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Event Hub - Reimagine Dataminr Human-in-the-loop Alerting Paradigm

Dataminr 

Mid 2022 - 2023

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TMS is undergoing a next-generation modernization upgrade to take railroad to new heights of operational performance. 

Role

• User Research, product design, design system, content writing
• Selling and educating UX within the organization, UX Evangelist.
• Figma, Sketch, Zeplin, Miro, Adobe suite
• Duration: January 2019 - November 2020 

What's TMS?

The more you know about your railroad, the better and more efficiently you can manage it.

As a core operation and communications system under RailConnect™ suite, TMS (Transportation Management System) is a SaaS application that provides users a variety of microservices including automating and tracking car movements and switching operations, provides visibility to rail assets, and empowers workers to better plan workflow, generate work orders, measure performance, and improve customer service, etc.

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The Beginning

In early 2019, I joined GE Transportation - Digital Solution as a UX interaction designer at Buckhead, Atlanta, GA. It was overwhelmed to start with by understanding the logistic domain knowledge such as rail world term, freight supply-chain principle, complicated workflow, and barbaric CLIs (Command Line Interfaces) etc.

After 2-3 months I started to get up to speed on where we at today and what company trying to the archive on the roadmap to ultimately ship a new TMS to rail world and turn the industry into next level.

Background

The Transportation Management System (TMS for short) is one of our Digital Solutions backbone products meant to be served by World Class II and Class III railroads, regional, and short-line railroads including railroad holding companies. Currently, legacy TMS servers more than 500 customers across the North American market and new TMS plans to enter overseas markets and Class I customers.

The legacy TMS has been running in the market for 20+ years and exist in the AS/400 series. The text-based command-line interface required the user to rely on keyboard commands and shortcuts, so the user memorizes every command available to navigate the system with a primitive graphical interface. 

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A screenshot of legacy TMS a.k.a Green screen

To try to innovate the product, in the early 2010s GE Transportation developed a new version of TMS called RailConnect 2.0 (RC2 for short). Instead of being a native app, RC2 was designated as a web app that tends to function as a GUI application to replace legacy TMS. However, the backbone of the software hasn't changed. RC2 was just developed as an HTML shell over the AS/400 operating system by bridging back the legacy TMS backend. Except for adding some visualization features such as Dashboard, Visual yard, and Visual train, for the most part, the majority of workflows didn’t change. The overall user experience didn't meet expectations and caused most of the users are still choose to using legacy TMS at the present time.

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RailConnect 2.0 Screenshot

Challenge

From user's perspective

Whether the legacy TMS or RC2, there is a steep learning curve for any new user. The training process for the product alone usually takes a year and a half without having in mind the innate complexity of the rail industry. A considerable number of elder users and SMEs are on the verge of retiring. Old and new staff turnover is right here. The loss of knowledge is a big concern for GE Transportation and rail industry customers. 

For the old generation of railroaders, there is a lot of resistance from them around the topic of re-designing TMS or forcing them to switch to a new platform. in their own words, we are trying to re-invent the wheel. That is not our purpose at all, but was defined by a vision statement workshop we conducted. Most of them have been using our legacy TMS for more than 20 years, there is a lot of muscle memory involved, and since the innovation of RC2 has not been profound or successful, they have negative expectations from what we can deliver. 

For the new generation of railroaders who are not used to the text-based command-line interfaces. They are looking forward to adopting a modernization user interface and user-friendly experience, however, the failure of RC2 proved to be detrimental to the user experience because it increased the amount of time the user had to spend performing actions. Since the RC2 is a mask on top of the green screen, this also increased the response and loading times. They are also equally pessimistic about the new product.

From technology's perspective

The language used to build the product is outdated, finding proper resources to update the system is difficult and costly. Some simple tasks that our users take for granted (like the ability to easily reset a password) are not feasible within legacy technology constraints.

The current system is not smart enough to alert the user for discrepancies, errors, or exceptions, which means users have to manually sort through hundreds of rows of information to figure out if something is not working. This makes communication via telephone or email between different parties involved crucial, increasing the risk of lost information and operational times.

Most of the rail industry still relies on outdated technology, the complexity level of operating a railroad, and the huge amount of data makes it difficult to build a new tool and migrate current customers. However, current legacy solutions actually work, even if they are not completely efficient. 

From ecosystem's perspective

Though we have a suite of products to offer, the user experience and the UI in each one of those are different. A user from one of our solutions can’t switch smoothly from one to the other, and most likely they will be able to find some basic information but they will not know how to perform actions if they are not familiar with the exact layout and workflow in between different platforms.

There is no single data pool for our customers, every instance of every single company exists within its unique pocket, which means that the data team needs to restructure everything into a single data warehouse so the right connections can be made. Migration, implementation of the new version, and mapping the correct fields and industry reference files is a difficult and long process.

From team internal's perspective

User Experience and Design Thinking are relatively new concepts within the organization, our role in the team asks us to not only be able to deliver our day to day responsibilities within our teams and customers, but we as designers and researchers need to evangelize and prove the value of UX that we can add to the organization executives and stakeholders.

Due to the newness of design expertise within the organization, our team is still structured on a small scale.

Our Approach

The Double Diamond Model

Our current framework consists of four major phases in the process that use elements from the Design Thinking process, Lean UX, and Agile methodologies: Research, Synthesis, Ideation, and Implementation. This process that the team has been streamlining and adapting for the industry during past years, helps every person involved to understand what is the right thing to design and then design things right.

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Discover

Field Study

It is essential to be aware of the contexture and how our user interacts with today's application, we had periodically visited some of our big customers, capturing information from different types of users for different product capabilities. The researcher and I get exposed first-hand to processes and environments and engage in conversations with users, understanding both articulated and unarticulated needs while understanding the complexity of the railroad operations.

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Flying on the wall to observe NS Yard Master operating daily tasks on TMS green screen

Operating Manager demoing how she mixes TMS green screen and paper pen to work on tasks.

Interview

During the site visit, we have interviewed different roles including executive-level users, operations managers, and yardmasters in the organization to understand what each persona thinks, feels, and needs.

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Interview with Operating Manager in TNW

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Interview with Business Manager in NOPB

Workshop

We've run various workshops while we visit our customers to define pain points and opportunity areas for future improvement.

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Process Mapping Workshop

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Pain point prioritization Activity

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Rules Engine Workshop with GWI - Mad libs Activity

Define

Vision Statement

The main purpose of Modernization TMS is to create an intelligent, flexible, scalable, automated platform that will be beneficial to railroads and their customers because it automates the majority of processes, increase network visibility, reduces operational costs, and increases throughput and profit.

Goals

Persona & User Journey

The role-based perspective focuses on the user’s role in the org. In some cases, our designs need to reflect upon the part that our users primarily interact with but to a certain degree also need to be aware to ensure jobs could be done with exception happened. An examination of the roles that our users typically play in the rail world can help inform better product design decisions. 

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Service Blueprint

We invited the whole RailConnect product team to gather together to create a service blueprint and map out all the touchpoints of each role in the org. Based on the personas we built earlier, we divide each persona into three big buckets: Externa, Yard, and Office. The visualization of personas' relationships in blueprints uncovers potential improvements and ways to eliminate redundancy. 

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Develop

Wireframing

After synthesizing the research outcome and defining the project goals, we throw the ideas on the board with sketches and pull people into a quick huddle to validate the concepts.

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Drawing wireframes on the whiteboard to ideate concepts of the microservice – Rules Engine

Co-Creation Sessions

In addition to working internally with the UX team, we invite other team members such as PMs, DAs, SMEs, and SDEs into the conversation and leverage the synergy of a diversified team to give imagination and creativity a voice while examining the merits of each idea.

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PM and SMEs drawing ideas on the paper

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Brainstorming potential solutions during the session

Lo-fi Sketches from different team members

Evaluation

After the process of thinking up and evaluating different solutions, we start to converge the result and narrow it down to the most promising solutions. At this stage, we spend less time creating mid-fidelity mockups but more time hearing people's feedback and reaction.

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Running paper prototyping with SMEs 

Deliver

Iteratively Design, Test, and Build

Detailed design and execution: Strategic design of a comprehensive system through high definition prototypes with detailed specs, user stories, and acceptance criteria for the developer’s team.

 

Usability testing: user feedback leads us to redefine features and open space for new iterations and possibilities. The entire design process is cyclical, creating feedback loops to incrementally create better solutions for our users.

Building through sprints: Iteratively deliver business value through a process of continuous planning, building, and feedback gathering. Weekly meetings are leaded by the product managers and UX leads to share live feedback, understand limitations, and revisit solutions and have a continued re-interpretation of research insights with the team.

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Quick huddle to gather design feedback from team members

Building a Design System

When GET got acquired by Wabtec, we moved away from GE's design system Predix and started migrating into Wabtec's brand new design system VOLT.

As a small team, everyone did their best to contribute their power to the new design system. I was involved in early-stage components design, components auditing, and branding.

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Moving Forward

• The RailConnect – TMS will keep developing new features and continuously picking up existing microservices in upcoming years. The first official releases will unveil the Online Inventory, Dashboard, Interchange Management three microservices at the end of the year 2020. 

• In 2020, we signed our first overseas contract with FXE (Ferromex, the largest railway in Mexico and part of the North American Class I railroads). We will start to research and design for localization and help the company expand its business shares in South America.
 

• We will keep evangelizing design thinking and UX methodologies to more people both internal and external. Forming strong bonds with the UX team members and asking for collaboration in a diversified set of products and meetings in the future. Many members of the Customer Advisory Board have praised the efforts of the UX team and kept high expectations in our future work.

Last but not least, a huge shout-out to all the members of the UX teams for being such inspired co-workers and awesome friends. Every step our products have been moving forward comes from your hard work and contribution, it was your precious advice that guides me to keep iterating on the design and making improvement on product experience.

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