It is not really possible to say for sure what the digital future holds in store. But there are technological trends that can give us an indication by allowing us to zoom in on technical advances and how they may influence the way we will live and work in future. Digitalisation is more than just a buzzword; it impacts the entire DB Group and influences all areas: from trains and routes to stations and depots right through to individual employees. So if the Group is to plan reliably for the future, it is important to identify and evaluate these digital trends at an early stage.
DB Systel drives innovation within the Group and in this capacity has developed the trend tracker methodology, which spotlights technological development. The trend tracker is used to evaluate the effects and timeline of digitalisation trends and share the results throughout the Group. Its findings go far beyond standard analyses such as those of Gartner or Forrester because technological advances are classified according to DB Systel’s and the DB Group’s specific areas of application. “To this end, we work with the futurologists, strategists and the technical departments within the Group,” explains Dr. Jörg Blechschmidt, trend expert at DB Systel. “This enables us to make a tangible contribution to the Group’s strategy process.”
Zooming in on relevant topics
Whether artificial intelligence, robotics or quantum computing, the trend tracker focuses firmly on relevant topics, interprets them in terms of Deutsche Bahn’s specific requirements and delivers timely insight into opportunities and risks associated with the new technologies. The tracker not only examines the current benefits of trends; it also extensively analyses potential threats posed by them. The main question is whether disruptions could result in significant losses of revenue or even of an entire market.
For ease of understanding, the trends analysed are rated in a matrix. The higher up the matrix a trend is, the greater its effect is on business success; the further to the right, the greater the maturity of the available technologies and products. For example, big data analytics is located at the top right of the matrix. This means that in virtually all business units, big data analytics can already be deployed to gather, link and evaluate large data volumes. With Zero.One.Data, a dedicated internal startup has already been established. Thanks to data-driven companies such as Google and Uber, the technology also has considerable disruptive potential.
By contrast, quantum computing is on the left of the matrix. Quantum computers are expected to significantly outstrip the performance of conventional computers in certain applications. This is why some major technology players such as IBM, Alphabet and Microsoft are investing in developing quantum chips. But this technology is still at the experimental stage, and so far there are no products that the Group could use.
Between these two extremes, there are trends such as artificial intelligence. As a key enabler of autonomous driving, AI has high disruptive potential. In addition, it enables greater quality and efficiency in complex decision-making and analytical processes – for example, in the fields of personnel and material planning, right through to performing certain tasks without human assistance. There are already a number of practicable approaches using this technology that are currently deployed within the Group. But many of the anticipated long-term benefits of AI are still unfeasible.
Evolving the system and its content
Before the advent of the trend tracker there was no standardised basis for discussions. Debate about trends tended to be emotional and subjective. At the end of 2016, the first edition of trend tracker was created in the run-up to a workshop and published within DB. “This acted as a kind of door-opener for discussions. Various corporate divisions contributed questions and suggestions, as well as requirements and recommendations,” says product owner Christian Kolarsch. This resulted in the decision not only to base evaluations on a transparent and comprehensible underlying logic when periodically updating the trend tracker, but also to adapt the scope of some trends.
For example, topics covered by the first trend report included open API – the use of open programming interfaces. When reassessing Open API for the latest edition, the experts discovered that this category was inadequate because the associated trend would have to include Open Data. And what about Open Hardware? “We ask ourselves: what’s the main thing in these topics,” says Jörg Blechschmidt. He believes it is not the technical interface that is key. What is more important is using an open approach to enable a community to collaborate on solutions that add value. That is why this particular trend was captured under the broader heading of community sourcing, enabling the trend analysis to clearly demonstrate the high added value of an external community when for supporting a company’s own objectives.
When we look at the trends, it becomes clear that while DB Systel can identify future options, the opportunities offered by trends such as community sourcing and big data analytics can reach their full potential only if they are adopted throughout the Group. “We provide an ideal basis when it comes to topics that could be tackled jointly,” says Christian Kolarsch. “After all, our aim is not just to get people talking. If we initiate projects that generate added value, we’ve achieved our objective.”
Any trends you think we have overlooked? When you hear about certain trends, do you think: “That’s yesterday’s thing”? Want to discuss deployment scenarios for new trends like community sourcing with us? Then we would be happy to hear from you. Or, as DB employee, why not check out our DB Planet group “DB Zukunftsradar”. There you will find the current trend report as well.