How customer relationship activities are being consolidated in one application at DB Cargo

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Article: How customer relationship activities are being consolidated in one application at DB Cargo

03/2024 – "Casa", the Customer Service and Sales Application, is DB Cargo's new system for the standard management of sales, customer service and master data. After a period of 25 years, two legacy applications as well as numerous Excel spreadsheets and auxiliary solutions have now been retired.

DB Cargo puts freight on rail. A raw material transport weighing many thousands of tons needs to get from the port to a factory, or numerous logistics companies have each reserved just a few freight wagons on a train, all of which are bound for a different destination: these are just a couple of the typical scenarios encountered by DB Cargo in its day-to-day business working with many different customers and countless possible transport variations. On top of that, most journeys cross national borders. In this complex business customer environment, each party has its own processes and systems.  

This makes it all the more important to digitalise and create standard processes and tools despite the wide range of customer contacts and individual orders. Since 2022, our colleagues in sales and production have been working in integrated teams in the "Control Tower", taking care of customers and their contracts. In a second step, DB Cargo collaborated with DB Systel to replace the "KundenService System" (KUSS). DB Cargo's customer service team used this system for 25 years, but it was struggling to keep up with today's requirements and processes. "An average of 1.8 million customer transactions a year were processed with KUSS, a method that involved numerous media disruptions," recalls Martin Prager from DB Cargo. "That meant employees had to obtain an order code from other systems, for example, because there was no interface. Or they had to do a manual check to find out whether dangerous goods were being transported, as that would require a different form of handling."  

Making work easier for 2,000 employees 

Dr Martin Prager is "Head of Digital Customer Interface" and "Head of IT Project Management Sales" at DB Cargo. In a joint digitalisation project with DB Systel, he replaced KUSS at the end of 2023. He describes an example of what everyday life was like for employees in the Control Tower just a few months ago: when they booted up their computers in the morning, they had to log on to up to a dozen different systems. "And it wasn't just the old KUSS," he reports. "They also had to log on to over a dozen other systems, such as databases for example, some of which required different passwords. It was sometimes very laborious for our users having to go through up to 50 login procedures every day."

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DB Cargo's business customer environment is complex - each party involved has its own processes and systems

Since November 2023, these cumbersome switches between systems have been consigned to history with the help of "casa" (Customer Service and Sales Application), reports Martin Prager: "Today they open their laptop and are logged in to casa with a single sign-on." And that's all there is to it. Around 20 new interfaces between casa and the surrounding systems ensure that nobody has to look up transaction numbers externally any more. The example of dangerous goods transports also shows the improvements in day-to day work: "Everything is different with casa. The order comes in and employees are immediately informed via an interface that 'this is a dangerous goods process, you have to handle it differently', and then it automatically continues accordingly. We now have a much faster process," says Martin Prager happily.  

Because with "casa" (link for DB employees only), DB Cargo and DB Systel have now successfully implemented a new platform that standardises customer relationship management for the first time and can also handle all processes relating to customer orders.  

Creating overall insights for the entire company 

Simpler processes for employees are just one important benefit of modernisation; another is transparency for the company itself. Casa centralises previously fragmented processes, making them visible and analysable. As Martin Prager explains, casa is not just one application but "consists of three major parts". A total of around 2,000 employees at DB Cargo are now working with the new solution. Following on from customer service in the Control Tower, customer relationships in sales are the second major area. As Martin Prager neatly sums things up: "In sales, we use casa for task management, appointments, minutes of meetings and potential transactions that sales staff discuss with their customers."  

In the past, each sales team organised these customer relationships themselves: "It was difficult for the company to maintain an overall view," recalls Martin Prager. "Now you can really look down from above – what do we have in the pipeline, how have things developed compared to last month, and how much do we expect next year?" The third aspect of casa concerns customers' master data. This is now also centralised in the new solution. The switch to the new platform has replaced numerous previous workarounds and makeshift solutions, such as individual Excel spreadsheets for individual departments, which were previously necessary in the sales team's everyday work. Aspects such as invoice complaints have now also been pooled in a centralised location for the first time, making them traceable across departments. The old hardware that had to be kept running for KUSS is already being dismantled.

"DB Systel, DB Cargo and Salesforce worked hand in hand to make the project a success. Company boundaries were completely blurred right from the start. We were all fully committed to getting casa up and running."

Dr Martin Prager, Head of Digital Customer Interface, DB Cargo

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Proven solutions replace costly in-house developments  

Casa is not an elaborate in-house development, instead the functions of the applications are based on Salesforce cloud solutions: "We are pursuing a platform strategy at DB Cargo, and Salesforce is the platform," says Martin Prager. Christian Hübner is the Product Owner of the "Logistic Platform Solutions" unit at DB Systel and was involved as a project manager at the beginning of the casa project together with DB Systel CRM experts. He explains the background to the solution: "We use two products with casa: the Service Cloud and Sales Cloud."  

Today, contact persons at the our customers' companies also benefit from the functions of this CRM solution: e-mails and calls are now automatically put through to the right team, and DB Cargo employees can see at a glance who is calling and what issues were dealt with in recent contact with the customer. "We have achieved noticeable and significant modernisation in our landscape," says Christian Hübner, emphasising the scope of this project: "We have replaced two legacy systems at once. It is really noticeable: we are now in a position to utilise truly modern customer service systems." 

Before this could work, there were legacy issues to resolve in the project, because when a software solution meets specific industry processes, either software functions have to adapt to the business processes or vice versa. In its day-to-day project work, DB Systel pursues a strategy of implementing software as closely as possible to the standard in order to keep implementation and maintenance costs under control for Deutsche Bahn. With casa, too, functions and existing internal processes had to be made to fit. Recalling the discussions that went on at the time, Christian Hübner says: "Freight transport is still very much characterised by bespoke processes. It is unrealistic to believe that these can be thrown overboard just so that I can stay within the standard. Nevertheless, the goal that we are pursuing together with DB Cargo is of course to convince those involved in the process not to always develop customised solutions and to move more in the direction of a standard." Martin Prager agrees: "Customising is expensive and ideally, of course, you should stick to the standard. With each issue we examined, we asked ourselves: can this be done within the standard and, if so, what would that mean for the business unit?" In practice, Salesforce is now connected to around 20 interfaces and partner systems in the form of casa. "It's important to look at individual details that may only become important at third glance," recalls Christian Hübner. "Because otherwise interaction doesn't work. The complaint doesn't arrive or the notification doesn't go out." 

"Realising this integration across different systems and different parties in a platform-based solution was an extreme challenge, especially in this context."

Christian Hübner, Product Owner Logistic Platform Solutions, DB Systel

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Project completed on time despite clean-up work and pandemic 

The starting point for the project was set by the DB Cargo Management Board at the beginning of 2021. At that time, it made the decision to replace the legacy systems. The core project ended with the initial launch in September and shutdown of the legacy systems in November 2023. "You start off with a great deal of euphoria," recalls Martin Prager, "but with a three-year project duration, you quickly realise that it's not a sprint but definitely a marathon." For example, specialists discussed which functions of the legacy system users would like to see replicated as closely as possible in its successor. Another challenge was data quality. With casa consolidating different information and processes from customer service and sales on a standard platform, the team had to deal with a number of surprises.  

On the one hand, the team had to take into account numerous Excel files and databases that were used in departments to counter limitations in the legacy system. Furthermore, order or transaction numbers were not unique across all departments as processes had been separate in the past If the project team had simply imported all the master data records, there would have been several different entries with identical numbers. The project therefore required commitment from the businesses: "We were relying on the business units seconding people to work with us to ensure that we could merge all the duplicates, as otherwise we wouldn't even have been able to test the system," says Martin Prager, who is still grateful today for the cross-team collaboration.  

In such projects, it is not only essential to make a success of the technical and functional implementation but also to get the users on-board: "Employees hear that their legacy system, which they have been working with for 25 years, is being replaced," explains Martin Prager. "They ask themselves: 'what does this mean for me' and may be sceptical at first". With exhibition booths, marketplaces, training courses and competitions, the project team repeatedly gave employees an insight into the topic and a glimpse of the new world of work. 

Digitalisation in freight transport continues 

The recent launch of casa and the end of KUSS do not mark the end of the transformation of customer contact at DB Cargo: "We have big plans, and casa is not the end of the development but merely the beginning," says Martin Prager as he looks forward to the future. "We are now examining our IT application landscape once piece at a time with the intention of making it simpler and more efficient. Based on Salesforce, we will be able replicate many – sometimes expensive – IT applications and then deactivate the original systems." And there are other departments at DB Cargo that could benefit from a standard cloud platform or additional solutions provided by Salesforce, DB Systel's partner.  

DB Systel will continue on its pioneering path, supporting DB Cargo with its CRM expertise: "We have already started looking into artificial intelligence in the pre-sorting of processes. It's still in its infancy, but it's an exciting prospect," says Christian Hübner, who is also looking forward to the next steps. "We also want to bring other DB Cargo sales units onto casa that are not yet working with the system. Work is currently underway and implementation is due in 2024." 

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