Interview with Bernd Rattey, CIO Deutsche Bahn, DB Fernverkehr AG
Today, no operational process can do without IT. As a result, the role of IT within the corporate structure has changed enormously. Bernd Rattey will report on September 11 on what new ways of thinking can help everyone involved in the process, what gaps need to be overcome and what the great advantages of business and IT growing together are. He already outlines some of his theses in conversation with the editorial staff.
mgm: Growing together of business and IT – what exactly does this mean?
Bernd Rattey: I would like to tell you a story about it. A few years ago I met someone at my former employer’s who I also got along with well in my private life. We met privately afterwards, but worked on different topics “on business” – me on the IT track and him for a business area.
For me, growing together of business and IT means that there are not “one” and “the other”, but that we pursue a common goal together.
In the course of a reorganization, we actually worked on the same topic. And there was our thought: How would we actually sort ourselves if we weren’t in different board departments at all, if we had different targets …? How would we organize ourselves if we were a small company with two managing directors? Not everyone would only see his own area, but would work together with the other. We then tried to implement this construct for ourselves. That was a very exciting experience, because we noticed that the disabilities caused by the external structures are not so great. For me, growing together of business and IT means that there are not “one” and “the other”, but that we pursue a common goal together.
mgm: What would this mean using the example of Deutsche Bahn?
Bernd Rattey: We noticed this when we introduced WLAN: WLAN can be beaten by product marketing, vehicle management or IT. But in the end, it’s all about how it works for the passenger. Who delivers which value contribution does not depend on which organizational unit or team he works in – but on the fact that you have a common goal that you want to achieve.
mgm: To what extent has the role of IT changed in this context?
Bernd Rattey: Just a few years ago, IT was the internal service provider that took care that the systems were up and running. Essentially, we were measured by the fact that IT costs fell. Today, every business process is permeated by IT, and if I want to change and improve something, then I always need IT as well.
mgm: Is the value of IT for corporate success sometimes underestimated?
Bernd Rattey: I used to like to ask applicants the question in an interview: What must have happened for you to go home satisfied in the evening? The answer was often: If nothing has gone wrong… I find that depressing, but in my opinion it is not worth working for it. But that’s changed. In the meantime, IT is seen as a partner on the common path to better service for the customer or guest. This also has a lot to do with the position of IT within the company or group and with the self-confidence of IT. We no longer have this discussion internally.
mgm: What are the big advantages of the convergence of IT and business?
Bernd Rattey: The first advantage is that everyone involved enjoys the process more. For many years, the business was thinking: If the IT people would perform properly, then I could also achieve my goals – and vice versa the IT people thought: If the business would clearly say what it wants, then we could also work well. So both sides were dissatisfied. My experience is that the participants in the daily Doing are much more happy with their work, because it simply works better. The second advantage has to do with expectation management and predictability: You see rather intermediate results, you know more exactly what awaits you. This reduces the risk of disappointment. The third advantage is that you have to keep IT manageable at all. When business people help themselves because they cannot work with IT, the result is uncontrollable uncontrolled growth.
mgm: What you describe is a new way of thinking and a new way of working together. What difficulties must be overcome for this to succeed?
Bernd Rattey: If you were trained in classical management, you first think in terms of categories such as goals, budgets and deadlines. Then it is actually a change to accept that perhaps not only one person is responsible, but a team from business and IT – that things can no longer be demanded so hard. The behavior patterns must also change if something does not work. It used to be easier to blame the other department. This ultimately leads to immobility, because nobody wants to get the blame if something goes wrong. I would say that we have to decide this together now and also stand together the next day – whether it works or not.
mgm: How do you create acceptance for this new way of thinking on the business side?
Bernd Rattey: It is very important to find a common language. IT is a language that not everyone understands the same way. An example for illustration: If my colleague orders new seats for a new ICE subfleet, then he introduces the seats to the board members, that will derive well, hold a nice presentations and he will get the money. And when he walks out the door, everyone feels good. But when I present a big IT project and I do it well, have a good presentation and so on … I’ll probably get the money too, but when I walk out the door nobody feels good, because everyone knows: There are so many different things and imponderables happening. Being aware of this and making everyone aware of it is an important step. I have to communicate in a way that the others understand me.
mgm: What unusual actions have you undertaken so far to improve communication between business and IT?
Bernd Rattey: We had structured processes for classic IT topics in order to incorporate changes into the systems. But we also had many topics that somehow didn’t fit into any classic system. That is why we have set up a process that we have called Solution Consultation Hours. Every Thursday an IT architect, an IT applications person and an IT project person sit in a room for three hours. Anyone can come by without an appointment, describe their problem and hand it over to their colleagues – without a form, without prioritization lists. In a short time, we have collected a three-digit number of topics that we consider to be useful.
mgm: What is currently the biggest challenge for you in your collaboration?
Bernd Rattey: The biggest challenge is actually to find the focus. We need to address some major issues, such as a complete overhaul of our planning and scheduling systems. We are talking about more than 40 individual IT systems. For me, this is not an IT project, this is a business transformation process that awakens new desires every day. In addition, there are many things that can still be done in the time before the replacement – but that goes beyond the scope of the large-scale project. To arrange that, not to offend people, to focus on the big – that certainly makes up a larger part of my time.