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Small programs, big effect

Apps for DB Station&Service

11/2015 - Smartphone apps are a part of everyday life for most people. But mainly for private use, since the vast professional potential for these ubiquitous mini-programs often remains untapped. Which is a pity as they represent a great benefit.

Everybody knows about apps. These little helpers make everyday life easier for millions of smartphone users. The fact that they could also be a wonderful tool at work is overlooked by many users. Apps can save huge amounts of documentation and paperwork in everyday life – provided they are designed for the purpose.

As early as 2012, DB Station&Service recognised these advantages for the field of inspection tasks carried out by the station management. Quality inspection in stations and railway facilities, or checking the quality of announcements at stations was previously extremely time consuming. Large numbers of these inspections have to be verified because they are relevant to the safety of passengers, for example. Forms had to be filled in by hand and then manually transferred to downstream systems. From a modern perspective, an inconvenient working method prone to errors. Now, however, DB Station&Service is offering apps for this purpose.

Data from thousands of tests immediately available

The apps not only simplify the acquisition of large amounts of data – with the “BQCmobil” application alone, which was developed for station quality recording, about 67,000 tests requiring verification are performed each year. In addition, these apps eliminate the time-consuming task of transferring data and instantly save the data online. The advantages, however, are not limited to the time saved when recording and transferring data – the acquired information can also be retrieved and inspected by means of an app. This means, for example, that the current status of the inspections in progress and the work steps yet to be performed can be retrieved and checked at any time at the press of a button. As the data is immediately available, tests can be performed and their data processed even on their reporting date. The entire process is thus speeded up and improved in terms of its overall quality. For example, inspectors previously had to think in advance which types of test were due and take the appropriate forms with them. If one was forgotten, a return journey was necessary. Today the app makes all necessary test forms available on site at the touch of a button. This saves resources: less time is required for preparatory and follow-up work on the inspections, paper consumption is cut enormously and the space required for archiving the inspection data is reduced, as everything is digitised from the start.

The “BWPmobil” application helps examiners of engineering structures such as bridges and tunnels to improve their efficiency. DB Station&Service services at least 10,400 of these structures throughout Germany, each of which has to be inspected once a year. Uwe Ullmann, consultant for engineering structures and inspection procedures, is amazed by the increase in efficiency: “If no defects are discovered on an engineering structure, we can now complete three processes with one click: the on-site photo, the archiving as “done” in the BAQ BWP preliminary system and the technical completion in the SAP maintenance system.  If defects are discovered, we save about 15 minutes per structure by the direct assignment of the photos in the application alone. Given the large number of sites to be inspected, this represents a total saving of around 2600 hours per year. And this in turn helps us to compensate a little for the current lack of experts in our field of work. The investment in the app has already paid for itself in the first year. In future, we intend to inspect a further 5000 support structures with the application, ensuring a further increase in efficiency.”

Customised app design

The development of the apps at DB Systel is geared toward the needs of the users, and referred to as “user-centred design”. For Thomas Reimann, Head of App Development, this is a fundamental decision: “Mobile apps can offer excellent support to work processes – as long as they are tailored precisely to the needs of the users.” This approach has far-reaching effects on the development process. For example, even at an early stage of development the subsequent work processes and the associated design of the user interface are precisely designed and optimised in close collaboration with the customer. The user interface prototypes are fully usable and even at the initial stages of development give a good impression of how the app will subsequently function. This guarantees that they are easy to understand and can be used effectively. In addition, DB Systel ensures that the layout complies with the DB standard.

Apps for success

The Solution Center Mobile at DB Systel has developed such customised apps for the Android smartphone operating system used by DB Station&Service. In addition to the station quality check with BQCmobil, a check and control of the digital display boards is available for example with the DSAmobil app. Since early 2013 the first apps have been in use at stations – and positively received by approximately 500 users: the apps have proved themselves to be serious tools for everyday tasks.

In future a consolidation of these apps into a generalised inspection app is anticipated. Further business processes at the station will also be supported through additional specialised functions that are already under development.