Deutsche Bahn is on course to becoming the ultimate transport mode of the digital future. Moreover, apps, the application software for mobile terminals and operating systems, are key to achieving this goal. By the end of this year, all rail employees in the operational areas of Deutsche Bahn will have a mobile terminal. But how can we ensure that employees, both now and in the future, have fast and uncomplicated access to apps that comply with the Group’s security and usability requirements and also help Deutsche Bahn to have a successful digitalisation campaign? “Apps für Alle”, the digital workshop for app development within the DB Group, is the answer.
Such a rewarding platform!
Apps have become an indispensable part of daily operations. The everyday working lives of most rail employees are not stationary. Rather, they are continuously on the move – on trains, on platforms and in depots. Many of these employees do not have continuous access to a PC or laptop. For on-board service employees, train drivers, depot staff and many others, tablets and smartphones are their connection to Deutsche Bahn’s digital network. Previously, apps were frequently developed as standalone solutions that gained currency only in certain areas within Deutsche Bahn, and the mobile terminal was a useful companion for everyday working life. “Now, colleagues help one another and they write their own apps – an achievement that earns everyone’s respect”, acknowledges Sebastian Salek, Mobile Solution consultant at DB Systel. “With the ‘Apps für Alle’ platform, we can now provide professional support to these developers within the DB community.”
“The initial impetus for this app platform came from Bernd Rattey (CIO of DB Fernverkehr AG) in 2017 and the mobile IT strategy that he initiated at DB Fernverkehr AG. Back then, he pitched the idea to the Group’s CIO Board and, subsequent to this, the Group’s “Apps für Alle” project was launched as part of Value IT, explains Thomas Luzius, Head of the Mobile Solutions department at DB Fernverkehr AG. “At that time, the question underpinning the mobile IT strategy of DB Fernverkehr AG was as follows: How can we prevent the formation of IT silos and, in the future, quickly and uniformly develop apps that deliver added value to the most varied of business units within DB Fernverkehr AG – in other words, how can we accelerate open, interconnecting solutions? Here, the focus was firmly on the employee.”
"Absence slips" – Digitalisation of existing paper-based processes: entering absence times and checking absence slips© DB Systel GmbH
"Emergency management" – A communication solution for the emergency department at DB Fernverkehr AG, making it possible to exchange information when dealing with emergency situations© DB Systel GmbH
"Management" – Reducing the provision times of ICE trains: transparent display and management of maintenance processes in ICE depots© DB Systel GmbH
In its mission to find solutions, DB Fernverkehr AG, as part of its strategy, conducted extensive interviews with the business units and IT department. It also consulted with external experts on mobile solutions. It soon became apparent that this topic was of significance to the entire Group, recalls Thomas Luzius, who, at that time, oversaw the development of “Apps für Alle” while working as project manager for the strategy project at DB Systel.
Transparency and confidence in the partnership between DB Fernverkehr AG and DB Systel were key characteristics of a process that ultimately gave rise to “Apps für Alle”. This also encouraged everyone to think beyond the boundaries of their own business unit, emphasises Luzius. In other words, we are not specifically “DB Fernverkehr AG” or “DB Systel”. Rather, we want Deutsche Bahn as a whole to progress. “I very much felt this sentiment numerous times during what was to become an extremely rewarding project that added considerable value.”
DB Systel, together with the DB Group, is now pursuing the goal of using “Apps für Alle” to establish an organisational and technological framework to promote the development of high-quality apps and make them easily accessible to each and every rail employee via the app store. By doing so, “Apps für Alle” creates a transparent app offering, makes development guidelines available and reduces the overall manual development effort. Only in this way can we satisfy the ever increasing demand for mobile applications on a growing number of mobile terminals.
Reducing the time-to-market
Intuitive app development opportunities are vital to increasing app output. “Apps für Alle also meets this need”, says Sebastian Salek. “It aspires to be a workshop and toolbox for app development at Deutsche Bahn.” “Apps für Alle” in no way intends to steer the creative process. “We are not getting involved in the brainstorming process”, stresses Sebastian Salek. “Rather, the project aims to benefit business through fast, good, and cost-effective app development.”
In addition to simple processes and the provision of guidelines and effective tools, “Apps für Alle” also provides developers with the best possible support during development of DB-compliant apps. It supports every developer’s wish to see their app in the app store as quickly as possible. The goal is to reduce the time-to-market by 25% through Group-wide use of standard modules and automated development steps.
We also provide professional support throughout the entire app journey – from idea to release.
“Apps für Alle” aspires to be an open, transparent platform. All DB employees and projects have access to this platform in order to use the “Apps für Alle” tools to develop apps that can simplify and optimise their daily working life – to the benefit of Deutsche Bahn and its millions of customers. “Apps für Alle” is contributing towards establishing a developer community that self-optimises through the exchange of best practices. “We also provide professional support throughout the entire app journey – from idea to release”, says Sebastian Salek.
Support is key since “an app is subject to regular updates, the front end is constantly changing, and so too are the terminals and operation system versions”, acknowledges Luzius.
In addition to standardisation and quality enhancement, our prime goals are to create more digital processes and to avoid parallel developments. “We are currently driving forward a project with on-board service employees and train drivers. It concerns digital absence slips”, explains Thomas Luzius, highlighting the practical benefits of “Apps für Alle”. “We are working closely with our developer teams at DB Systel to develop an app for two business units simultaneously. In other words, “Apps für Alle” is helping us to leverage synergies, thus avoiding costs and giving creative ideas more space.”
“Apps für Alle” is helping us to leverage synergies, thus avoiding costs and giving creative ideas more space.
The Mobile Solutions department at DB Fernverkehr AG is currently implementing the following platform-based apps, among others:
- The “Ausbleibezettel” app to support our on-board service colleagues and train drivers in creating and reporting their absence times.
- The “STG” app to manage MU trains with the goal of reducing unproductive times in terms of train provisioning within the depot area.
- The “Notfallmanagement” app for an efficient exchange of information with the rail traffic control centre in the event of an emergency (accidents and large-scale emergencies) and for displaying the status of emergency services in a transparent manner for everyone involved in the process.
Lots more ideas to come
“Developers have expressed considerable interest in using the “Apps für Alle” platform. In recent months, numerous apps have been successfully developed using this platform”, says Dr. Tarik Harter, “Apps für Alle” program lead, DB Systel.
Together with the DB Group, we, at DB Systel, are using “Apps für Alle” to pursue the goal of successfully advancing the mobilisation of Deutsche Bahn. “In addition to realising significant quality and cost benefits, it is important to us that the developer teams and business units within the Group companies exchange information with one another so that any further development of the platform will continue to satisfy the requirements of both”, says Dr. Tarik Harter.
Developers have expressed considerable interest in using the “Apps für Alle” platform. In recent months, numerous apps have been successfully developed using this platform.
“Already, we have lots of ideas. For example, the future integration of robotic and AI solutions as well as enhancement through IoT components are conceivable, even if it will be years before they become a reality. We still have a long way to go. However, appropriate Group-wide initiatives are already being exchanged and we look forward to the challenges that lie ahead of us”, states Dr. Tarik Harter.
Do you want to join the growing and creative app community at Deutsche Bahn? We would be delighted to hear from you. You will be surprised by the number of opportunities “Apps für Alle” will create for you in terms of realising your creative potential in a professional and transparent environment. DB employees can obtain further information about “Apps für Alle” on our DB Planet page (German only).