“Brilliance in Bonn” – implementing a comprehensive digitisation strategy
To get to know the property managers’ work processes better, the PROMOS consultants spontaneously decided to take a look at the procedures for themselves in practice. The results culminated in the implementation of an overall digital strategy, which was performed in parallel to the conversion to SAP®. Read the complete account of the journey to find out what experiences the company made along the way.
Getting there: Departure from Bonn
As a municipal property company, Vereinigte Bonner Wohnungsbau AG, VEBOWAG for short, manages an inventory of around 6,300 apartments. They perform a wide range of activities. As well as planning, building, leasing and managing living space for approximately 18,000 tenants, the company feels that it has a particular obligation to those who cannot procure adequate living space for themselves. In pursuit of a successful municipal housing policy, VEBOWAG is still expanding its housing inventory, above all by building publicly subsidised apartments. Reliable system support to manage the company’s inventory is of utmost importance here.
Under way: Passenger wanted
In the 2015 public tender for a new ERP system, VEBOWAG chose the SAP®-based industry solution PROMOS.GT, which was to replace the previous inventory system GES at the beginning of 2017. With this, VEBOWAG selected a modern, real-estate-specific software that is tailored to the customer’s needs. The Berlin-based system house can now make use of all the project experience it has gathered over many years and, with PROMOS.GT based on SAP S/4 HANA®, offers a solution library that provides a range of functions and enhancements in the form of best practices for the real-estate industry.
First stage: Core processes
In close coordination with the customer and following an intensive concept phase, the project team supplies a concrete schedule for implementation of the entire project (Figure 1). The first act in phase I was to implement the main functions on the agenda. This includes the areas of property management, technology and accounting as well as all the associated secondary functions such as operating costs statements, ongoing maintenance, loan management, the construction account, etc. Based on this subject-specific alignment, the 20-strong PROMOS project team was also divided into six sub-projects, which in turn were split into various working groups.
Figure 1: Project schedule for implementing the new ERP solution at VEBOWAG.
Figure 1: Project schedule for implementing the new ERP solution at VEBOWAG.
In addition, at the same time as transferring the existing core functions from the old system to the new application, the functional scope was expanded. Processes that require a mobile property inspection have now been fully digitally mapped with easysquare. These include mobile order processing, the quality assessments and mobile change of tenant. The functions of the solution are all essentially designed in the same way: The connecting element for communication between those involved in the change of tenant process is digital forms. Digital forms are sent from the SAP® system to the easysquare platform and already contain all the key information, such as the address, deadline, or the fixtures and fittings characteristics of an object. The responsible employee receives the digital form in the easysquare mobile app inbox, allowing him or her to complete the form on site using a tablet PC. Around 20 field workers at VEBOWAG were equipped with appropriate terminal devices for this. Pre-defined catalogues and check lists make manual data entry easier, and archiving or reintegration into the SAP® system are performed automatically at the end of the process. This ensures that the process always remains transparent for all those involved.
Second stage: Analysis systems
After the main functions successfully went live on 2 January 2017, Phase II started. At VEBOWAG’s request, the topics of an internal control system, liquidity planning, financial statements, and the implementation of a BW system have been processed in subsequent project steps since 2017.
Final stop: You have reached your destination!
Within a year, the entire IT system at the Bonn housing company had been converted to an SAP®-based application. The successful project methodology created a solid foundation for a new technological beginning. Through a combination of the customer-specific perspectives of VEBOWAG employees from the individual specialist departments and expert consulting by PROMOS employees, the implementation strategies were coordinated taking into account the specifications from the requirements catalogue. This made it possible to sufficiently specify the procedure for the SAP® implementation and develop a mutually agreed procedure for the subsequent realisation. The company has made the leap into the digital future and, in doing so, achieved an important objective. “Brilliance in Bonn” – and PROMOS can make a small contribution with its IT.
As a project manager at VEBOWAG, Andreas Remmen played a guiding role in the implementation of the SAP® system with release ERP6 EhP7 and the HANA database in his company. In an interview, the IT manager talks about VEBOWAG’s experience of PROMOS and how the journey will continue.
IT&I: Mr Remmen, in 2015 VEBOWAG put out a tender for the introduction of a new ERP system. What were your expectations for this new solution?
Andreas Remmen: We had already started defining all the criteria that we envisaged for our new ERP system in our requirements catalogue in October 2014. Our list of expectations was long: We wanted the new solution to be future-proof and support us reliably over the coming years. A holistic solution that precisely covers the functional scope of our business areas was the only option. As leasing apartments isn’t our only job, construction, maintenance, sales and a meaningful reporting option needed to be integrated into the new solution. In addition, we wanted an innovative software that would grow dynamically alongside our company.
IT&I: Were your expectations met?
Remmen: Yes, you can certainly say that. With PROMOS, we also found an experienced partner who not only advises us about their own software, but also has extensive expertise in the housing industry.
IT&I: Why did VEBOWAG decide to switch to SAP® and which other reasons spoke in favour of PROMOS as an implementation partner in your opinion?
Remmen: The tender for the new solution was put out Europe-wide and in the subsequent selection process, three companies ultimately made the final cut. We looked at these companies in the scope of beauty shows. After checking the formal factors, such as the offered and demonstrated functions or the price, we decided on PROMOS as a consultancy company. The main reason we wanted to use SAP® in the future was our initial situation in Bonn. The city had already switched their software to SAP® previously. As the city is the main shareholder of our company, with 93 percent, we see many benefits in having the same technological basis, be it with regard to interfaces or the new municipal consolidated financial statements (NKF). Any other software was out of the question! Although we, of course, took a good look at the market beforehand.
IT&I: With a new IT system, you enter completely new territory, so to speak. A transformation is often plagued with uncertainties. How did you address the challenges?
Remmen: As you know, any project is only as good as its planning. And precisely this was the greatest challenge for our project: How should the software look in concrete terms? How should our processes be organised? Answering these questions required a lot of time and effort from our project team members. Without the efforts of the entire project team, the conversion would not have been so successful. PROMOS also provided a great deal of support. The team proved to be a reliable partner that understood our customers and spoke our language.
IT&I: How did the users respond to the new system?
Remmen: There was certainly tension in the run-up to the go-live, but the uncertainties quickly dissipated and the first rental debit position worked. The users had already been thoroughly trained over a period of six weeks before the conversion, not only in the individual sub-sections, but comprehensively from the Management Board to the caretaker. In addition, we had scheduled coaching, so the new solution was well received.
IT&I: Mr Remmen, the core functions have now been in use for a year. What experience have you gained so far and which projects are planned for the future?
Remmen: The core functions were implemented without any major complications. Currently, we are coming up to the first annual financial statements in 2018 and the first operating costs statement using the new software. We’ll see how that goes. For the future, we are planning to extend controlling and liquidity management and introduce the invoice receipt workflow. We expect the digital invoice in particular to increase the efficiency of our processes further.
Thank you for this conversation and good luck with the upcoming annual financial statements.