Social media has always been flooded with Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp (IRCTC) jokes. Booking a railway ticket, specially during the Tatkal window period is nothing less than winning a war. While IRCTC has inspired many internet memes, the fact is that it is one of the most desired service for the common man.

IRCTC on an average is booking around 4 lakh tickets a day; the job becomes challenging due to the growing cloud of thugs and agents, making the service complicated and deprived from the common man. However, the platform is undergoing a major makeover, it is expected to be able to handle 120,000 simultaneous users at any point against the current capacity of 40,000. It will also allow 7,200 tickets to be booked every minute as against 2,000 tickets now - a promise that was stated in 2013′s Rail budget and re-iterated in 2014.

On the occasion of Railway Budget 2014, the ministry made a debut on social media, IRCTC has been showing progress in the technology offerings by building a mobile app for booking tickets. First we saw the IRCTC Windows app which was followed by an Android app recently. (Download the Android app)

It was a bit awkward to see a Windows app being developed in a country where the common man is buying Android plugged mobile devices. Not sure how the response has been for the Windows app, but the Android app launched earlier this month has seen more than 500K downloads with the latest update resolving some major issues pointed out by users in Google Play Store. “Our association with IRCTC goes back 12 years, BroadVision has been responsible in handling the web platform and the Android app is an extension to the same engagement,” said Subir Agrawal, Director Business Consulting for South Asia Pacific at BroadVision who seemed quite happy with the first roll out of the app.

Subir spoke to Lighthouse Insights on IRCTC’s Android journey. “We hardly talk about when something is going good or has good things,” he said while laughing on the IRCTC fail jokes. But the notable fact is that the Android app from BroadVision is a technology disruption, which was reviewed recently at LI. (IRCTC app review)

Named as the IRCTC Connect app, the app has a neat and smooth experience. While it is a government app, there hasn’t been any problem in the features and full marks on the design and user experience. Quite a relief to see such an app innovation from IRCTC which has always been the butt of jokes on the internet.

UI and UX strategy of the app

Talking over a call Subir shared that they had been in talks with the IRCTC officials for some time and finally got approval in July with a strict deadline of two months. “With a strict deadline and high stakes our big concern was to get the user interface and experience right for everyone. While it is a concern for any app development process but it was more tricky since all kinds of people come to book tickets on the platform and want to do it as fast as they can.”

The other discussion point Subir shared while the app was being built was about the variety of users that would download the app and access it.  The variety composed of users who would be tech savvy and there would also be a high number of users who would just do basic one or two transactions in a month.

Keeping a balance was a must for the app design, so the team at BroadVision decided to go with a very simple design that could be understood by the basic users, plus also appeal to the tech savvy guys since they would make the much required noise on the internet. “The challenge was to make the app very simple, intuitive and fast that could do the operations with less clicks. The maximum effort from our side has also been on the UI and UX part so it is good to see some good words on the same from users.”

IRCTC Connect Android App New Booking

Pink - the default color

Talking about the design and selection of color, the choice of pink was a bold one especially for a government app. Blue and red was on the board to be selected but blue had been the traditional IRCTC color so it was time to go for something different. With support from the IRCTC officials who also wanted to opt out of traditional ways, pink was chosen as the color. “IRCTC Connect app is just not for rail booking, it is also meant to bring all the other properties of IRCTC that it is currently offering under the same banner. So keeping the future goals of IRCTC in mind we wanted a vibrant color that gave a holiday or tourism kind of a feel,” said Subir on selecting pink as the main color for the app.

Another feather on the cap for the app has been its navigation, a fact that was pointed in the review too. The app provides for a smooth, minimum clicks and easy navigation when it comes to booking of tickets. Booking has been a touch and go from the mobile app but isn’t displaying ads in the app killing the entire experience?

Subir shared that while there are ads in the app for IRCTC to make some money out of it but they won’t create a lag or kill a user’s experience of booking tickets or doing any other operation in the app.

Fixing glitches and challenges

Other glitches pointed by users have been taken into consideration or will be updated in the latest roll out. The password storing issue has been resolved but the app not being active during the Tatkal booking time still remains for the time being. Providing more insights on it, Subir informed that normally an eCommerce site would be really happy with larger bookings but IRCTC has to create a level playing field so that people don’t misuse the system and book tickets faster. “Creating an equitable field is a challenge but eventually the restriction should be removed going further.”

The other reason for the app not being available during Tatkal for now is because of the fluctuating load time during various peak intervals of the day. “During Tatkal the load time is 10 times the rest of the day, so we need to have systems in place to take care of peak load times. While it is good on the app side it also creates a lot of audit problem since in such environments you can’t define the average CPU utilization,” said Subir

The other glitch that we had stated in the review was the lack of user profile sync up between web and mobile. It will take some time before it shows synced up profiles due to migration issues at the back end.

With the app stabilizing now, the focus is also to optimize it - the updated version has a reduced size. Reducing bandwidth in a country which has high data costs is another area that leaves not much scope for the company. Subir informed that the nature of booking railway tickets doesn’t allow much window to store data in cache or local since in fraction of seconds the data changes. “Bandwidth will be used but the calls are very light, even in a 2G connection users will be able to book tickets smoothly according to our tests.”

Before winding up Subir was quite proud to inform that the IRCTC Connect Android app had just a few crash reports, a positive number of downloads that is growing and most of the glitches fixed. He further added that while the pressure is on with every download the team is also working with Google to remove other apps that are impersonating the IRCTC app.

IRCTC Connect is already at the top of free apps in the category of Travel & Local and ranked at 41 st in the top free apps on Android. With the support and vision of BroadVision, I don’t see any hurdle in the app featuring soon at top ten.

Prasant Naidu

Founder and Editor at Lighthouse Insights.

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