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Clicking into the future

Ordering, booking and tracking freight wagons has always been a complex process – until now. The centralised link2rail customer platform is gradually being rolled out to customers.

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The rail freight transport system is highly complex. Every day, DB Cargo moves 3,000 trains and thousands of freight wagons over 33,500 km of rail. The system is not getting any simpler, particularly with the ambitious goal of shifting even more freight onto the environmentally friendly rails. Every bit as demanding are the planning and organisation of empty wagons, the management of customer inquiries and the preparation of bids, consignment notes and invoices. For customers, however, the top priority is ensuring that their goods make it reliably from point A to point B, and booking should be made as simple as possible.

 

“To meet these objectives, there is no alternative to significantly simplifying the process and creating a much more straight forward way to conduct transactions. That is precisely the focus of link2rail”, says Dr Eric Pfaffmann, Vice President for Digital Customer Interface at DB Cargo AG. With link2rail, DB Cargo is completely rethinking the rail system. In the new platform, customers are always the central focus. Customers will be able to easily integrate the new services into their own processes, and they will no longer have to adapt to Deutsche Bahn’s intricate processes. Eric Pfaffmann sums things up and describes the shift in perspective behind the changes: “link2rail is about putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes and breaking down the complicated process of rail management into modules.” However, digitalising this process and making it simple enough for users to achieve their goals in just a few clicks is at least as complicated as the system itself. About three years ago, this situation prompted DB Cargo to begin developing various digital services and offering them on myRailportal as packages of portal solutions.

 Evolution

link2rail is the natural evolution of this idea, says Eric Pfaffmann: “Up until now, myRailportal had been purely a portal solution. However, what is ultimately driving connectivity are services provided through APIs, which pull in information from interfaces in a standardised format. This model allows us to offer modular services which customers can use right when they need them.” According to Pfaffmann, “these services are allowing us to make rail transport easier and more transparent for our customers. With link2rail, we’re making a contribution toward integrating rail. We’re looking at the entire logistics chain, and our aim is to promote digitalisation and automation with our services from start to finish.”

“link2rail makes complex logistics simpler."

Dr. Eric Pfaffmann, Vice President Digital Customer Interface

Products for our customers

This new approach has transformed what used to be a complicated procedure into a process that is easier for our customers to understand. Thorsten Meffert, Vice President Marketing, DB Cargo AG, sums things up: “We want to create products for our customers!” The right online tools for achieving that, such as the freight wagon catalogue, the freight timetable or the search function for yards and loading points are freely available and do not require prior registration, making them ideal for potential new customers, as well. “We were intentional in our decision to launch a new product portfolio with a basic set of products instead of waiting until we had implemented all our great ideas and technical requirements”, says Thorsten Meffert, describing the development of link2rail.

 Rollout

Our next step was to bring digital services online with link2rail support. Once customers are in the system, they can use the customisable interface with rapid input forms, an overview of all of their orders and bookings which displays order codes and a traffic light status system which shows when orders are due for processing, as well as the convenient copy and paste function which makes manual entries all but obsolete while also enhancing the quality of data. At the same time, service quality is going up, because the track and trace function will also be included in link2rail services, pro­viding customers with reliable end-to-end location information, even for international transports. To achieve this, information is consolidated, filtered and aggregated to obtain meaningful results from various sources, including GPS transmitters installed in freight wagons. Currently, some 46,000 wagons are thus equipped.

In addition to accessing services through interfaces and the portal, the company is reviewing where mobile applications can be used to further simplify the process. The check-in app, for instance, makes it possible to complete orders by scanning wagon numbers and entering their weight directly at the track. link2rail is now being continually improved based on the experience gained from myRailportal. While its basic functions are being rolled out, new and existing services are being developed using agile methodologies.

Contact our expert now.

Dr. Eric Pfaffmann

Vice President Digital Customer Interface, DB Cargo AG

Contact our expert now.

Thorsten Meffert

Vice President Marketing, DB Cargo AG