Sabine Igler, DB Systel

Agility is not just a methodology toolbox but a mindset

Braking new grounds for employees and customers by using agile methods is not an easy task. Sabine Igler, Head of ICT Solutions Passenger Transport at DB Systel, has accepted this challenge and faced our questions about agility in an interview.

Sabine, what does a typical working day look like for the Head of ICT Solutions Passenger Transport at DB Systel? And who is in your team?

  • As Head of ICT Solutions Passenger Transport, my team and I support sales activities for our Passenger Transport business. Our Account, Pre-Sales, Engagement and Life Cycle experts address our internal customers’ technical requirements, provide advice – for instance, with regard to new technology and new business models – and ensure on-schedule, on-scope, and on-budget delivery. In addition to software development, we provide data center services and some infrastructure services such as provisioning mobile devices. There isn’t really a typical working day. I essentially focus on ensuring customer satisfaction and helping drive a major transformation initiative toward self-organized teams.

Your workshop at #ada16 is all about agile methods. How long has DB Systel been using this much-discussed approach to software development? What do you personally feel is the essence of agile methods?

  • We first experienced agile development methods around three or four years ago, initially on smaller projects to help us try and test these new methods. Meanwhile we have moved on to large-scale, €20M+ projects involving agile development. But at DB Systel, we see agile methods as going beyond just software development and our goal is to transform the entire company into an agile organization. While my organization focuses on sales solutions for the LOB, even there we see potential for successfully deploying agile methods. Also, for me personally, agile is not just a methodology toolbox but a mindset. The question then is: how do I inspire colleagues to buy into this new path to agility. There are absolutely fascinating methods in that area that I’d like to present during the workshop and also try out directly with the participants. So it’ll be a collaborative, hands-on workshop.

At DB Systel you develop traditional IT applications but also B2B apps. What does a mobile employee at Deutsche Bahn still need a pen and paper for nowadays?

  • It’s an interesting question. Due to historical reasons, a great many Deutsche Bahn employees still use pen and paper and are not yet equipped with mobile devices. We are working hard to change that as quickly as possible and reduce our colleagues’ workload significantly with mobile solutions. But new technical challenges constantly crop up, and they need solving. For instance: onboard Wi-Fi (don’t worry, it’s coming soon), patchy network coverage for the online tools field employees use to record damages to the railway infrastructure; and ensuring that, if a mobile device is lost, it can be found again quickly, even in the track ballast (just having a brightly colored case already helps in a situation like that).

Not every Deutsche Bahn employee is necessarily as tech-savvy as the DB Systel team. So how do you ensure your IT applications are “employee-friendly”? How do you collect feedback? And how does Deutsche Bahn train internal users to new applications?

  • We get future users of the application involved in the development process, right from the requirement brief. They contribute their ideas to the project and act as evangelists to other users. Meanwhile we have also formed our own UX team which supports us in achieving a user-friendly application design. After the prototype phase, initial user testing begins, and continues throughout the process. User comments are fed back into application development, helping us to ensure that our development work is aligned on actual user needs. One of the benefits of this approach is that users kind of “co-develop” the application. From experience this significantly increases user acceptance. Depending on the complexity of the application, training takes place through our application evangelists – though we do also use conventional training methods too. My hope is that in future we get to a point where we develop IT applications that don’t require any training effort at all, but that can be used intuitively.

Finally, could you also provide us with some insight into current projects for “external users”, i.e. Deutsche Bahn customers? What tool can passengers look forward to in the near future? And what gave you the idea to develop it?

  • In one of the previous questions, I already touched on a big project. The issue of onboard Wi-Fi in all classes – for both long-distance and regional trains – is something we are very busy with, and Deutsche Bahn will soon be making an official announcement on the subject. In addition to that, the new ICE portal is currently being beta-tested on ICE high-speed trains. It will deliver a wider selection of information and entertainment. I’d be delighted to get some feedback on it here. Have you tried it out yet? What can we improve? The ideas come from user surveys, from our own experience as train passengers, from observing competitors around the world, and from looking at what other mobility providers, like airlines, are offering.


Would you like to find out more about agile methods and take part in Sabine Igler’s workshop? Sabine Igler will be a speaker at Ada Lovelace Festival in Berlin in October.