Modern Architecture with Bauhaus inspired elements Photo: Architect Weekly

Modern Architecture with Bauhaus inspired elements
Photo: Architect Weekly

I’ve got to that age when one reflects on one’s career; the troubled projects, late nights, cancelled holidays, “go live” celebrations and [it's work, honestly] client entertaining.  Not quite rock-n-roll but a rich tapestry of consultancy and what strikes me, repeatedly, is how things change, but yet remain the same.

For my undergraduate thesis, I looked at three small businesses (we now call them SMEs), developing a picture of their business objectives, critical success factors and key performance indicators (motivation modelling) in order to understand what they wanted to be able to do (capability modelling) and what technology facilities (architecture building blocks) they needed.  Since then, I’ve done analysis, development, management, selling (shh!) and lots of other stuff but I’m back doing architecture again.  Like Viggo Mortensen’s character, I just can’t escape my past.

What we now call enterprise architecture was once an aspect of business analysis and before that was strategic planning.  So if things really have remained the same, what can we learn from our architecture forebears?  Our architecture is relatively young so let’s look at traditional architecture.

Physical architecture typically involves a professional team being commissioned by their client to plan, design and supervise the building of structures.  The formative academic study of architecture in the UK (University College, 1841) shaped architecture as a fusion of art and science, I think this mostly holds for our architecture. We have clients (internal or external), we undertake commissions (contractual or not) and we plan, design & supervise.  Do we, however, see art and science in our architecture?  The importance of communicating ideas in a digestible and attractive way certainly needs artistic flare and the development of pleasant user experience needs artistic understanding and creativity.  The need to understand people and their inter-relationships is critical to success so humanities come in to play, too.  Maybe architects are the polymaths of the information world.  To balance this accolade,  maybe I should question whether we’re professional but let’s make that rhetorical.

One area of difference is the reach of architectural projects.  Physical architecture is comfortably project based and, even when developing the head offices of corporate giants, has a specific area of impact.  Our architecture, dealing with information rather than concrete and steel, has a much more enterprise impact and hence has an existence and mandate beyond the project.  This is important as it does require an elevation for the practitioners of our architecture and it requires us to supervise for a longer period of time.  Further, physical structures have a clear purpose (to get across the river safely, to comfortably house 1000 staff) so benefits realisation is clearer and sooner.  As long as the bridge is inspected safe and cars can cross the river on it, the purpose has been achieved; Norman and Richard can be given a pat on the back and can cash their cheques.  With our information structures, the basic achievement of purpose cannot be so clearly signed off and the full realisation of benefit may need a while to confirm.  Our Zaha cannot be congratulated quite so readily.

Final, let’s consider context.  Byzantine,  Renaissance and other, older architectures are reflections of prevailing, cultural norms.  Modern architectures can be said to be establishing styles and setting trends that other aspects of society later adopt; notable in this regard is Bauhaus.   Corporately,  the move from evolved to architected enterprises (though early stage) emulates this lifecycle of physical architecture.


  • Architecture needs a wide variety of skills; arts, humanities & science
  • Architecture is about change so buying in architecture is completely valid
  • Information architecture does not have physical form on which rules of certainty can be employed so we must accept a degree of ambiguity
  • The change from evolved to architected happened in the physical world and is rightly happening in the information world

Our history is indeed shadowing that of our cousins in physical architecture; things do remain the same.


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St Paul's Cathedral from Grange St Paul's Hotel

St Paul’s Cathedral from Grange St Paul’s Hotel

The AWS Enterprise Summit yesterday was excellent.  I use superlatives sparingly, but it was iconic.

When registrations were so heavily over-subscribed as they were for yesterday’s event, you know you have a significant indicator for the levels of interest that the AWS Cloud is generating.  And, not for the first time, this was particularly pronounced in the UK Enterprise sector.

The place was rammed.

More than 500 delegates converged on the Grange St Paul’s Hotel in London to hear two AWS directors and a raft of director and senior IT people from UK Enterprises tell their story for themselves.

When Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) architected St Paul’s Cathedral, he demonstrated a level of architectural expertise that surpassed mere practicality and function. Although the same cannot really be said of the architecture for every instance in every cloud, increasingly more engagements for large UK companies do provide a monument to others of all that is good and enduring about Cloud computing.

We think that AWS is, on balance, getting a lot right.

But perhaps we should really let the attendees speak for themselves.

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I have just got round to catching up with some blog posts after holiday season and this one from my KCom colleague Rob Wells caught my eye. I particularly liked the word “phablet” to cover phones and tablets but I’m not sure it will catch on.

Rob makes a compelling case against a proliferation of Apps and for building ‘mobile optimised HTML’ which relies on an initial web server detection mechanism that checks the user agent (Rob says Operating System but I don’t think that’s what he really meant) and then directs the request to the right pages. This is absolutely the right approach given that more and more users are now finding your company websites on mobile than on full-scale laptop screens so immediately directing from “” to “” that is optimised for mobile should be a no-brainer.

I like the KCom portal approach of assuming controls are ‘touch-first’ as well. I overheard a conversation the other day where someone was wondering how long it would be until putting something on a web page like “CLICK” (PC or mouse-oriented) would die out in favour of “TOUCH” here. Perhaps somebody needs to invent a new word that covers both options. I tried out an online thesaurus for touch which offered “tap” or “hit” (and a few other slightly dodgy ones) but synonyms for click were even less helpful.

Anyway, I digress. Rob has made a very good argument for HTML(5) on browser being the target of choice but I would argue it is not always the best option.

Here’s just two reasons why:

1. You’re NOT always online. The Apps I use the most are the ones where I can use them offline (and occasionally synchronise data when the Interweb is available) for example EverNote, Strava or good old faithful email clients. I actually hate Apps that rely on Internet connection to function and avoid them wherever possible.

2. There isn’t very consistent or reliable support for HTML5 in many browsers yet and it’s just as hard to ensure your application works on web browsers as it is with native or “hybrid” Apps with lots of browser-specific catches that you need to work with. For the foreseeable future I can’t see pure web applications having enough functionality to compete with Apps which run natively on the popular handsets.

The nice thing about Hybrid platforms like IBM Worklight or Appcelerator is that you can still use a lot of the common HTML, CSS and JavaScript skills but write them to use APIs into the native features such as encrypted cache through JSONStore for offline storage and benefit from a little bit the best of both worlds. Worklight, which is now a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant of Mobile Application development Platforms has the option to generate a mobile web version as well as version for iOS, Android, Windows 8 and BlackBerry so you can have your cake and eat it. It also addresses the problems highlighted in Rob’s blog of fragmentation of the different mobile platforms plus controlling versions and ensuring security.

There are advocates of both approaches and neither is really right or wrong – as always you need to take a decision based on your requirements, strategy and budget.

Infrastructure Architecture is dead, long live Infrastructure Architecture.

Cloud infrastructure has changed the role of the infrastructure architecture into one of a virtual architect. The tin and wires approach, the HA and DR, the test and release and following the sun have all been replaced by Cloud infrastructure. Careful sizing, location, rack allocation etc. are unnecessary for most applications.

The desktop environment is changing radically: desktop management, massive rollout projects and investment decisions obsolete.  The use of virtual terminal software returns the desktop to the server. BYOD removes the need and ability to direct the desktop and mobile landscape. Network architecture is increasingly virtualised both within the virtual datacentre, between datacentres and client devices.

It is hard to imagine that bastion of physicality the Infrastructure Architect dealing with purely virtual server  communicating on a virtual network and that it can be assembled from their own virtual device. There is as serious point to this, as it depends on the Application Architect to design in such a way that enables the full power of the cloud to be used.

Not that it is anything new, just more pressure on the Application Architect.



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Today myself and four other Smarties attended Norfolk’s first Mobile Development Conference at the Hethel Engineering Centre, which is right next to where they make Lotus Cars.

Conference Room

There is an obvious tie-up between Hethel and Lotus given that the main presentations were held in the Colin Chapman room (founder of Lotus cars) where one of Ayrton Senna’s “99T” F1 cars was stuck to the wall!

Mobile Development is one of the most exciting and diverse areas in IT at the moment and this conference did very well to have a wide coverage from games developers like MonoGame to Tim Ferguson, Head of Digital at one of our customers AVIVA and their mobile app lessons learnt from their various innovations and experiments.

The keynote by Neil Garner of @Proxama resonated with me very much, both in his memories of tech from past years (Nokia 7110 first Wap phone) to his honest assessment of NFC and rebuttal of the doubters who don’t see NFC taking off now. The ARM Trustzone was highlighted by Neil as a key element in providing security for NFC applications. There are Contactless terminals everywhere now and 9 of the top 10 device manufacturers are signed up to support NFC – Apple is the odd one out but aren’t they always?

Our own @JamesElsey1986 later showed that NFC is more flexible and powerful than you think using Android. James later tweeted:

Source code/slides from my #NFC workshop  Feel free to ask questions / give feedback. Thanks for attending! #MobDevCon

Matt Lacey presented two sessions, his first on tips for developing for Windows 8 included some real gems which will help us with our tailoring of our cross-platform Apps to work well on the new Windows platforms. I agree with Matt, who worked on PhoneGap’s Windows integration code that you have to be knowledgeable and experienced in developing native Apps to be able to build successful cross-platform Apps. Luckily Smart421 have a whole Microsoft practice to help us Java-oriented types out with that. Read Matt’s blog for more info and his slides from his second presentation on monetising Apps.

I was first on to present after lunch and talked about our work delivering cross-platform mobile experiences with Worklight – my slides are now up on slideshare. There was a general theme at the conference that cross-platform tools are coming of age and the compromise of user experience and performance when compared to native development is far outweighed by the much faster and cheaper overall costs of App development and maintenance. I just about managed to demo the new Worklight 6 Studio IDE and Console. I am really liking the improved jQueryMobile integration and want to find time to check out the new App Centre tools and automated testing when I get the chance.

Ruth John (@rumyra) of O2’s “The Lab” gave a kitty and puppy-tastic presentation on FireFoxOS and why Telefonica have taken it up especially in the emerging South American markets – it’s free, works well on low-end handsets with the FireFox operating system built on top of the Gecko layer as is Android. It will be really interesting to see if this will catch on in the UK and European markets in these times of austerity where people are perhaps not quite ready to splash a few hundred every year on the latest iOS gadgets.

There was also a really enlightening “sponsor presentation” by Basho on the subject of reclaiming the terms web scale, big data, dev ops and how the NHS is using Riak’s open source technology.

Massive thanks to Naked Element (Paul and Marie) and everyone involved in setting up the event, thanks to Hethel for such a great venue, the sponsors for the delicious lunch and the attendees for their support and kind comments.

P.S. Welcome to twitter @CharlesBSimms :-)

Remember this? The IBM Simon Personal Communicator, the world's first smartphone. How times have changed!

Remember this? The IBM Simon Personal Communicator, the world’s first smartphone. How times have changed!

Until now, mobile just hasn’t had the take up by UK enterprises you might expect. But all that seems set to change.

The key drivers are threefold: the first is progressive mobile enablement of the company workforce, or business-to-employee (B2E); the second is individuals like you and me wanting to deal with companies we buy products and services from via a proliferation of mobile phones/tablets/set top consoles, or business-to-consumer (B2C); the third is companies trading with one another via a variety of mobile channels, or business-to-business (B2B).

IBM has a distinct advantage of a fine reputation with large enterprises.  And it is precisely within those enterprises that we think  a very lucrative opportunity resides. Many of those UK enterprises eager to know more about what mobile means for them descended on IBM South Bank in London this week (18 June).

Whereas this 1-day event followed an unremarkable formula (registration, opening plenary, coffee, 2nd keynote, lunch, breakouts, coffee, panel session, closing keynote, beer), in my opinion the content itself was entirely remarkable, taking many I spoke with by surprise in terms of the quality and coverage it provided.

The event was organised by Bob Yelland’s ( @BobYelland ) excellent marketing team and hosted by Mike Spradbery (  @spradders  @IBMMobileUK ), IBM’s charismatic and energetic Mobile leader for UK and Ireland.

IBM’s own journey with mobile is clear and roundly understood; MobileFirst is the apogee of IBM’s go to market proposition in the mobile space. A combination of strategic innovation and business acquisitions is now delivering one of the most coherent offerings we have seen in a long time.

In short, IBM has just made mobile exciting again.


Cover storyAlways nice to be name checked, isn’t it?

Whether by Amazon’s CTO, Werner Vogels, in front of +1,000 people at an AWS Summit or by leading technology journalist, Graeme Burton, in front of Computing magazine’s entire circulation, we are always pleased when our work is noticed.

Graeme’s article ‘The mouse that roared: how the balance of power in IT is shifting’ has made it to Computing’s cover story today. And deservedly so. We think that it is because it shines a light on how some technologies really are disrupting traditional IT approaches.

In his piece, Graeme showcases how Cloud computing has matured to become a truly viable alternative to the locked-in, long term, on-premise approach that has held enterprises hostage to heavy capex for yonks.

His piece also illustrates how open source has risen in importance through adoption, arriving at where even enterprise level customers are not only willing to try it but demanding it as part of technology argument.

Moreover, the confluence of cloud and open source makes the commercial use case stack up in ways previously considered impossible, especially when designing for business-critical and highly competitive, regulated industries such as rail transport.

And, as always, the real winners are our customers.

In addition to the technology argument, the article highlighted the very real gains that the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) decided they needed and, in their cloud adoption journey, deliberately procured for the distinct advantages of doing things in new ways, even if that meant looking beyond the traditional “big boys” in IT out to more agile and flexible IT partners. Hence Graeme’s accent on how the balance of power in IT is shifting in favour of the little guys.  I must admit, we were tickled to be described as a “minnow”. If that is how we are regarded by the industry, we are not so bothered.  It’s what our customers think that counts.

Whereas our cloud architects and solution designers are quite used to creating amazing things, it takes a customer like ATOC to recognise how that has direct relevance to their business. At an enterprise level, entrusting their IT estate on the AWS Cloud and their application layer to a raft of open source solutions such as ForgeRock, MySQL, Jaspersoft, Hadoop/Amazon EMR and others, is the right way forward for their business (supporting revenue a stonking + £7.5 billion per year).

So bravo to them for their vision.

And thanks to the editors at Computing for researching and running the story. A lesson for all of us in the IT industry.

Could this be the shape of things to come?

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sexton_blakeSome things take a bit of unravelling. But to solve mysteries, you don’t have to be Sexton Blake (doubt you remember him?).

With the help of search engines, a few analysts’ reports and a bit of time, the fog quickly clears to reveal (another?) new wave coming in the IT industry.

Only this time, we’re talking databases.

Databases?  Ok – not the sexiest of subjects – I grant you – but we would do well to note the emerging trend in NoSQL and in open source distributed datastores generally.

Fear not. SQL hasn’t suddenly abdicated its crown, or become the object of sordid revelations about its private life. Far from it. SQL has deservedly won its place in the history of computing, especially for transactional databases.

But apparently not all databases were created the same (all the vendors will tell you that… and show you their glossy marketing brochures to back up their assertions – right?).

Mystery solved –  NoSQL means “Not Only” SQL

NoSQL doesn’t mean literally “No” SQL. And it is this “not only” aspect that is causing a bit of a stir. NoSQL databases are created in an entirely different way compared to traditional SQL databases.

In fact there are four main kinds:


Technology Landscape: No SQL

In the blog by our CTO on 28 May, Robin made mention of one such technology, a graph database called Neo4j which was one of the things that caught his eye at Big Data London.

I first heard Neo4j explained by Ian Robinson back in February this year at SyncConf. I was somewhat riveted by the capability of a graph database, which is regarded by many as a superset of all the others.

here at Smart421, we have already been working with others on customer engagements, for example with Cassandra one of the leading column data stores and  MongoDB, which is arguably the leading document database, overtaking CouchDB.

If you’re a Solution Architect and Technical Architect, you will almost certainly be tracking these and several others.

If you’re a developer, programmer or involved in some capacity in DevOps, you will almost certainly had a play or done something more serious with NoSQL (if not, why not?)

For what it’s worth, I’ve been quite impressed by some I’ve seen. Take Riak, a key-value pair distributed datastore by Basho which, although a comparatively young business, has an impressive management team exported out of Akamai and has already built a strong user base in the United States. Riak looks like it deserves more prominence over here; I’ll stick my neck out and predict it will rise to become major name before too long.  Basho will be sponsoring MobDevCon this July where two “Smarties” will be speaking.

Basho will also be organising RICON Europe, a tech led event for those interested in all-things NoSQL which will be coming to London in October (remember – you heard it here first).

NoSQL is on the up – it’s official

As a collective, NoSQL database management systems are on the move and picking up pace. Market analysts are tracking their progress carefully.

Gartner for example has predicted that NoSQL could account for 20 per cent of market penetration as early as 2014, which seems rather astonishing until you see how Gartner arrives at its assumptions. Merv Adrian, ex-Forrester and now Research VP at Gartner (@merv), appears to have done his homework on this and he is seeing NoSQL rise from basically a standing start.

As recently as 2012, Adrian quantified NoSQL Database Management Systems as having a market penetration of 1 per cent to 5 per cent of target audience (Adrian in Lapkin, 2012, pp. 36-38), upgrading his assessment in 2011 of NoSQL having a market penetration of less than 1 per cent of target audience (Adrian in Edjlali and Thoo, 2011, pp. 31-33).

Merv Adrian, and other market watchers, will be well worth listening to both this year and next if you get the chance at a Gartner Event, or if you have a Gartner research subscription perhaps you should request an inquiry call sooner rather than later.


araven07 (2011) Introduction to Graph Databases. Recording of presentation by E. Eifrem, 14 July 2011]. Available at <> [accessed 23 May 2013].

Amazon Web Services (2013 ) AWS Marketplace: Riak. [Online]. Available at <> [accessed 29 May 2013].

Adrian, M. (2012) Who’s Who is NoSQL DBMS. Gartner. 07 Jun. G00228114.

Aslett, M. (2013) ‘Navigating 451 Research’s revised database landscape map’. 451 Research. 10 January. [Online]. Available <> [accessed 25 May 2013].

Aslett, M. (2013) ‘451 Research survey highlights growing adoption of NoSQL databases’. 451 Research. 16 May. [Online]. Available <> [accessed 25 May 2013].

De Castro, R. (2012) ‘Why I think Riak is a great NoSQL’ DZone. 30 July. [Online]. Available at <> [accessed 26 May 2013].

Eagle, L., Brooks, C. and Sadowski, A. (2013) ‘New wave databases in the cloud, part 3: SoftLayer and Basho’. 451 Research. 01 May. [Online]. Available <> [accessed 27 May 2013].

Edjlali, R. and Thoo, E. (2011) Hype Cycle for Data Management, 2011. Gartner. 26 Jul. G00213386.

Eifrem, E. (2011) Overview of NoSQL. [Recording of presentation by E.Eifrem ]. Available at <> [accessed 23 May 2013].

Kovacs, K. (2013) Cassandra vs MongoDB vs CouchDB vs Redis vs Riak vs HBase vs Couchbase vs Neo4j vs Hypertable vs ElasticSearch vs Accumulo vs VoltDB vs Scalaris. [Online]. Available at <; [accessed 08 June 2013].

Lapkin, A. (2012) Hype Cycle for Big Data, 2012. Gartner. 31 Jul. G00235042.

Novet, J. (2013) ‘Basho Technologies takes aim at more enterprises with upgrades’ GigaOM. 21 February. [Online]. Available at <> [accessed 26 May 2013].

Ricon (2013) RICON 2013. Available at <>  [accessed 25 May 2013].

Villanovauniversity (2011) A Tour of the NoSQL World. [Recording of lecture by David Cassel, Senior Consultant of MarkLogic at Department of Computer Science at Villanova University, United States of America on 07 Nov 2011]. Available at <> [accessed 27 May 2013].

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Tickets please

Tickets please.
Photo: Rail Technology Magazine / Progressive Media Group

The pain you have to go through to travel abroad has always bugged me. I went on a Swiss walking holiday last year and had to buy our rail passes months in advance and there were so many options and routes from various airports that my wife and I burned many an hour discussing alternatives. How much easier would it be if there was an easy way to just buy a ticket from Ipswich to Wengen, Switzerland via any of those routes with your selected airline? Then choose the trains to fit your needs.

That was the dream of the OSPT Alliance and their ticketing interoperability initiatives. The UK transport industry, Department of Transport and the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) instead went for the ITSO standard as national public transport Smart ticketing technology started to come into reality.

Now it appears the two organisations are beginning to work together to avoid the need for travellers to use two different formats and move towards common ticketing on Smart card and eventually Mobile phones, e.g. using NFC.

The International Transport Smartcard Organisation (ITSO) are a limited company who manage that standard from Milton Keynes. ITSO ticketing is one of four broad groups of fulfilment used by national rail. The others are paper tickets, primarily Credit Card Size Tickets (CCST), barcode (used for self printing) and Oyster which is the proprietary format card that has been so hugely successful in London. The ITSO members who supply ticketing and the terminals for validation at stations (so-called POSTs) and by handheld terminals on trains sign up to a code of practice for interoperability and security.

The OSPT Alliance defines the CIPURSE open standard, based on a number of contactless and Near Field Communications (NFC) specifications and it appears to be firmly aiming at the mobile App market. The V2 CIPURSE Mobile spec is published and available to members for evaluation.

We’re not sure exactly how closely these organisations will be working together. The press release today (reproduced below) mentions becoming members of each others’ committees and leveraging complementary aspects. It probably means there will be some kind of integration abstraction layer in the card or network back to the various back-end systems. It probably also means more complexity and work for apportionment and settlement systems run by people like our customer who spoke at the recent AWS Summit “ATOC Rail Settlement Plan“. In some ways it makes apportionment easier as they should soon be able to track exactly where a customer using mobile ticketing travelled rather than apportion according to estimated volumes who take certain routes as they do today.

Whichever way you look at it, the future world of ticketing is likely to be mobile so what do rail customers think? The quote below comes from the excellent Passenger Focus report on ticketing – available on their website on the subject of buying tickets on their Mobile Phone.

Some respondents had experience of this being a helpful information source that was trusted to identify best tickets or fares for unfamiliar journeys, thereby allaying validity concerns. However all acknowledged that they were unlikely to buy tickets on the phone so these would still need to be purchased elsewhere, meaning that the choice/complexity paradox can only be partially overcome through this channel.

The full emailed press release from the OSPT Alliance is reproduced below:

The Open Standard for Public Transport™ (OSPT) Alliance and ITSO Ltd., the organization responsible for the UK national specification for smart ticketing, today announced they have agreed to participate as members in each other’s organizations and to explore ways they can work together to promote the use of open security standards in public transit for smart ticketing and electronic fare collection systems.

Through their shared commitment to the use of open standards, these two leading public transit standards bodies intend to leverage the complementary aspects of their standards and ecosystems and discuss how they could be combined to create solutions that would be mutually beneficial to their respective members.

“We are pleased to have ITSO join the OSPT Alliance as an associate member, and look forward to exploring how our shared vision for the future of open standards in public transit can result in a mutually beneficial relationship,” said Laurent Cremer, executive director for the OSPT Alliance. “ITSO is an established, recognized player in smart ticketing, and has developed some key technology we believe would be of great interest to OSPT Alliance members as they deploy fare collection systems based on the CIPURSE security standard.”

The CIPURSE open security standard addresses the need by local and regional transit authorities for future-proof fare collection systems with more advanced security than currently in use. Because it is an open standard, CIPURSE promotes vendor neutrality, cross-vendor system interoperability, lower technology adoption risks, higher quality and improved market responsiveness, all of which result in lower operating costs and greater flexibility for transport system operators.

“We welcome the OSPT Alliance as an affiliate member of ITSO, and look forward to their contribution in helping to ensure that public transport operators throughout the UK can continue to maintain the highest level of security in the smart ticketing systems they deploy,” said Lindsay Robertson, chief executive officer of ITSO. “We believe that by working with the OSPT Alliance, ITSO will be better able to supply its members with a more diverse set of card products, including AES-based products, which is a solution the OSPT Alliance can deliver off the shelf in the form of CIPURSE.”

About ITSO

ITSO Ltd. is the non-profit distributing organization that oversees the ITSO Specification for smart ticketing in the UK. ITSO helps its members to set up and run ITSO-compliant smart ticketing schemes, tests and certifies smart ticketing equipment to ensure it meets the ITSO standards and ensures the ITSO Specification is up to date and fit for purpose. ITSO operates the ITSO Security Management System (ISMS), a secure key management and distribution system specifically developed to enable ITSO-compliant smart ticketing systems to be set up.

About the OSPT Alliance

The OSPT Alliance is an international association chartered to define a new open standard for secure transit fare collection solutions. It provides industry education, creates workgroup opportunities and catalyzes the development and adoption of innovative fare collection technologies, applications and services. The OSPT Alliance was founded by leading technology companies, and membership is open to technology providers, transit operators, consultants, solution vendors, government agencies and other stakeholders in the transit ecosystem. For additional information, please visit

What is the OTA?

The OpenTravel Alliance provides a community where companies in the electronic distribution supply chain work together to create an accepted structure for electronic messages, enabling suppliers and distributors to speak the same interoperability language, trading partner to trading partner.

What does the OTA look like?

A set of XML schemas (XSDs) that define travel-related entities organised into common and domain-specific types. Domains include Air, Rail, Hotel, Vehicle, Insurance, Cruise. AirPriceRS example below (from XMLSpy):


OTA Pros?

  • Off-the-shelf extensible set of components developed by the travel industry that can save valuable time and effort when designing your XML message structures.
  • Provides a common vocabulary.
  • Helps towards developing a canonical schema/data model .
  • The OTA is updated twice a year, and all schemas are backwardly compatible.
  • Maximum flexibility – all elements and attributes are optional which allows companies to choose which parts they want to use.
  • Enables companies to derive maximum value from legacy systems by wrapping them in a service façade.

OTA Cons?

  • Provider systems may only support subsets of the OTA.
  • Companies often have their own internal vocabulary for OTA entities – mapping from one to the other can be confusing.
  • Bespoke schemas will still be required. However, XML namespaces allow OTA and bespoke vocabularies to be used side-by-side.
  • If you make any custom extensions to the OTA, these will be lost when moving to a new OTA version.
  • The flexibility of OTA entities can sometimes result in unwieldy messages.

Why use the OTA?

The choice of whether to use the OTA or a bespoke solution will ultimately depend on how applicable the OTA is for a specific travel sector and the take-up of OTA by provider systems in that sector. Smart421’s experience of working with Virgin Atlantic to develop their SOA offering is that using the OTA is beneficial.


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