Company Insights Interview: Petr Otoupal from Simpleway

In this week's edition of Company Insights we caught up with Petr Otoupal, Managing Director at Simpleway, a leading passenger information system.

Here's what he had to say.

Hi Petr, thanks for speaking to us. What was the inspiration/reason for starting Simpleway in the first place?

It's quite a complicated story and who we are today is a result of a lot of fortuitous events. Like a lot of people in IT, we all had a dream about having a business of our own. Each of us had different ideas, different projects and different experiences.

After we all eventually met it was really a matter of figuring out what holds the most potential, is feasible and what also excites us. What followed were the real startup years with all that it comes with - endless nights, overcharged credit cards and figuring everything out as you go.

How would you describe the working environment at Simpleway? Have you had to adapt your approach when working with international clients?

There is a lot of freedom in the startup sense but at the same time it doesn't feel fake and orchestrated. It's also a really lively environment. We strongly believe in communication and open collaboration. We encourage people to understand things outside their core domain.

Working with international clients is definitely one of the toughest parts of our job - there are many different barriers you need to be able to overcome - starting with language and cultural barriers all the way to regulatory barriers which require you to adjust parts of the software.

We are interested in your collaboration with Dubai Airport. What were some of the challenges you faced in implementing a project of this scale?

Dubai was huge leap for us - it was the biggest project we did and to some extent it still is today.

Dubai is the largest truly international hub in the world and what they were looking for was the ability to speak to any of the travellers flowing through the airport. That's a lot of languages you need to be able to speak in -28 to be precise .

Languages are a huge part of what we do, but the largest project before Dubai was Vancouver airport which required 8. For every language that we work with we have to find translators, voice talents, understand how the language works so we can develop the message assembly for that particular language.

To do this in 28 languages within the given time frame was something that no other vendor considered real. We thought otherwise and took up the challenge.

During the project we had to develop new tools, processes and the content creation department grew considerably - but most importantly we did deliver and now we can proudly say that our system is part of what makes flying through Dubai so great.

What are the main technologies do you use for your projects?

We try to be as open minded as possible.

The system we develop is always evolving and we are not afraid of deep cuts. Over the years accumulated quite a technology stack - the backend is Java and Scala, business rules and integration tasks are written in Javascript, database is MongoDB, user interfaces range from HTML5 through .NET to Flex. Plus a array of supporting scripting and deployment technologies.

On top of what a standard developer tool chain contains we have to understand a lot media streaming technologies like Cobranet, AVB, Dante, Q-Lan or even the standard VOIP.

Have you had difficulties hiring developers and how do you see the situation generally when it comes to attracting the best talent?

Simpleway doesn't have much visibility in Czech and Slovak market - the reason behind it is that the bulk of our sales is international and therefore our marketing is more focused into specific vertical markets (e.g. airports) than into regions.

While we managed to build a brand a reputation in the global transportation market it didn't really put us on radar of potential employees.

The work we do however is undeniably cool.

There is a huge difference between developing banking forms all day and developing a app helping to board a A380 - especially since a lot of times during system launch you are there facing all 600 something passengers making sure everything works as designed. Seeing it all come together is quite something.

Once potential employees understand who we are, what we work on they are literally hooked. If you are into transportation and travel - trains, planes, public transit - we are the place to work at.

What do you look for in a new colleague? Are there any particular skills or characteristics you value above others?

An open mind, appetite for adventure, passion for learning new things.

In your opinion, what does the future hold for passenger information systems? Do you envisage any major developments in the coming years?

We are at a breaking point in three areas:

1, True intermodal transport: Transportation systems are yet to become unified to provide a true seamless travel experience. There is a lot of activity in that area - e.g. air-rail connector projects are being built all over the world, but ultimately a lot of the problems have origins in outdated business models and software.

All this will change and the whole journey will become more streamlined and so next time you travel hopefully you'll hopefully opt for public transport since it is so convenient.

2, Exponential growth of intelligent endpoints: All endpoints - be that a bus stop display, mobile phone app or static displays at a large hub - require dynamic information built for the right time, place and situation.

There is huge growth in the number of these endpoints today - what used to be passive public transport stops with paper schedules is today becoming a intelligent stop equipped with at least a LED displays but a lot of times also with E-paper display and assistive tools for hearing impaired. That's a lot of endpoints which need a lot of custom contents - the legacy systems weren't built for that.

3, Passenger information system as a life safety communications source: Current passenger information systems aren't utilized nowhere near as much as they could be for life safety or out of the ordinary situation communication.

Recent events like the panic at JFK airport after Usain Bolt crossed the finish line only confirm this. There is a lot of room in this area and today's society which is constantly put on the edge by the media must be equally well informed about what's going on 100 meters from them as they are informed what's going on 10 000 km from them.

All of these areas will require features and performance that none of the systems currently in the market ave. We are actively pushing forward not just to be the first ones there but also to define the market and ultimately the future of travel.