced important initiatives, upgraded systems and developed solutions that addressed rail safety, asset maintenance and utilization, and traffic management.

We’re proud of our purpose-driven work, serving the freight rail industry and creating value for people and business across North America. Our 2017 Railinc annual reportDelivering Innovation—highlights that work and our accomplishments from the past year.

Links to our 2017 annual report and past reports are available on our Annual Report page.

Found on a Sticky Note

A sticky note detailing a user story from a Flex-to-AngularJS migration.


The sticky notes you find around Railinc tell stories about our culture and how we develop our products; how we learn from and work with our customers; and how we meet the technology needs of the freight rail industry. A recurring feature on the Railinc Tracks blog, Found on a Sticky Note takes a look at an individual sticky note and provides insights into who we are and what we do.

One of Railinc’s biggest challenges is managing technology refresh. Our people work hard to stay in front of technology changes so we can adopt new tools and development approaches as our customers’ needs shift.

Sometimes that means we leave behind old technologies.

For example, Railinc completed its four-year mainframe migration project in 2015, moving the company from an expensive and rigid technology approach to a less costly, broader and more flexible midrange solution. How is that helping? By enabling us to grow applications and systems and to handle the ever-increasing amount of railroad data we manage.

Even more technology changes are under way. Right now, Railinc is migrating its RailSight applicationsDemand Trace, Track and Trace, and Monitor—from Flex to the open-source, HTML- and JavaScript-based AngularJS framework. Already, Railinc has transitioned nearly two dozen applications to AngularJS, including the Damaged and Defective Car Tracking system, Clear Path, and Car Accounting Self-Service, and expects to complete the RailSight migration in early 2017.

The move from Flex will enhance the quality of RailSight applications, support changes to how customers access and use RailSight, and lower the cost to serve customers, said Charles Paye, director of commercial products.

“It lays a foundation for future growth and changes in RailSight,” Paye said.
 

Demand Trace Changes Support Query Capabilities, Improved Functionality

With the move from Flex to AngularJS, Railinc is making application changes—like the one in the sticky note above—that can have a real impact on how customers work. The note reads:
 

RS Demand Trace Flex Migration: Equipment Formatting Validation

Description: As a Demand Trace User, I’m unable to enter invalid equipment formats when running a trace.

About: This keeps users from searching invalid formats that won’t produce any trace results.

Requirement:

  1. Only alphanumeric entries allowed to be submitted in equipment field.
  2. Equipment can be separated by comma, space, or page break (enter)
  3. User can copy/paste using mouse clicks.
  4. User can copy/paste using keyboard shortcuts


Part of the RailSight suite of applications, Demand Trace gives users the ability to access data through the complete lifecycle of shipments and equipment. Instead of subscribing to a feed of data, a Demand Trace user can keep tabs on a shipment by manually submitting or scheduling a query whenever they want.

“It’s really data on demand,” said William Holt, a business analyst who works on Demand Trace. “You’re searching the equipment you want to find, when you want to search it, and you pay for those queries.”

To submit one of these queries, a user enters a series of alphanumeric characters—two to four letters and one to six numbers—associated with a particular piece of rail equipment. Demand Trace returns data on shipment events, including location and scheduled arrival and departure times.
 

The move to AngularJS allows for more separation of the UI on the back end. You can make changes to the front end, improving the way users interact with the app, without having to change the application itself.

 

With the newly migrated Demand Trace, the development team set up restrictions for queries. Without the restrictions, users could input any alphanumeric combination—one letter and seven numbers, for example—and run a trace no matter whether the rail equipment ID format was valid. Instead, as soon as a customer enters an invalid character, an error message appears and the user cannot submit the search, preventing “bad queries” on cars that may not exist and any unnecessary charges.

Developers also made it easier to copy and paste using keyboard shortcuts and the mouse. This makes it easier for users to move large amounts of data from an application like Excel to the query box in Demand Trace so they can get their work done more efficiently.

“The move to AngularJS allows for more separation of the UI on the back end,” Paye said. “You can make changes like these to the front end of the app, improving the way users interact with the app, without having to change the application itself.”
 

Migration Supports Richer Apps, Better User Experience

Railinc employees work together during an Agile training session.There are reasons beyond flexibility to make the move to AngularJS.

“Chrome and other browsers aren’t supporting Flex,” said Prabhu Kompella, a project development manager. “It’s becoming obsolete.”

The ubiquity of mobile devices makes the move to AngularJS all the more necessary. While Flex supports interactivity, it is not supported by the two most common mobile operating systems—iOS and Android—and doesn’t enable responsive web design, which automatically adapts a web page to the type of device a customer is using.

Not only are applications on the AngularJS platform mobile friendly, they’re easier to build and update.

“The level of productivity for developers is better,” said Ryan Nguyen, a user interface architect. “It cuts down on the development time.”

There is also more opportunity to automate testing, which speeds the development process. The platform also supports changes that will improve the overall user experience, bringing applications in line with what customers are used to on non-Flex web pages.

“What we’ll end up with is a richer application for users,” Paye said. “That helps us deliver a better user experience.”

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Railinc Ranked a Top Triangle Developer

Let’s be clear: We all prefer to be recognized for the quality and value of our work.

Like when the Railinc-made mobile app AskRail, which is a safety app for first responders, gets discussed on CNBC or by a rail industry publication. That makes us feel proud because our work means something.

But it’s also nice to be recognized for having a large presence in a thriving tech community where that product gets made. Like right here in the Triangle, one of the hottest tech communities in the U.S.

Railinc was recently ranked as one of the largest software developers in the region by the Triangle Business Journal. This annual survey ranks the top 25 Triangle software developers by the number of local employees.

Coming in at No. 8 on the list, Railinc is in good company with area stalwarts including IBM, SAS, Allscripts, HCL Technologies and Red Hat. With 295 employees, Railinc is also one of eight companies listed with more than 250 employees. This is the sixth consecutive year Railinc has appeared on the list, which was published on Aug. 14.

"We have a lot of talented people at Railinc doing important work to serve the freight rail industry," said Allen West, president and CEO. "The Triangle is one of the great places for technology workers in the U.S., and it's exciting for us to be among the largest software developers in the region."

A complete list of the largest software developers in the Triangle is available at http://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/subscriber-only/2015/08/14/software-developers.html (subscription required).

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Training, New Tech Help Employees "Own" Apps

Employee training is an important part of Railinc’s culture. From certifications to regular lunch and learns to on-site training in a working rail yard, employees have a variety of opportunities to grow their knowledge of Railinc technologies and the freight rail industry.

Remaking the way business analysts, developers and others approach their work, like the Railinc Rules and Process Modernization (RPM) program is doing, requires a significant training effort that helps educate employees on new technologies and concepts.

"We're digging into our applications and rewriting rules,” said Jeanine Bradley, senior manager of rules and process management at Railinc. “We're developing standards we can apply company-wide and ways to assess work outcomes. And we're training a lot of our people, teaching them new technologies and new ways to approach their work."

 

Nearly all Railinc business analysts have completed training that focuses on capture, analysis and specification of business rules. Many have attended business process model notation and rules authoring training as well as sessions on technologies such as RuleXpress. This year, 15 business analysts are participating in an intensive, hands-on "learn-by-doing" training program that pairs Railinc employees with outside business rules experts.

Railinc employees participate in RPM training.


"The RPM effort has taught me a lot about my product, Car Repair Billing," said Kiersten Duffy, a Railinc business analyst who is participating in training throughout 2016. “Once you go through the entire modernization of the business rules process, you are truly the product owner and know your application inside and out. It has helped me to identify production issues in a fraction of the time. When you’ve been in the code, you see first-hand the expected action. Once you have this knowledge, you can bring a lot of value to customers.”

Railinc is also conducting training sessions for technical staff, including developers, quality assurance engineers and architects.
 

Railinc RPM Program Featured in Red Hat Case Study

As part of the RPM program, Railinc is implementing technologies that will support these modernization efforts, including the Red Hat JBoss BPM Suite. Red Hat is one of Railinc's longtime technology partners and the Red Hat JBoss BPM Suite had the flexibility and cost-effectiveness required for the RPM program. Red Hat JBoss BPM Suite provides key capabilities, including the flexibility of open source, which prevents vendor lock-in and promotes innovation for both technical and business teams.

“Open source technologies help to support Railinc’s culture of innovation,” Bradley said. “They give our developers maximum flexibility to create solutions for the freight rail industry, and they cost less than other, more rigid technologies.”

Red Hat recently featured Railinc's RPM program in a case study that highlighted the increased agility, improved productivity and enhanced industry knowledge that the RPM program and the Red Hat solution are enabling.

"Red Hat strives to help our customers meet their business needs in a flexible and open manner, and we're pleased that Railinc chose JBoss BPM Suite as part of its modernization initiative,” said Phil Simpson, Red Hat’s JBoss BPM product marketing manager. “With Red Hat BPM Suite, Railinc is providing essential business rule management facilities for its customers in the freight rail industry."

—Railinc Corporate Communications 

This is the second in a two-part series on Railinc’s Rules and Process Modernization (RPM) program, its impact and the training the company is providing. Click here to learn about the program and how it is changing our employees’ approach to their work.

Found on a Sticky Note

The sticky notes you find around Railinc tell stories about our culture and how we develop our products; how we learn from and work with our customers; and how we meet the technology needs of the freight rail industry. A regular feature on the Railinc Tracks blog, Found on a Sticky Note takes a look at an individual sticky note and provides insights into who we are and what we do.

The North American freight rail industry depends on rules and processes to ensure the proper movement, interchanging, monitoring and repair of more than 1.5 million railcars across the 144,000-mile North American rail network.

Why are these rules so important?

"They externalize business logic, enable business agility and enforce data quality around activities that are critical to safe and efficient rail operations," said Jerry Vaughn, Railinc's director of interline product management.

Freight rail operations are complex. Rail carriers haul and interchange cars that do not belong to them. A railcar owned by a company on the East Coast might get pulled from service for repairs on the West Coast. Railcars and individual components need regular testing and inspection, no matter where they are. Data on activities such as repairs and recalls have to be reported and shared across the industry to verify the health of railcars in service.

Industry rules help to ensure the entire industry applies the same standards to these types of tasks. Contained within the Association of American Railroads' official rules manuals, industry rules cover everything from component characteristics to data reporting procedures to processes around car hire. Many of Railinc's systems and applications are designed to support these rules-based activities and are embedded in critical operations and financial systems throughout the industry.

Two Sentences Help Reduce Customer Confusion Around a Rule

The sticky note above summarizes a user story connected with the freight rail industry's Rule 107 and was part of work completed in late 2015 on Railinc's Damaged and Defective Car Tracking (DDCT) system. The note reads:

US32251

Notification — Rule 107

Update verbiage

A centralized system for tracking damaged and defective railcars, DDCT standardizes the process for reporting and storing data on these cars. For decades, this information was documented on a 3 1/2-inch by 8-inch paper defect card affixed to the side of a railcar. Companies maintained their own tracking systems, which often led to conflicting or unavailable data and required car owners to contact carriers to find out a car's condition.


A defect card holder on the side of a railcar.

Implemented in January 2011, DDCT standardized these processes, improving data accuracy and timeliness, reducing administrative costs for railroads and car owners, and improving the enforcement of industry car hire rules. Industry rules require that rail carriers, car owners and repair shops use DDCT for all cars that participate in interchange.

Railinc team members at the whiteboard.

Rule 107, referenced in the sticky note, establishes the sequence of events that must occur to compensate a railcar owner whose equipment is damaged or destroyed. For example, if a railcar is damaged during interchange, the responsible rail carrier must follow steps detailed in Rule 107 to reimburse the car owner for the damage or to pay for the repair.

DDCT sends auto-generated email notifications to car owners throughout this process, helping them stay informed about the status of their cars.

"Based on what we were hearing from our customers, one of our emails needed more information," said Sophie Hamida, a business analyst on the DDCT team. "Car owners were taking time to call Railinc to find out why the system was displaying the data it was."

In this case, the repairs on a railcar might be complete, but the incident did not show in the system as being closed and the car itself was not removed from the related maintenance advisory. The DDCT team added verbiage to the email that detailed the timeline for closing the Rule 107 incident.

"The aim was to reduce customer confusion about why a car that might have returned to service still showed up in the DDCT system as an open incident," Hamida said. "We only added two sentences to the email, but it will help make what can be a challenging process a little easier for customers."

Railinc Program to Modernize Rules Management

The business logic, rules and processes embedded in Railinc products help to enable the enforcement of industry requirements, like Rule 107. Last year, the company launched a multi-year Rules and Process Modernization (RPM) program, which will modernize the management of the industry rules and processes that underlie our applications and systems.

The RPM program leverages technology to enable the company to take a more consultative approach with customers and helps to improve the efficiency, consistency and reliability of these rules and processes within Railinc applications. DDCT was among the program's proof of technology projects.

"Nearly half of our project development activities involve the implementation of business rules and processes," said Jeanine Bradley, senior manager for business rules and process management.

These rules and processes have traditionally been buried in code in Railinc applications. Because they were not visible and documented with a common language, it has been challenging to respond quickly to customer questions or requests for changes to applications.

"The RPM program is an effort to advance how we manage rules and processes within our applications," Bradley said. "We want to be able to eliminate the complexity so we can support our customers better and deliver innovative solutions that meet the ever-changing needs of the industry."

—Railinc Corporate Communications

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