The Traction Division of the SNCF experiments with urbanization and innovation using Talend ESB

The information systems of large companies often consist of silos that should be opened up to meet new business demands. Technology like that offered by Talend allows us to achieve this by implementing mediation layers to decouple flows between data producers and consumers, avoiding the infamous spaghetti plots in our information systems
Emmanuel Berthomé, IS Manager of the SNCF Traction Division

Dedicated to driver management, the Traction Division of the SNCF created a laboratory to test innovative solutions that meet the urbanization needs of the French railway operator’s information system. This laboratory developed five applications based on multiple exchanges of heterogeneous data transmitted through Talend solutions.

The “Traction” Division is both a Department and twenty establishments within the SNCF, incorporating one hundred production units including 11,000 drivers, 1,600 resource managers and 700 managers. It also manages training centers for drivers (who must receive a course of preparatory training for about a year before assuming the controls of an engine).

A laboratory to spark innovation

The Traction Division has developed and operates a subset of its information system called the “shared management platform”.

To tap local initiatives and quickly develop innovative solutions, we established a “laboratory mode”. This enables us to first meet our goal of aligning the IS with business processes, taking into account emerging needs that are not currently the subject of national projects. It also helps secure the information system, avoiding uncontrolled deployment of local developments which, if relevant, may be applied across the board before being fully developed. This laboratory is also a way to apply the urbanization principles adopted by the Traction Division, by deploying operational technical solutions that could then be applied for the rest of our IS,” reflects Emmanuel Berthomé, IS Manager of the SNCF Traction Division. “My main goal, which I share with my colleagues from other SNCF branches and departments, is to ensure the effectiveness and evolution of our information systems. This translates into master plans marking urbanization of our information systems as a priority. This task is particularly substantial and complex, given the variety of SNCF activities and applications utilized (with over thirty years of historical data), but also their separation. It is in this context that we launched these various small projects that both meet business requirements and achieve a POC (proof of concept) of urbanization. In terms of our laboratory, we have chosen to use Talend technology to illustrate the relevance of an urbanization strategy based on an open source ESB/ETL.”

5 innovative projects across multiple sectors

The Traction Division deployed 5 projects which demonstrate the relevance of the technology selected. Being completely unrelated, these projects were able to be performed while sharing this common base without causing any impact on the existing structure, and making future uses not initially anticipated possible without having to redesign or overhaul the information system.

The first project, “Icarius”, is an application that monitors driving costs. The former SNCF accounting information system has been replaced by an ERP which includes all general and analytical accounting, but not certain detailed accounts like that of the Traction Division. The objective is to consolidate different data once a month, mainly from two applications, to monitor the “driving” production. This data mainly concerns payroll, traction bonuses, variable pay elements, etc. and is now the subject of a monthly report prepared by SNCF management accountants. A new version has been swiftly developed within the context of building the budget for the sector and new providers, which are regionalized activities, reusing the same processing chains with projected data instead of actual data.

The “Guépard” or “Cheetah” project aims to consolidate the projected and actual costs of a production unit or facility, replacing an original application initially created in Excel currently being rewritten locally by a trainee. Time recognition is wider in scope than in Icarius because it takes into account the time that the employees spend not driving (training, leave, sick, time off, etc.), with the ultimate objective of balancing costs and resources. Hundreds of users are now benefiting from this application.

“Galapagos” is an application to forecast, control and monitor billing for the taxi rides needed to shuttle drivers to the job site and break points away from home. The majority of rides are scheduled during service structuring, but others, unexpected, happen at the last minute. “Three applications were being developed through local initiatives, which really demonstrated the actuality of this need. We coordinated user workshops to clearly identify the demands,” explains Emmanuel Berthomé. “One of the main difficulties faced by management accountants was to verify and justify the bills from taxi companies by reconciling them with resource management orders, because the total amount far exceeded the anticipated amount prepared when putting together the transportation plan.” Today, Talend ESB retrieves the initial transportation plan and its adaptations to carry out the reconciliation. The Traction Division is now exploring the possibility of establishing a specific flow with taxi companies who want this via a web service.

“Energold Gestion” or “Energold Management” is a management application for service stations that supply diesel fuel for the traction units of railway companies circulating on the main network (SNCF and other railway companies). The renovation and operation of hundreds of service stations are now connected to a new entity, “SNCF Fuels” in the Traction Division. “We deploy a software solution that is connected to sensors placed in the fuel tanks, in addition to distribution sensors, with detection via RFID chips for the recipient engines. This application will allow us to have an immediate and accurate view of our inventory, while controlling inputs and outputs. It helps us invoice our branches and other railway company clients,” comments Emmanuel Berthomé. The application completes the software package by providing an input HMI for service stations that are not yet equipped, and ensuring its integration in the IS. These various flows with the rest of the IS are completed via Talend ESB (engine repository, software data recovery and allocation into the ERP to ensure inventory accounting and billing).

Lastly, a fifth project is currently under development. Its objective is to deploy an application for viewing dashboards and manipulating indicators based on Roambi technology. It runs exclusively on touchscreen tablets. As this application has a specific data format, the Traction Division uses Talend Data Integration to transform data from Excel spreadsheets or different applications (including Icarius) into Romabi format. While this dynamic application now offers decision makers (Management Board) high level reporting (with the ability to zoom in on some numbers and see different dimensions of analysis), it could also easily be made ​​available to establishment directors, heads of production units and local managers who, thanks to the “Digital Business” program initiated by Guillaume Pepy, CEO of SNCF, are or will soon be equipped with an iPad. The informative data is stored by the Traction Division and the Talend processing chains are currently being developed.

Cost control and opening up of information systems

Emmanuel Berthomé emphasizes the role of Talend’s solutions in these projects. “Even though they are very different, these new applications from our laboratory demonstrate how it is possible to accomplish innovative projects quickly, without requiring extensive computer resources,” he says. “Talend's solutions are simple and light, enabling us to manage incoming and outgoing flows, while ensuring appropriate data transformations.”

He also stresses the cost control factor offered by Talend. “These open source bricks, with their estimated pricing, are much more economical than solutions offered by large proprietary vendors with equivalent functionality. We plan on gradually deploying other Talend bricks, such as BPM (Business Process Management) and MDM (Master Data Management), the latter of which can prevent us from going through transformation stages by adopting shared data,” he adds.

According to him, one of the main challenges facing his company, like others, is the interoperability of information systems. “The information systems of large companies often consist of silos that should be opened up to meet new business demands. This is one of the priorities of our master plan. Technology like that offered by Talend allows us to achieve this by implementing mediation layers to decouple flows between data producers and consumers, avoiding the infamous spaghetti plots in our information systems,” concludes Emmanuel Berthomé. “During these projects, we have received an abundance of support and good recognition and consideration of our needs. Thanks to its excellent technological vigilance and expertise in information system urbanization issues, our integrator CGI was able to offer us very operational solutions that fully comply with the standards in force. For its part, Talend offered an off-the-shelf solution that enabled us to urbanize in a different manner, which significantly improved scalability.”

Talend provides solutions that simply yet precisely address the various problems tackled by the SNCF Traction Division, both in functional and budgetary terms,” adds Marc Daudin, Manager of IT Consulting at CGI. “With CGI, SNCF has daily support, both in terms of the change or growth of needs and the deployment and integration of solutions. In the end, it leverages secure, optimized and easy to administer flows that yield substantial gains in productivity.”