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DB Cargo’s journey to digitalised outgoing invoicing processes

Deutsche Bahn has committed to streamlining and standardising its corporate outgoing invoicing processes across the entire organisation. To move forward with the large project, Deutsche Bahn's digital partner, DB Systel, will work with global invoicing provider Unifiedpost Group.

The process started with DB Cargo by standardising the outgoing invoice processes of all fifteen DB Cargo entities. Standardising 15 entities in various countries certainly had its challenges. With country-specific legal requirements and around 150,000 outgoing invoices per year, the highly complex, large-scale international project had many moving parts. But after a successful nine months of process changes, the project was completed!

Explore the journey of the large-scale project over the nine months and delve into the details.

DB Cargo: A history of international business

DB Cargo AG is an international transport and logistics company that bundles all of Deutsche Bahn's national and international rail freight activities. Subsidiaries in eighteen different European countries belong to the parent company.

Measured by the number of kilometres travelled, DB Cargo is the leader in Europe. The company is also a pioneer when it comes to the digitalisation of invoice dispatch: the decisive course was set more than ten years ago, and all processes were adapted accordingly.

However, the complexity of cross-border corporate processes is constantly increasing, and the inconsistent legal requirements in various EU countries poses a new challenge. This prompted DB's finance department to commission its digitalisation partner, DB Systel, to offer a uniform outgoing invoice service across all entities.

Uniformity makes it easier

Standardising the systems across the various entities has been a goal for DB since 2018. DB Cargo was the first entity to implement the project with Unifiedpost Group at the end of 2019.

"Our initial situation was certainly rather unusual for Unifiedpost Group: we were already digitalised, but we wanted to move away from the existing solution, which had grown over ten years and was no longer future-oriented," says Ingo von Ammon from DB Cargo.

In 2016, the proportion of electronic invoices compared to physically posted invoices was still 42:58. In 2019 it was already 65:35 and in 2020 it was 71:29!

The business moved one step further in relation to their invoicing processes with Unifiedpost Group by also processing their invoice mailings.

"With Unifiedpost Group, DB has found a service provider that enables the fulfilment of the most diverse international requirements in the area of digitalisation of invoice dispatch via a central output channel," says von Ammon.

All legal requirements, such as audit-proof archiving, were also implemented. DB Cargo receives all invoices sent back to its own archive. A return channel to DB Cargo's archive system was implemented specifically for this purpose.

Complex calculations, huge volumes of data and a simple digital solution

DB’s invoices - with a wide range of attachments such as train journeys, route details, wagon types and deployments - comprise huge amounts of data, sometimes with up to five levels per listed invoice item.

The creation of such large PDF files requires enormous computing power from Unifiedpost Group. In addition, the structure of the invoice items was subject to a logic that had been individually developed over many years by the internal IT departments for the specific requirements of individual companies.

"Understanding this logic in detail and remapping it was a major challenge for Unifiedpost Group," says von Ammon. "A simple 1:1 implementation was not possible, but Unifiedpost Group persistently worked out all the special features and found a solution for almost every requirement. Today, some of the applications are perhaps no longer quite as flexible as they used to be, but apart from that, the standardisation brings us clear advantages in the process, in maintenance and as an investment in the future," the project manager sums up.

All eighteen countries were gradually converted. The plan was to gradually activate all clients for the then fifteen companies and the parent company, and to quickly make adjustments based on the respective results. The large scope of the project required a particularly intensive exchange within the project team.

"In the beginning, we definitely underestimated the need and effort on both sides," recalls von Ammon. "First of all, we had to define terms so that everyone involved used the same wording. We then needed more time and personnel capacity. We used a Kanban board as a project management tool, as the previous exchange via telephone and email was not sufficiently effective."

In the end, up to eight project members were involved on both sides and the online conferences settled down to once a week and finally to every other week.

If you are looking to follow DB Cargo’s future-proofed processes and also wish to digitalise your invoicing workstreams, take a look at our global invoicing solution today.

The case study was originally in German, created by crossinx, the former name of Unifiedpost Germany - the German entity of Unifiedpost Group.