The road to Boomi can be long and winding. Just ask Jeffrey Schappert, senior vice president of technology at Virgin Trains USA, a passenger-rail system based in Miami, Fla.
Schappert oversees Virgin Trains USA’s digital channels and development, which includes designing, developing and building new products and services for train passengers. He uses Boomi to connect a wide range of applications with the company's core reservation system.
We recently spoke with Schappert about his career history, the complex integrations he oversees, how he discovered Boomi and how the Boomi Platform is helping Virgin Trains USA.
What path took you to your current role?
Jeff Schappert: I spent the majority of my career as a consultant to Fortune 500 companies. Right out of college, I went to work for Andersen Consulting (now Accenture).
I spent the next 10 years working with clients in the gas and electric utilities industry, including Baltimore Gas & Electric, Atlanta Gas & Light and Florida Power & Light.
Next, I went to work for North Highland in Orlando and transitioned over to entertainment and hospitality. For more than a decade, I consulted for Walt Disney World, Disney Parks & Resorts, Disney Studios, ABC and ESPN. I also spent some time consulting for Royal Caribbean, overseeing the company's plan to open a new cruise port in Jamaica.
After that, I went to work for Hilton — my first job in an operational role. I managed all of Hilton’s new-customer technology, including sales and marketing systems. From there I went to Amtrak, doing the same job, managing all the marketing and sales technology. I had a capital budget of about $150 million a year.
At Virgin Trains USA, I act as chief technology officer for the entire company. It’s a much bigger role, though we’re still a small startup. Actually, it’s a lot more challenging than my role at Amtrak.
There’s so much to do for my small team. Everything is supposed to result in more riders and more revenue. At times it can be a tough balance: I have to get new product out the door while also managing the cost of that delivery.
When did you first use Boomi?
Jeff Schappert: Not until I started in this role, though I did know about the company before. When I worked for Hilton, Dell did our data-center migration. So my boss and I went to Bangalore with the Dell team. That was about the same time Dell introduced Boomi as its product. Though Hilton didn’t use Boomi then, I remember thinking, “Oh, that’s interesting.”
Later, when I joined Virgin Trains USA, I recalled that meeting in Bangalore. I was looking for cloud integration on top of our core reservation system, which is supplied by Navitaire. The core API to get data in and out of that system is based on the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). And when I called my buddies in the consulting world, most of them recommended Boomi as the best product for SOAP API integration. So I called my former boss at Hilton and asked for a connection at Dell. The next thing I knew, I bought the Boomi Platform.
What inspired you to give Boomi a try?
Jeff Schappert: It mostly centered on the fact that my core API wouldn’t integrate with SOAP. The colleagues I spoke with all felt that Boomi would be the best product in cloud-to-cloud integration for SOAP APIs.
I did my own research, too, and discovered that Dell was really letting Boomi be Boomi, not trying to suffocate it as part of a big enterprise. That was apparent from the beginning, throughout the sales process, and then as a customer. Also, I was really pleased with the company’s culture: Boomi runs like a big community. I can get hold of anyone — and at any level — to get the help and support we need.
I also like the fact that the Boomi product evolves quickly. I go to lots of conferences for my different software products, and I’ve been to two Boomi Worlds. Boomi is the one that always delivers what they say they’re going to deliver.
At some of the other companies’ conferences, you’re still wondering when a product or upgrade they introduced three years ago is going to go live. But with Boomi, the company makes good decisions on its priorities and enhancements.
What sparked your interest in integration?
Jeff Schappert: Back in college, I first studied computer science, then ended up in management information systems. I gravitated toward business solutions and requirements. And that’s gotten me to where I am today.
The first real integration I worked on was with Accenture, consulting with a big gas company. This was a customer information system used to connect consumer accounts, do billing, read meters, and more. But that core system also has to connect with lots of other systems, including field services.
For example, when a customer set up a new account, their order would be sent to a field-service engineer out in their truck, so that they could go out to the customer’s location, read the meter and connect the service. That meant integrating systems.
I’ve been designing solutions ever since. When I was consulting for Disney, I ran the integrated solutions of the company’s digital transformation for about five years. That involved revamping all products and services at Disney’s call center, including product recommendations, revenue management, and eventually all their room reservations and ticket sales online.
Over the years, you’ve used lots of other integration products. How does Boomi compare?
Jeff Schappert: Amtrak has a really good solution architecture across its 300-plus applications, and when I was there, we did a cloud-to-cloud integration with another product. Boomi is not only a better product, it's also a better value. That's very important to us in our current startup mode.
As an integration architect, what I really like about the Boomi Platform is that it already connects to so many systems that I write on. For example, we're a NetSuite shop, and Boomi has strong integration with NetSuite.
We're also a Salesforce shop — I’ve got Marketing Cloud, Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — and I can easily build integrations to these products and plug them into my core reservation system.
I have to orchestrate something like 200 SOAP API calls or web-service calls to present the product the way I want in our front end.
Our Navitaire system is really two systems. One is for core reservations. Navitaire was actually designed for airlines, so in the system we look like an airplane! But it’s fine.
This system stores reservations: your seat, travel date, trip origin and destination, etc. The other system is for train operations. I’ve got to put a crew into the train, I’ve got to create a train schedule, and I may need to accommodate delays, even cancellations.
These two systems handle the core of our business: selling train tickets and actually running the trains.
Then around that is everything you think of in the customer journey. And all that goes through Boomi: NetSuite, Salesforce and all the rest.
What do you find the most valuable about the Boomi Community?
Jeff Schappert: I really appreciate my ability to have access to Boomi’s core executive team. Recently, Steve Wood [Boomi’s chief product officer] and Rob Evans [Boomi’s vice president of North American sales] came down to Florida, and we rode the train together. There’s so much value in them understanding my business and how I’m using their product.
I spend most of my community time in the face-to-face events. At the most recent Boomi World, I was on a panel. And I was on the main stage with Chris [McNabb, Boomi’s CEO] at Boomi World London. At the Dell Technology World event last May, I gave a TED Talk, I hung out at the Boomi kiosk, and I spoke at a Boomi event organized by [Boomi CTO] Michael Morton.
While I’m mainly participating in face-to-face events, my team is active on the Boomiverse day in, day out. They’re either helping folks by answering questions or posing questions themselves. There are only a handful or so of other Boomi customers that have integrations as complex as ours. And we use the online community to connect with those folks.
Do you face complex integration challenges?
Jeff Schappert: You might think that some of what we’re doing is simple, but it’s really not. Just to orchestrate train availability requires about a dozen SOAP calls to present the screen to users in the way we want.
Building from microservices, you’ve got some Boomi services calling other Boomi services, which in turn call SOAP APIs. You can get lost. Sometimes it reminds me of “Inception,” the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio where he’s inside a dream inside a dream, which is inside yet another dream. That’s how complex some of our integrations are.
Right now, it works really well, and we’re seeing good performance. We’re not a high-volume user like an airline or big hotel chain. At this point, we’re running trains along some 70 miles of track between Miami and West Palm Beach, with a stop in Fort Lauderdale. But as we move north toward Orlando, and as we also build new stations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, we’ll need to make sure this continues to scale. I’m confident it’s going to happen.
How does using the Boomi Platform compare to coding?
Jeff Schappert: The constant challenge in a low-code environment is that I want to build everything custom. For example, how many SOAP calls do I want to orchestrate into a single service, versus just having the front end call multiple services?
We can actually get to the point where it’s too complex within the Boomi integration service. Then we might have to break it up into smaller services. With Boomi, this is much easier to do than it is with custom code.
Integration is the key to differentiating our company. That’s where we put all our intellectual capital. So that’s the vault where I store all the information that allows us to stay ahead of our competition. While I buy products such as Salesforce and NetSuite to provide the core commodity functions, I put all the secrets into the integration. Boomi allows me to apply my business rules, which is my secret sauce.
Any tips or best practices you’d like to share with other Boomi customers?
Jeff Schappert: Get some early wins. Start with the easiest types of integrations. That way, you have a path to generate more revenue, and you also have your first production Boomi service up and running. You can learn a lot that way.
For example, I started with a ticket-upgrade function. It generates revenue by moving folks who already have a ticket into first class for a discount. If our inventory is going to expire in the next hour, then the more people we can get into first class, the better. Even if they’re in at a discount, that’s still more money for us.
The next thing we did was build Boomi services to sell monthly commuter passes. That was another set of services. So we continually develop Boomi services and then deploy them.
The typical digital transformation fails because they try to do too much all at once. So here's my recommendation: Start small, get some quick wins, and learn from that. Then, when you get to the complex stuff, you can build the best possible services.
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About the AuthorMore Content by Peter Krass