One card, lots of functions

// Digital Transformation, IT Processes and Organisation

The customer care card of the Münster municipal works is becoming electronic and features new opportunities for the future. The change is powered by a conceptionally and technically sophisticated IT system.

It has been on the market since 1998 and counts roughly 60,000 customers at this point – the PlusCard, the Münster municipal works’ customer care card. Since spring 2013, the company has been equpping its PlusCard with a chip, rendering the card electronic. The new, intelligent PlusCard supplies its customers with new offers and services with genuine additional benefits. As a first electronic service, the Münster municipal works have introduced the electronic bus ticket (eTicket). It constitutes the basis for several transportation products which allow for a flexible use. The first eTicket product made available by the Münster municipal works is the 90 minute ticket, which has been on offer since March 2013. Its use is especially flexible, since it automatically determines the best price depending on the number of rides already used spontaneously and there is no basic fee attached. A further flexible ticket is in the works for release come autumn 2013. This ticket is aimed at subscribers and automatically calculates the fees according to time of use. Besides the electronic bus ticket, further services such as cashless parking in the city of Münster’s car parks or non-cash taxi rides with the PlusCard are planned for introduction in 2014.

The consultants of noventum consulting GmbH were able to support the technically challenging project in multiple areas. novum spoke with Sebastian Birkhahn, responsible for the entire PlusCard project at the Münster municipal works.

novum: Since March, the municipal works’ PlusCard has been equipped with new functionality. How long have you been working on the preparation?

Sebastian Birkhahn: The project started in 2010 and in March 2013 we gave clearance for customer use.

novum: Wherein lies the specific technical challenge with the electronic ticket, the first electronic service of
the PlusCard?

Sebastian Birkhahn: We are moving within a defined environment, the so-called CA (= Core Application) standard. It defines technical minimum standards in e-ticketing. However, to date, only those parts of the CA were implemented that check the validity of the ticket, such as in case of subscriptions. In Münster, we have made a time-based ticket for the customers possible, that is still connected to the eTicket-Deutschland system. While the ticket is stamped in the bus, a validity duration is recorded on the ticket and this is later documented and processed in a central system. This way we get to the actual technical challenge which lies in the heterogeneity of the systems involved. A lot of providers with diverse special solutions needed to be integrated. This applies to the system for the billing, the administration and the recording on the cards, but also to the whole mobile technology in the busses.

novum: Yet, isn‘t the integration of different systems nothing unusual in and by itself?

Sebastian Birkhahn: That is correct. But we are dealing with a peculiarity, here: in the past, most of the systems involved now did not have to be technically interconnected. They had their tasks and worked next to one another. There also was no technical platform that was applicable to all parties involved and on which everything converges. This is what we created in Münster, for the first time ever.

novum: So it all started with the concept?

Sebastian Birkhahn: Exactly. That was the point where the cooperation of the Münster municipal works and noventum started out. They created a technical concept for the
PlusCard, described processes from a technical point of view, and drew a system image.

novum: What came after the concept?

Sebastian Birkhahn: After the concept we started with the implementation. Initially the focus was on enabling the distribution of data – for example the local transportation tariffs – to different systems such as readers. Each and every current “booking” accordingly had to be reported back to the systems. Hence, it was a necessity that the booked ticket could be read and validated in the same way and with the same result by any end device. What we needed was a joint interface architecture for the many heterogeneous systems.
The necessary exchange of data from system to system is organised as multi-layered as the systems involved themselves.

novum: How about data protection?

Sebastian Birkhahn: Of course, data protection is an absolute priority for the municipal works, the PlusCard being no exception. Everything revolves around customer data and the possibility of creating bills that are comprehensible to the customers and show them the services they have used in a plain fashion. Consequently, all systems involved had to be united in an encapsulated overall system that allows for bringing the data together and at the same time ensures data integrity. For this, a separate virtual environment had to be established – a core prerequisite to be able to fulfil data protection requirements. We successfully established exactly that.

novum: In your experience, what is the most important learning step you took, which imitators should also take to heart?

Sebastian Birkhahn: Multi-functionality in central technical systems requires a considerable consolidation effort, and – where applicable – standardisation effort. And it is here, where our PlusCard is a pilot project. It is about seeing and/or creating larger contexts. A professional release management that in the past did not even seem to be necessary, is indispensable for this new system environment. We are forced into this not least by the systematic interconnection with CRM and SAP components, which also have an effect on the PlusCard landscape. Today, we are looking at our customers from a holistic point of view, not exclusively as either energy or transportation customers.

novum: Thank you very much for the interview!


Stadtwerke Münster

Sebastian Birkhahn


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