Main content

Deutsche Bahn Systel uses ServiceNow to put the power of IT in the hands of users

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez October 6, 2020
CIO Claudia Plattner details how Deutsche Bahn Systel is rolling out the ServiceNow platform to automate IT provision and change how users think about technology.

Image of a Deutsche Bahn train at a station in Germany
(Image sourced via Pixabay)

Deutsche Bahn is an international integrated provider of mobility and logistics services. Based in Germany, it's rail network is the largest in Europe, covering 33,000 kilometres, where it transports more than seven million passengers a day. The 320,000 strong organisation unsurprisingly has complex and diverse technology needs, which are provided by a subsidiary company called Deutsche Bahn Systel (DB Systel), the digital partner for all Group companies.

DB Systel has been rethinking how it provisions technology to Deutsche Bahn employees with the rollout of the ServiceNow Now platform, which in turn has resulted in a broader transformation agenda that focuses on putting the power of IT in the hands of users - rather than relying on a central function to dictate requirements across the Group.

We got the chance to speak to Claudia Plattner, CIO of DB Systel, ahead of this week's ServiceNow Now at Work virtual event. For all our coverage from Now at work take a look at diginomica's dedicated event hub here and you can find a link to the event itself here.

Plattner explained that DB Systel was looking for a platform that would lead users through the whole process of IT production - a platform that would offer services to customers, make sure that all of the provisioning steps are taken care of in the background, and that processes for things like billing are fully automated. It would also need to integrate with all of DB Systel's other platforms, which has been a key benefit espoused by ServiceNow in recent years. Plattner said:

It's an illusion to think that you can have just one platform and all your problems will be solved - that's never the case. So the key is integration and we were looking for something that would integrate well with other existing systems in order to make this order to cash process really seamless. Then everyone within the company can concentrate on actually producing IT and have the framing process of order to cash flow taken care of for them.

DB Systel signed its first contract with ServiceNow in 2017 and we went live in 2018. Since the rollout, it is now becoming a reality for Deutsche Bahn technology users to manage their technology products on their own, with the order to cash process taking place fully on the Now platform. Plattner explained:

Success for us is when users do not need a centralised IT department that takes care of that for them. If one of the team says ‘we have a new product to offer', they must be able to take this product, develop it, put it into the shop, connect all the dots, make sure that it's connected to the rest of the platform.

From having a distribution channel to billing - this is all taken care of automatically and they don't have to talk to a single person in order to do that. We want to enable the teams in a way that they do not need to wait for central IT to do it for them. They can have that time to market under their own control. We are of course hoping for a scaling effect right there.

Supporting change

As with any technology project, the potential benefits of a new platform often have very little to do with the technology itself - it's the people and change management pieces that require attention to fully realise an opportunity. This hasn't been lost on Plattner, who understands that there is an education process that needs to take place across Deutsche Bahn, as users adapt to taking responsibility for their own IT. She said:

It does take some time for people to understand that wanting to manage your own product means you have to manage your own product. If you're used to having decisions made for you, it takes a while to get used to making your own decisions about your product. For example: defining your own life cycles, making sure that it's sold in a way that's presented as something good, being able to name the advantages. There's no one that's going to do it for you.

You have to make decisions about: how billing is going to work? What's the business model behind it? If you're not used to doing that, all of a sudden everything's brand new. It's very interesting to see. We have some people that are very advanced, thinking ahead and thinking strategically. But for others it's a major change about how they do their job, how they view their job and their responsibilities. That takes a while.

Looking ahead, Plattner sees a number of use cases for the Now platform for anything and everything that relates to service management across the Deutsche Bahn Group. One project that is currently underway is making use of the platform for asset management, where her team is building a consolidated view of all assets within the Group. This could be any asset that has a CPU and could include anything from an automotive, to a wagon with sensors, to an escalator, a server, a cell phone, or a computer. Plattner explained:

Right now, asset management is done in a decentralised way. And it will continue to be done in a decentralised way, because you need to have this optimised for a particular business. But what we really need is a centralised view of what's going on there. Some will use ServiceNow for their everyday management, whilst others will only use it for the centralised view.

There's all different kinds of aspects that play a major role here. First of all it's a security issue, you need to know what's going on where. The next thing is, if you have a consolidated view of all of your assets, that enables you to make business decisions. Also, let's say you want to find out what assets to develop into digital twin models, this would be the basic information that enables you to expand from there. We're talking about all kinds of different evolutionary scenarios for that. There's a lot of potential there. We're not there yet, but that's where we are heading.


Plattner said that the key bit of advice she would give to another business about how to approach the use of ServiceNow would be to carefully consider what you really need from the Now platform. She said that before rolling it out, having a really clear picture of what you want to achieve from the platform will be beneficial in the long run. Plattner also urged companies using the Now platform to focus development centrally, rather than in a distributed way. She said:

If you're looking for a distributed development environment - let's say teams all over the world who can actually change or programme on the platform - I would say never ever do it. It's supposed to be centralised and have one team that works on the platform itself. You can use it all over the world, but programming on the platform in a decentralised way is no fun at all. If you're looking for something where you can scale rapidly, have one team take care of the programming. Afterwards put it up and run it all over the planet for all kinds of different purposes, with a common data model in the background.

The last piece of advice would be to have one person exclusively focus on licensing. It's so complicated and confusing, and it really helps to have one person that does nothing else but optimise the licensing model.

A grey colored placeholder image