Saver offers for long-distance transport are extremely popular among Deutsche Bahn customers. One reason for this is certainly that these fixed-quota and train-specific tickets are usually much cheaper than the flexible fare (Flexpreis), which can be used on any train and exchanged at any time.
The Revenue Management department for long-distance transport ensures that the offers are well placed. To achieve this, information from around 900 trains a day, each with about 15 stops, has to be managed for each EMS client – sometimes six months in advance. A specially designed forecasting process ensures that quotas are imported into the system automatically. Currently around 30 members of staff decide on the optimum quota of tickets for each individual train journey, and in some cases, even deviate from the statistically predicted quotas. The aim is to increase revenue by using attractive prices to motivate customers to travel by rail.
Revenue management staff continuously have to take the total revenue of long-distance transport into consideration. It’s all about efficiency: if too many Sparpreis offers are available for a particular train, not all passengers would get a seat. If too few tickets are sold, a train may not be fully booked. It’s about maintaining a balance – with the help of intelligent software and extensive staff experience.
When Deutsche Bahn developed the revenue management system 15 years ago to integrate saver offers sold in limited quotas for long-distance transport into the ticket system, it wasn’t designed for today’s requirements.
Relaunch during scheduled operations
In technological dimensions, this period is an eternity. Looking back: 15 years ago, Microsoft had just announced the now outdated Windows XP operating system. So you can imagine that technical problems frequently arose, for example, due to out-of-date Java versions. Even the user interface (EMS client) hasn’t been in line with the current conditions for a while now. So it was high time to relaunch the EMS client, not just for technical reasons: the limited quota of saver offers now make up a significant amount of all available offers – and these need to be managed digitally. A major task for the revenue managers, but above all for the application system.
For DB Long Distance, however, it was clear from the outset: the existing system had to continue operating during the relaunch. After all, ticket sales and management of saver offers now generate annual revenue of around 1.5 billion euros.
Requests from practical experience
The new system should not only meet the growing requirements but also be future proof. Due to special needs, implementation as a web client with the DB Systel bahn-net reference architecture was ruled out. That’s why DB Systel decided to set up the EMS client based on the standard framework of Eclipse modules for Rich Clients (RCP). This framework enables programmers to develop their own applications on top of prefabricated basic functions. Instead of rewriting a complete application from scratch, the features of the framework provided by the platform can be used. This also has the advantage that the system can be easily expanded and upgraded whenever necessary.
From the very beginning, personnel at DB Long Distance who use the EMS client on a daily basis were involved in further developing the system. In internal discussions, it was first established what users expect from their new client for the various work processes of revenue managers. One demand made of the new system, for example, is that not only the saver offers for individual trains can be defined, but that revenue managers can specify available quotas specifically for entire regions. This is useful especially for local events like the Oktoberfest, as it allows all trains to and from Munich to be processed in one action.
In around 20 workshops attended by IT and usability experts from DB Systel and users, an action plan to implement the requirements in the EMS client was defined. A visualisation tool was used for this purpose and a prototype developed with which the users were able to test the client at an early stage.
The project was divided into packages based on the work processes and processed individually. Splitting the project into small units also made it easier to coordinate. “We thought it was great that our colleagues at DB Systel were able to work so quickly”, adds Johannes Lange from revenue management at DB Long Distance. This type of implementation had one major advantage: due to the fact that employees were involved in further developing the EMS client from the very beginning, there was hardly any need for training.
The new EMS client now permits much better and more precise control. For this purpose, DB Systel has also optimised the user interface for working with tables.
Fit for the future
The new EMS client has been in use successfully since July 2016. The fact that DB Systel was able to realise the wishes in a relatively short time is certainly due to the perfect preparation. The chosen approach, combined with intensive workshops and use of tools, enabled close attention to be paid to the requirements, wishes and feedback of future users while minimising the burden on users – as they had to continue their daily tasks the whole time.
“It also involves learning the terminology – and understanding how the customer works”, says Lange. “Because you must never underestimate the fact that there are rail employees on the one side and IT experts on the other, each with quite a different background.”
It won’t take another 15 years for the next upgrade, however. DB Systel has designed the new EMS client in a way that allows it to be optimised in line with changing requirements at any time and made available to other customers within the Group. It has thus been a success for everyone involved, especially for travellers, who will benefit from even better management of saver offers.