DB Cargo transports over 200 million short tons of freight a year. This requires extensive logistical and organisational expertise as well as considerable digital B2B communication. DB Cargo's B2B communication IT processes around 800,000 transactions per day – from 1 KB technical OKs to XML documents of several MB. As a result, the existing system 'comgate', which was implemented in 2006 and has been modernised several times, will soon reach its performance limits.
DB Cargo was thus faced with the big IT question: update the software or replace it? The decision was made in May 2020, when DB Systel approached DB Cargo management with a proposal for a service-oriented platform solution instead of a new in-house software development.
“We now receive around 4,000 transport orders every day, 70% of which are sent digitally via the existing IT system. We are continuously expanding digital communication. Adding a new software version to the old solution would have been very expensive and complex," explains Jürgen Fritz, Head of IT Governance and Information Security at DB Cargo. The far more economical service-oriented platform proposed by DB Systel therefore quickly won over the decision makers.
But what exactly is this type of platform? The platforms offered by the providers on the market provide the entire IT infrastructure for B2B data communication solutions: a system comprising servers, operating system, storage space and programmes. This solution, also called Platform as a Service, or PaaS for short, organises data transfer, message transformation, message volume checking, archiving and monitoring. It also guarantees security and scalability; that is, the future viability of the entire system.
Service-oriented platform solutions for B2B data communication – the five big advantages
The data communication platform used by DB Cargo is also available to other DB business units. Every new system partner enjoys the same advantages:
Low costs: Growing demand for suitable IT solutions is driving up the cost of custom solutions. Service-oriented platform solutions are far cheaper, both in terms of acquisition and running costs. And the more DB Group companies that use the communication solution, the lower the fixed costs, thanks to a cost-optimised licensing model.
High scalability: A platform represents a resilient communication basis that is also viable for the future. This is because, in contrast to many existing systems, it is quickly and easily scalable to requirements.
Rapid availability: The platform solution already exists on the market. Thus, there is no longer any need for years of expensive in-house development. The data communication platform is individually adapted to the customer's requirements and can then be used immediately.
High product safety: In a classic software development project, the client is responsible for the functionality, which can be problematic if they have little technical expertise. With a purchased platform solution, this is not an issue. The service provider is responsible for the functionality, not the user.
High IT security: The provider guarantees the IT security of the platform, which means no time-consuming and costly measures on the part of the user.
Once the decision not to develop in house had been made, everything happened very quickly. "We really liked the fact that DB Systel proactively scouted the market for providers of functioning IT solutions," says Jürgen Fritz. "We had expected a five-year development and transition phase. Now the transition to the platform will only take two years, including proof of concept and migration of customers to the platform."
DB Systel used an extensive catalogue of criteria to preselect the platform providers: How do the providers perform in terms of functional and technical monitoring? What do the environments look like? What about self-services and news formats? Two providers were shortlisted. Both were put to the test extensively by DB Systel and DB Cargo to determine a favourite. "The platform providers had to solve tasks from real IT life for us. Either hands-on or as 'homework'. They then had to present the results to DB Cargo and us," says Siniša Trkulja, Product Owner at DB Systel.
Because the contracts with the favoured manufacturer are ready to be signed, DB Cargo and DB Systel are designing the final steps of the commissioning only two years after the decision for a platform solution was made: completion of a pilot project, setting up the data communication platform and the technical migration of DB Cargo customers.
DB Systel is making sure that the connection of the customer systems and the in-house systems to the new platform is not a problem. The transition will be as quiet as possible for DB Cargo customers. "Among other things, the functionality of the legacy system must be transferred to the platform using the new programming language," says Siniša Trkulja. In the end, the platform will have all the necessary transformation capabilities to ensure that the protocols of the sending and receiving systems also work.
Attractive for DB Group companies
The new system can therefore technically process all customer message protocols in such a way that they are understood on the DB Cargo side – and vice versa. "With around 400 customers and 30 in-house systems, that adds up to 70 transformations. In addition, monitoring and process control must of course be up and running, as well as services such as archiving," adds Trkulja.
The fact that DB Cargo has one of the largest B2B communication volumes among the DB Group companies brings great advantages for future platform partners in the group: "Many common protocol adapters will already be in place. And should an exotic protocol be added, the platform operator also enables the corresponding adapter. This avoids the need for expensive in-house developments," says Trkulja.
An out-of-the-box B2B communication system – other DB Group companies are now also interested in this. They can count on the data communication platform also being adapted to their specific requirements.
"Many things that still follow analogue business models today will run digitally in the future. Demand for suitable IT solutions is continually growing," says Michael Hahn, Agility Master at DB Systel. "The solution to the increased demands in the field of B2B communication is clearly platforms that can be used by multiple business areas." The new platform for B2B data communication will therefore certainly prove to be a guarantee of success in the future, and not only for DB Cargo.