Digitising ad-hoc train ordering with MIKE

20. 03. 2024

The range of functions handled by our digital logistics platform MIKE continues to grow. The latest challenge involved developing an ad-hoc solution for Hödlmayr that allows trains to be ordered quickly and easily in times of increased demand.

Customers and employees of the ÖBB Rail Cargo Group are already enjoying the features of the digital logistics platform MIKE. Alongside tracking consignments, smart planning of wagon requirements (capacity planning) and ordering empty wagons (ordering), new applications are constantly being added.

Exclusive pilot projects are being carried out to test the suitability of the latter for everyday use. Back in autumn, it was the turn of block train orders to be digitised – now it is the turn of ad hoc train orders. Edina Sebök (Transport & Rail Dispatching, Hödlmayr International GmbH), Vanessa Langhammer (Head of Digitalisation, RCG) and Martin Bauer (Product Manager, RCG) share the experience that Hödlmayr and RCG have gained.

Vanessa, what should I understand by ad hoc trains?

Vanessa Langhammer, Head of Digitalization, RCG

Vanessa Langhammer: In the broadest sense, it’s about requesting and organising new and as yet unscheduled trains on contractually agreed routes. This means that our customers can not only confirm or cancel their longer-term planned trains, but also request new trains on agreed routes and track their progress.

You successfully launched the MIKE pilot project for block train ordering last autumn. Now, ad hoc train ordering represents the next stage of the process. How did you approach the project?

Vanessa: We have created a solid foundation with our block train ordering system. We looked in detail at how we and our customers handle the confirmation and cancellation of block trains – and where we can create added value for everyone with MIKE. Ordering ad-hoc train services is a completely different matter and a feature that is playing an increasingly important role. Depending on the composition of the train, many parties may have to confirm simultaneously that appropriate resources can be made available. What complicates matters further is that the market is currently becoming even more dynamic, as is the number of changes or new train connections that need to be planned.

Ms Sebök, is short-termism the new normal that we have to come to terms with?

Edina Sebök: I think that long-term planning is still essential. Apart from that, however, it certainly is true that things are happening at an ever-increasing pace, and with it, of course, the need for short-term solutions that often only arise from specific situations. The key is to find ways of dealing with this short-termism. At Hödlmayr, digitisation is a focal point of our strategy and at the same time one of the major levers with which we set ourselves apart from our competitors. Everything that contributes to this can make a difference and it’s great that the RCG sees it the same way. As a first mover, we were delighted to accept the offer to take part in the MIKE pilot project.

Edina Sebök, Transport & Rail Dispatching, Hödlmayr International GmbH

Martin, what experiences did you gain from commissioning the block train order system and was Hödlmayr able to benefit from this in practical terms?

Martin Bauer, Product Manager, RCG

Martin Bauer: We were able to build on a tried-and-tested module when it came to setting up ad-hoc train ordering and did not have to start from scratch from a technical perspective. It was also great that we were able to draw on our experience in devising and organising pilots and on an existing network of experts. We have learnt a lot as a team over the past few months and I think Hödlmayr has definitely benefited from this.

It almost sounds as if setting up ad hoc train ordering would be child’s play...

Martin: Well, it wasn’t quite that simple, of course. With our digital logistics platform and the resulting pilot projects, we are focussing heavily on “trialling” digital solutions in order to learn and further develop the system in relatively short cycles. Particularly when working with our customers, it is important for us not to provide a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather to understand the problem in more detail and respond specifically to the solution using the software. It is not always possible immediately to recognise and assess what the right mix is between general usability and customer-specific expansion. But I think we have found a good way forward here by working closely with customers and colleagues.
It was also very important for RCG to utilise and support the project – without cross-departmental cooperation, there will be no improvement for the customer in the end. It was particularly important in this respect for us to communicate clearly and dispel any ambiguities and concerns relatively quickly.

What do you mean by that?

Martin: When it comes to introducing new applications and systems for our customers, we also have to ensure that all information is consolidated within the organisation and that every person involved in the process is trained and familiar with it. It is also important to involve all relevant parties at an early stage during development in order to establish a suitable balance between customer-specific enhancements and standard functions and then to test them.

I imagine this only works with good insight into a company – including behind the scenes – and really close collaboration.

Edina Sebök: Absolutely. Our collaboration with the RCG worked very well right from the outset and there was a real sense of trust. This is certainly partly due to the fact that my colleagues were always very polite, helpful and solution-orientated. They quickly realised where our pain points are, what our needs and goals are and how we can work on them together.

Martin: I can only echo that sentiment. The hands-on mentality of Hödlmayr’s employees, coupled with their openness and interest in new solutions and working methods, won us over completely – and I think I can speak for the whole team here – and motivated us even more.

Nevertheless, working with other companies is always a challenge, even if the relationship has been working well for a long time. Can you give some details on how you went about tackling this?

Martin: Until the pilot goes live, there is a continuous cycle in which reflection and feedback take centre stage. At the beginning, however, we always focus on gaining a better understanding of the challenge at hand and then working together to find a solution. We also spend time working directly with the customer to better understand the situation and establish a common goal. From this we can deduce the details of what our customer really wants. If we take the example of the ad-hoc train order, we outlined the internal development process and drew up a development roadmap with the most important milestones we wanted to achieve.

And then development continues until the product is ready?

Martin: No, we continuously design, develop and test in agile development sprints. The aim is to ensure that a testable result is produced after each development sprint. The most important thing here is that the progress is constantly discussed and tested with the stakeholders in order to make sure we are always on the right track and can navigate flexibly. We do this until we are convinced that we are ready to enter the end-to-end testing phase. Once everything is running smoothly, we are ready for piloting in live operation.

Was all the testing worth it?

Edina Sebök: Definitely. Thanks to MIKE and the pilot project for ad hoc train ordering, we can do our work more effectively as orders are now displayed more simply and clearly. There are noticeably fewer e-mails and decisions are more transparent overall. Taking part in the project was really worthwhile for us and the time we saved is of course an additional benefit.