How to move a continent
For many enterprise IT leaders, “making the trains run on time” is just an adage, meant to convey a pledge toward greater efficiency. For Dirk Böning-Corterier, the trains are real.
While he may not oversee timetables – or wear a watch on a chain – Böning-Corterier helps create digital workflows that allow Deutsche Bahn AG (DB), one of Europe’s largest rail carriers, to move some 7.8 million daily passengers and one million tons of cargo through Europe, according the company’s most recent figures.
Photo credits (from top-left to bottom-right): DB AG / Georg Wagner, DB AG / Barteld Redaktion & Verlag, DB AG / Oliver Lang, DB AG / Volker Emersleben, DB AG / Timo Volz
“You can imagine the thousands of workflows that exist among the company’s roughly 320,000 employees, that must run smoothly every day,” says Böning-Corterier.
To assist, Böning-Corterier – who is head of workflow and case management for the transport company’s digital partner DB Systel – has set up a community of citizen developers inside DB and among several of its hundreds of subsidiaries. These include passenger and cargo service as well as railway infrastructure. By using intelligent automation and low-code tools to build and iterate on software projects, the citizen developers – technology-savvy DB employees – have created their own workflow solutions for everything from purchasing to contract management.
As a result, Böning-Corterier’s community, aided by his teams, have achieved higher automation speeds, cut process lead times in half, doubled the satisfaction among process stakeholders, and improved transparency. So, when a business leader asks for a workflow to be automated, DB Systel keeps them in the loop of a highly iterative and agile process.
For instance, after a DB business user requests a workflow digitization and submits data to support their needs, DB Systel’s teams build an early prototype and share it. “By getting a prototype early, a business user can see if it mirrors their specifications or if maybe their specifications were imprecise or incomplete,” says Böning-Corterier. That, in turn, makes it easier to fix misunderstandings early on. It also makes it easier for DB Systel’s team to deliver the right workflow solution and the exact experience that the business user wants and needs.
To achieve this, Böning-Corterier encourages the business users to “think in processes,” not in terms of data fields and software applications, which can display lots of information but do not lead to process change in an intuitive way. “We must build solutions around the process, not the database,” he says. “This sounds simple, but it’s a real challenge” for users to grasp.
To help them, Böning-Corterier’s teams use the ease and speed of low-code tools to present weekly and biweekly hands-on iterations that business users can then experience. That then gives the users a quick understanding of what they can expect. It also helps them improve their own “thinking in processes” skills. That, in turn, makes them better partners and drivers of solutions. “In many cases, the original requirements get redesigned,” says Böning-Corterier.
Underlying these processes are the 12 principles of the agile manifesto. Among them is the idea that business units and developers must work in lockstep toward a shared goal and should self-organize. “Business success is a key driver for every team member,” says Böning-Corterier. “Self-organization is our foundation. We provide trust and freedom to every team member.”
With some 5,400 employees across Germany, DB Systel creates bespoke applications and processes based on cloud migration, data analytics, and artificial intelligence. In addition to digitizing DB’s contract and procurement workflows, DB Systel has already helped digitize the recording and processing of complaints with external suppliers, engineering inspections, and the onboarding and offboarding of bus drivers (DB provides bus services for 1,367 million passengers every year). And several more case management projects are underway.
"The core elements of dynamic development are modern, flexible IT and a new, active working environment with agile, independent teams."
“The core elements of dynamic development are modern, flexible IT and a new, active working environment with agile, independent teams,” says Böning-Corterier. “We are creating a major shift from traditional working and organizational structures to self-organization and enterprise-wide networks. Our goal is to support DB partners and their increasingly variable requirements in the best possible way with flexible ways of working and agile methods.”
In other words, DB helps make the trains run on time. And makes everyone a partner in that journey.