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From Industry 4.0 to Work 4.0

How technology is transforming our working life

07/2017 – Throughout history, technological developments have led to fundamentally different forms and ways of working. Current trends such as "new working environments", "digital transformation" or "equal footing" are summed up under the general heading "Work 4.0". This is the first of a series of digital spirit articles that will provide information about this topic as well as specific examples relating to the railway environment.

Many years ago, when the internet became “interactive” and users could contribute content to what was previously a static network, people talked about “Internet 2.0” or “Web 2.0”. This tendency to number technological changes continues today. When we talk about “Work 4.0” today, it is important to remember how the “previous versions” of work developed: mostly as a result of fundamental technological changes and the subsequent societal changes.

A numbered history of work

The first industrial revolution led to changes not only in technology but also in the organisation of work: Work 1.0 developed in tandem with the introduction of workers’ organisations.

The discovery of electricity at the end of the 19th century and its use in industry led to the second industrial revolution, and the invention of the conveyor belt led to mass production based on the division of labour. Increasing social problems in factories led to ever increasing pressure from an organised workforce and, ultimately, to the introduction of the first forms of social insurance in Germany. This marked the start of Work 2.0.

After the War and the onset of the “economic miracle”, the demands of the workers became louder. The welfare state and workers’ rights as we know them today were consolidated based on the social market economy: Work 3.0. This provided the context for the third industrial revolution in the 1980s: the use of information technology in the workplace.

The fourth industrial revolution, which is currently underway, is based on the growing interconnectedness of products and processes via the internet. Like social networks, intelligent machines and components exchange information between themselves and with humans in order to organise themselves autonomously and coordinate workflows and deadlines.

Digitalisation and the digital transformation make new forms of communication, collaboration and added value possible. At the same time, these new opportunities bring new demands. Modelled on the term “Industry 4.0”, these interrelationships have become known as Work 4.0.

“Work 4.0” from a societal perspective and the perspective of Deutsche Bahn

The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has engaged intensively with Work 4.0 in recent years. Deutsche Bahn has also taken an active role in shaping the digital transformation. However, we need answers to the questions that specifically affect Deutsche Bahn. Because the transport and logistics industry (and with it, Deutsche Bahn), is undergoing enormous changes as a result of digitalisation. For this reason, when it comes to digitalisation at Deutsche Bahn, we focus specifically on the needs of our clients. What will it mean for our employees if technology becomes more autonomous, freeing up resources for more service activities? What will it mean for logistics if manufacturing takes place on site using 3D printers in the future? What will all of this mean for codetermination and collective agreements? What will it mean for training if knowledge becomes less relevant in everyday working life thanks to smart glasses?

At the start of this process at Deutsche Bahn, we had six “4.0” initiatives, in line with our businesses (logistics, mobility and infrastructure) and the most important cross-functional units (production, IT and working environments). These initiatives gave rise to numerous labs, such as d.lab, Skydeck and DB mindbox, as well as many new projects and specific products.

In the future, Deutsche Bahn will drive the digital transformation in three focus areas, which are juxtaposed in the following table with the eight key areas identified by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

Even if this is not immediately apparent, many of the key topics identified by the Federal Ministry are also reflected in the three focus areas at Deutsche Bahn. This article and future articles will demonstrate the links between the topics as well as how clients of Deutsche Bahn will benefit from these changes.

Digital transformation for new products and services for customers

New technologies – summarised under the term “Industry 4.0” – are changing how we work and the speed at which we work. The “Internet of Things (IoT)“, for example, makes it possible for lifts or escalators to report malfunctions autonomously. This changes work processes, by removing the need to check or inspect functions. Instead, faults can be rectified promptly before customers even have a chance to complain. In the future, we will have networked locomotives and freight wagons with sensors that not only determine position but can also estimate electronically when maintenance is next due. DB Systel is therefore providing a platform for machine data, on which system data from a variety of sources can be stored and evaluated in real time for and with clients. And of course, “big data” – the collection, analysis and utilisation of large volumes of data – is another widely used term in the context of “digital transformation”. Alongside the new possibilities for processing data, new data-based business models are also being developed within Deutsche Bahn.

New ways of working

New technologies facilitate new ways of collaborating. Storing data in encrypted form in the cloud with DB Office 365, for example, makes it easy for colleagues to work on a document at the same time, whether in the office, travelling on the ICE or working on-site at the customer. By using tablets provided by Deutsche Bahn, train drivers are now more independent and, for example, receive timetable instructions in digital formMeanwhile, new working hours and workplace models are also being discussed at Deutsche Bahn and initial employer/works council agreements and collective agreements have been concluded. The use of social media in the corporate context – also referred to as social intranets – brings employees closer together and connects colleagues Group-wide. DB Systel’s powerhouse for innovation, Skydeck, provides fresh momentum for developing new ideas based on creative methods such as design thinking. In addition to their main duties, employees are even willing to sacrifice time at the weekend to take part in hackathons or develop their ideas into marketable products in the Skydeck Accelerator programme.

Equal footing and self-organisation

In software development, the old waterfall principle is already an outdated concept. With agile methods, which focus on an iterative approximation of the desired result, development is faster and tailored more effectively to the client. Another core element of agile development is self-organisation in teams. Other areas are also discovering the advantages of this type of collaboration. DB Systel is convinced of the effectiveness of these methods and would like to have half of its 3,600 employees working in self-organised teams by the end of 2018. The personnel department and works council are key partners in this transformation. Key concepts such as equal footing, Management 3.0 or holacracy are more than just terms for DB Systel. These concepts are actively implemented to its advantage in designing the new working environment with increased customer focus and more intensive collaboration.


New technologies also facilitate new forms of teaching and learning. For instance, virtual reality (VR) – immersion in a digital reality – is not simply a visualisation tool for engineers at Deutsche Bahn. With EVE (engaging virtual education), for example, it also plays an active role in driver training. New forms of collaborative learning, such as “pair programming” in software development or the “BarCamp” conference format based on the “Open Space” method are used successfully at DB Systel. Digital formats for professional development, such as webcasts or “blended learning” are now an indispensable part of everyday professional and career development.

For each of these briefly sketched topics, detailed articles will appear in the upcoming issues of digital spirit, which will examine the impact of these changes on daily work as well as the changes in the relationship between service provider and client against the backdrop of “Work 4.0”.