How the iPad is literally lightening the load for Vonovia’s property managers
Following the merger with GAGFAH, Vonovia now has 370,000 apartments and currently employees 6,000 members of staff. The company focuses particularly on sustainable inventory optimisation and efficient management. In residential areas, Vonovia no longer acts as a landlord, but sees itself as a contact partner and service provider that provides its tenants (of whom there are approx. one million) with customer-oriented services relating to housing. With this in mind, the property managers play a significant role in the housing developments in the city and take care of a wide range of tenant concerns.
On duty every day, close to customers
A property manager’s tasks at Vonovia cover a wide range of activities that go far beyond the traditional duties of a caretaker. They are responsible for visual and functional inspections; for example, checking whether lights in hallways still work and that play areas are clean. They supervise work steps during a change of apartment and also perform tasks in the areas of management and receivables management, such as when complaints about noise are received or the entrance hallway needs to be decluttered. Other than renting out the property and work that ultimately requires a technician, all tenant requests are part of the project managers’ area of responsibility. They thus act as helpful, on-site contacts at the housing developments and provide significant added value for tenants.
In 2014, the real estate company launched a pilot project together with PROMOS, in which the property managers were to test the use of tablets as well as the easysquare mobile app as a leading work tool. Since then, the procedure followed by the property managers has changed considerably.
Initial situation: previous daily routine
In the past, the starting point for property managers when completing their everyday tasks was a laptop, which they used to log on to the SAP® system via a remote connection. Logging on was necessary because Vonovia sends work orders to the property managers via three software applications. The following applications are used:
- A CRM system that maps all the work orders for the property manager using a ticket
- The SAP® ERP system that contains all the inventory data and worklists for processing the ticket
- A route planning system that issues the tickets to the property managers at the end
route planning system determines the property manager responsible as well as
the relevant times at which the property manager is available. This means that,
on starting work, property managers simply needed to take a look at their
laptops to see all the tasks to be completed in the form of a worklist. From
this SAP® screen, they could jump to the processing area for the procedure in
question or access further information regarding customers, property data, and
the like – provided they were working online! To complete on-site visual
and functional inspections of the inventory, for example, the property managers
used a digital pen and the corresponding forms. In this manner, digital records
of the final inspection of residential properties, among other things, were
saved in the pen and later transferred to the ERP system. The paper carbon copy
was given to the tenant. A camera for photographic documentation, a mobile
phone, and the token for logging on to the system completed the project
Motivation to take action
past, property managers largely depended on a whole range of technical devices
to complete their tasks. If you now consider that property managers by
definition spend a lot of time travelling between inventory properties as part
of their standard tasks, you can see that carrying around all that equipment
was not exactly practical. As a result, employees at Vonovia were highly
motivated to take part in a pilot project and test the optimisation potential
that could be realised using iPads combined with the easysquare mobile app.
Digital forms are the core element of the app and allow every participant to
perform activities everywhere and at any time Paper forms often consist of
numerous pages and carbon copies. It takes a long time to fill them out. In
contrast, the use of digital forms results in considerable process advantages.
The iPad as an office: the daily routine today
Compared with the two procedures at Vonovia, the benefits of the new solution are abundantly clear: the implementation of iPads including the easysquare mobile application, which can also be used offline, allows property managers to complete their work orders conveniently even in areas where there is no Internet connection (e.g. in the cellar). In the past, property managers required a constant Internet connection to the ERP system in order to view their worklists. If this connection was interrupted, they needed to log in again. Now their tasks are available in the easysquare mobile app’s inbox. Even if the Internet connection is temporarily interrupted, the data is transmitted as soon as reception is available again. This saves a considerable amount of time.
The app’s integrated camera function provides another key advantage. Until now, the property managers carried an additional camera to document the weekly service provider inspection or to record a defect. They then had to transfer all the photos that had been taken during the course of the day laboriously from the camera to the computer in the office that evening and then assign them to the individual procedures in the SAP® system. This previously time-consuming documentation is now performed at the same time the defect is reported. The property manager simply records the defect digitally in a form in the easysquare mobile app and takes a photo. Once it is sent, the recorded data is transferred directly to the SAP® system, where the defect report is created and then sent to the service provider responsible. And this all happens completely automatically!
In fact, property managers at Vonovia now only rarely come into contact with the complex SAP® interfaces. When processing their tickets, they now benefit from the intuitive ergonomics of the application. As soon as a ticket is planned for the property manager in question in SAP®, a form is automatically generated on the iPad. In this way, the various tasks, which are fully mapped in easysquare, are passed on to the project manager on a weekly basis. In the future, property managers will use the iPad exclusively to process their tickets. If you consider the fact that many caretakers had never worked with an SAP® system before taking the job, this method significantly reduces training requirements.
Finally, business-related aspects also convinced the decision makers at Vonovia. The diverse systems and devices generated a high administrative workload as well as various costs, which can now be saved because licences and printed paper forms, etc. are now longer necessary.
Successive enhancement of the solution
Since the pilot project, the real estate company has mapped an incredible variety of mobile processes in the app. The spectrum ranges from simple checklists from the visual and functional inspection to more complex presentations, including for procedures from changes of tenant, tenants’ office hours or inspections of vacant properties.
Completion of a performance requirements sheet as part of maintenance is just one example that takes into account extremely complex queries. For example, if a tenant caused a defect, the real estate company does not bear these costs; they are automatically billed to the tenant. A range of activities and evidence are required to charge tenants effectively in this manner. These are stored in the app in the form of checklists so that the property manager simply has to follow the instructions from the form step by step. The property manager is shown the costs directly while recording the defect and can document the evidence for subsequent customer billing conveniently with a photograph.
A further example is the tenants’ office hours, in which the property manager is provided with alternative access options for certain transactions in a form. Thus, if tenants speak to property managers during an inspection of an inventory property or the tenants’ office hours, they no longer process their tickets from the worklist. Instead, the form for the tenants’ office hours provides cluster folders for assigning the property manager as well as the tenant’s master data, contracts relating to the rental object, lists of measures and various functions (e.g. creating a minor repairs order or performance requirements sheet). Depending on the situation that the property managers face, they can jump conveniently to the relevant transaction.
While ten loaned devices from PROMOS were used in practice for the endurance test in the pilot project, more than 700 property managers now work with an additional iPad, allowing them to deal with the tenants’ requests promptly, easily and reliably. “The mobile applications within the easysquare form service are developed under the leadership of just two employees from our own IT department,” says Dr Karsten Rech, head of IT and process management (CIO, CPO) at Vonovia SE, emphasising the excellent development performance at his company.
Experiences and outlook
Vonovia has implemented by far the largest single solution for mobile processes in the German real estate industry and, since then, has been using conventional terminal devices (iPads) with a native app that can also be used offline. Field staff can now complete all tasks in mobile property management with one work device. Additional computing technology such as laptops, paper forms and cameras are unnecessary. “The users’ initial experiences were entirely positive. The most convincing aspect for the property managers was that their equipment was so much lighter to carry,” Dr Rech continues. This integrated approach of supporting all mobile activities with one app simplifies the processes in the real estate company and saves money.
The next steps are to integrate other user groups (e.g. landlords, managers and technicians) into the easysquare platform so that, in the future, all those involved in the process are networked on the same platform. With the takeover of GAGFAH on 1 January 2016, far in excess of 2,000 users are now on the system.