The EastLink tollway has upgraded to a new state-of-the-art tolling back office system. The new mission critical IT system was provided by SICE, a global intelligent transport systems provider based out of Madrid, Spain.
Completed in 2008, Melbourne’s 39-kilometre EastLink tollway is one of the largest and busiest tollways in the country.
Located in the east of the city and running predominantly north-south, EastLink is the major transport artery that connects the Eastern, Monash, Frankston and Peninsula Link Freeways. EastLink also has a relatively large number of interchanges with the major east-west arterial roads.
The area served by EastLink contains 1.8 million residents (40 per cent of Melbourne’s population) and provides 800,000 full time equivalent jobs (34 per cent of Melbourne’s workforce).
Victoria has recently started planning for the new North East Link, which will connect the Metropolitan Ring Road to the Eastern Freeway and EastLink. Once North East Link is constructed, EastLink will become a major part of Melbourne’s completed orbital freeway.
Altogether, this means that EastLink is a critical component of Melbourne’s transport network.
EastLink’s back office tolling system
EastLink’s back office tolling system is the billing system that manages customers’ tolling accounts and maintains customer data – including customer contact details, vehicle and tag details, trip data, individual toll charges and payment information.
The system receives toll charges from the separate toll rating engine (which is connected to EastLink’s roadside tolling points) and applies each toll to the customer account.
The back office tolling system processes customer payments, manages customer debts and enforcement of unpaid tolls.
The system includes the user interface for customer service officers at EastLink’s customer contact centre as well as the website for customer self-service.
In short, EastLink’s back office tolling system is mission critical.
It’s also highly complex. The back office tolling system is the central controller for a network of data interfaces with a wide range of internal and external systems, including:
- EastLink toll rating engine and gantry systems at each of the 13 tolling points. Each gantry includes a set of DSRC tag readers, front and rear cameras for licence plate number image capture, and stereoscopic cameras for vehicle detection and dimensioning.
- EastLink interactive voice response (IVR) telephone system for customer self-service.
- EastLink fulfilment systems for delivery of tags and tag holders to customers.
- Banking payments gateway and BPAY interface for processing customer payments.
- Touch payments network installed at 3000 7-Eleven, United Petroleum and newsagents across the country, for receiving cash payments.
- Digital mail house for sending electronic and postal notifications to customers.
- Other tollways to support Australia-wide DSRC tag interoperability (interstate roaming)
- Vehicle registration authorities (e.g. VicRoads) for looking up contact details of motorists travelling without an account or trip pass and therefore incurring debts, for the purpose of sending toll invoices.
- Victoria Police for lodging information about motorists who fail to pay toll invoices, for the purpose of enforcement.
The need for a new system
EastLink’s original back office tolling system had become too expensive to maintain, was near end of life and would no longer be supported by the vendor. The old system also constrained EastLink in adopting and leveraging off new technologies.
This old system was constrained in its ability to support changes and innovation. Its user interface was cumbersome and overly complex for customer service officers. A new system would overcome these limitations and provide a springboard for future technology innovation. It would also enable EastLink to commence the rollout of its technology roadmap for the future.
EastLink’s new system
“SICE offered the best value for money solution,” said EastLink general manager information technology, Bill Advic. “Reducing project and implementation risk, the SICE solution integrates very well with EastLink’s toll rating engine which is also supplied by SICE.”
EastLink’s new bespoke system is a tailored version of SICE’s Billing and Invoicing System (BIS), extensively customised for Australia’s multi-lane free-flow environment and EastLink’s high traffic volumes.
“EastLink’s new back office tolling system from SICE is not just more efficient than the system it replaces,” Advic said. “The new system adds new functionality that is tailored to our needs, and provides us with more real-time functionality.”
Unlike EastLink’s previous customer website, the new website www.eastlink.com.au is fully adaptive to different devices (mobile phones, tablets, laptop and desktop computers).
World class performance requirements
EastLink’s new back office tolling system needs to be able to process the tolls and payments for the 250,000 vehicle trips and 1.2 million fully electronic toll point transactions made on EastLink each day.
“In fact, EastLink is the only tollway in Australia that needs to process more than 1 million toll point transactions each day,” Advic said. “So the performance of the new system needs to be world class, and that has proved to be the case.”
Looking to the future, the new system also needs to be able to cope with the increased traffic and customer volumes expected over the next decade.
A leap towards PCI DSS compliance
The new system has helped EastLink make a giant leap towards compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Credit card details are no longer held within EastLink’s system. Instead, EastLink’s bank holds these details very securely on EastLink’s behalf, and EastLink’s new system uses tokens provided by the bank to charge payments to customers.
“Tokenisation improves security for customers as Eastlink no longer needs to keep credit card details to process credit card payments,” Advic said.
Throughout the implementation project, which commenced in February 2015, the joint EastLink / SICE team for project implementation, data migration and testing was located in Melbourne. SICE’s software development team is located in Madrid, Spain.
Development used an agile approach. Requirements specification and system design phases were followed by six sprints of coding and testing. This incremental development saved time and minimised rework.
Data migration was iterative, with successive data migration tests over more than a year migrating an increasingly large proportion of the data set. Critical data types were prioritised early to reduce risk, such as account balance, tags, vehicles and contact details.
Four major “day in a life” exercises were aimed at getting as close as possible to running the old and new systems in parallel. The final “day in a life” exercise was a full dress rehearsal of the “go live” transition – from closing the old system, through data migration, starting up business processes and every day operations.
During this exercise, representatives from all business units used the new system as if it was live, and simulation robots mimicked large numbers of website users to test system performance and response times.
The “go live” transition was complex and intricately planned, with most activities occurring over a single weekend.
All business processes were suspended in the afternoon, Friday 19 May 2017. From that moment toll charges were buffered at each tolling point, ensuring none were lost.
Data was migrated to the new system. Then the critical data for each customer account in the new system was verified automatically against the old system, including account balance, tags, vehicles, and contact details. Data migration was a remarkable achievement, covering 560,000 customer accounts, 2.8 million casual user accounts, 3.4 million Australian DSRC tags, 18 million Australian vehicles and 32 million trips.
“The smooth data migration program exceeded expectations, and improved upon previous successes of similar tolling system migrations in Australia,” said SICE Australia managing director, Manuel Gonzalez Arrojo.
Once data migration was validated, the new system was progressively started up on 21 May.
First, the new system was connected to the toll rating engine and tolling points. Three hours were needed to process the backlog of buffered toll charges. The many external interfaces from the new system were enabled one by one.
Platform for innovation
“EastLink has now repositioned onto a state-of-the-art technology platform that will help us innovate and transform the way we do business, to benefit motorists, and take advantage of new trends and technological opportunities,” Advic said.
Doug Spencer-Roy is corporate affairs and marketing manager at ConnectEast.