DB Systel, the ICT service provider of Deutsche Bahn, is in full transition from a conventional work environment to self-organization. Christa Koenen, Chief Executive Officer & Chair of the Management Board at DB Systel, describes how this step creates innovative energy and how DB Systel provides a secure environment for Deutsche Bahn’s Bring Your Own Device strategy.
Christa, I recently read in a tweet that you would like IT & Technology/Engineering to be mandatory school subjects. Are you worried that Germany might fall behind in this field?
In a growing number of jobs, it is beneficial – if not essential – to have an education in the basics of IT. In addition, the subject also promotes media competency in general as schoolchildren learn how to work with computers and IT in an openminded way. If you look at the school curriculum in Austria or the UK, for example, IT is a mandatory subject latest from 5th grade on. It is undeniable that digitalization is exerting ever more influence on how we live, learn and work. So why shouldn’t our children be equipped with the necessary IT skill set as part of their early school education in order to be well prepared and competitive in an international work setting or at university?
At #ada16 last year, you mentioned that DB Systel was changing its work processes. What has been achieved within one year? What needs a little adjusting?
At present, almost 90 teams are making the transition from the conventional work environment to self-organization. And it is noticeable, that even the teams, that haven’t entered the transition phase yet, are displaying a new work attitude. By starting our transformational process, a lot of energy has been generated inside DB Systel that is flowing into interesting and innovative new topics as well as into renewing our core business. To back this and make it possible, we have successfully concluded a general employer/works council agreement that establishes the groundwork for a transformation built on solid foundations. Our declared aim is to see half of our employees complete the transition to self-organization by the end of next year. Therefore our main focus is now on the core of this change: teams making the switch to self-organizing work processes. This requires clearing a few more hurdles, most of them connected to legal and orga-nizational factors. Here too, we are working with the works council and HR department and are making good progress learning together as we go and finding pragmatic ways of implementing things without endless rounds of negotiations.
Is Deutsche Bahn looking at the cloud? What are the main challenges if you want to be able to forgo your own data centres?
Our aim is to have moved at least 80% of the applications we are running for our DB customers to the cloud by 2022. To achieve this, a specially assigned Systel team of experts has been working on migrating selected DB applications into the cloud successfully. One of the biggest challenges in this context is establishing a repository of knowledge among our own employees on the opportunities and handling of cloud technology.
“Classic” computer center expertise has been built up over the years at our Berlin based data center, which we will be divesting this year. Cloud technology represents something of a paradigm shift for most of the employees involved. We now have to train these employees – supplementing the existing teams – as quickly as possible in order to start using the new technology at the necessary scale. To accomplish this, we have implemented separate projects and support teams to facilitate this shift.
Is it true that Deutsche Bahn has a Bring Your Own Device strategy, meaning that employees can use their devices of choice? Isn’t BYOD a big safety issue for corporate IT?
We have enabled external personnel to work with their own computers or private computers. In doing so, we are exploiting the fact that network connections have improved continuously over recent years and the company network runs in a virtual environment on staff devices. In this VDS environment, employees have encrypted access to all of the applications and company network connections that they need. VDS stands for “Virtual Desktop Services”. When users run an application, they do not run it on the local device, such as a laptop or desktop computer. Instead, the desktop (operating system) and the applications installed on it run on a server in the data center with Virtual Desktop Services. Only the screen content is transferred to the user’s local device. This means there is no direct connection between the BYOD device and the company’s network. We hope to be able to expand the Bring Your Own Device offering to our own employees in the future.
With the risk of you having heard this question too often: how far off is the vision of travellers using wifi on commuter, regional, and long-distance trains nationwide?
All passengers have free access to the new, improved wifi system on board the long distance ICE trains since January of this year. Deutsche Bahn is currently also testing similar offerings on certain regional connections: it is installing the necessary technology in Stuttgart’s S-Bahn system and the entire local transport network serving the state of Saxony-Anhalt. The heterogeneity of train types and variety of different operators are what makes it a challenge to create a comprehensive wifi system. For example, Germany’s different states and municipalities operate separately from one another when sourcing regional transport services, and it is not always Deutsche Bahn that provides them. However, working with regional transport authorities, the target is to upgrade the majority of DB Regio’s vehicles by 2020. The vehicles deployed can make it easy to offer wifi if they already possess internal connectivity, but, if the trains are older, they have to be elaborately retrofitted with this technology. Also, last but not least, rail lines still occasionally run through dead zones or areas that suffer from poor connectivity in mobile telecom providers systems. Therefore, I think it will still take a while before consistently high-quality wifi will be available on all long-distance and local rail connections.
This article is part of Ada’s Heiresses 2017, an interview collection with speakers of Ada Lovelace Festival 2017. Are you interested in more #womenintech content? You can download Ada’s Heiresses here for free.
After completing her degree in Economics at the Universities of Mainz and Freiburg, Christa Koenen worked in several different companies including as a strategy consultant and in direct marketing. In addition, by earning her MBA at IESE Business School in Barcelona she was able to gain insights into various industries. Christa Koenen joined Deutsche Bahn in 2004, where she initially worked in Group Strategy followed by several different positions in the Services business unit. Prior to moving into its operational companies, she was Head of Controlling and Business Development for the business unit. In August 2011, she was appointed Managing Director for Finance and Controlling at DB Kommunikationstechnik GmbH. In May 2014, Christa Koenen joined the Management Board of DB Systel as Managing Director for Finance and Controlling. Effective May 1, 2015, she was appointed Chair of the Management Board of DB Systel. There she is currently focusing on driving digitization at DB among other things through a cloud first strategy and creating space for innovation in the areas of blockchain, AI and IoT.