7 questions for... Jörn-Michael Westphal

Making Potsdam a better place to live – that’s the mission statement of the city’s own group of companies ProPotsdam. Among the methods the company employs to achieve this objective are multifaceted construction and housing projects as well as social commitment. The company manages more than 17,800 apartments and provides new housing in Potsdam through innovative construction projects such as upgrading and rebuilding a former tram depot or military barracks. The support, management, rebuilding/renovation measures and the organisation of the social projects require a sophisticated digitisation concept. This is where PROMOS comes in. For example, ProPotsdam was able to digitise its entire company management and residential property management without impairing operating processes by implementing the new operating system SAP S/4HANA®. Jörn-Michael Westphal has been managing director of ProPotsdam GmbH since 2000 and took responsibility for the majority of the digitisation project in cooperation with PROMOS. We wanted to find out from him how he and the company maintain their success and drive innovation in Potsdam. We asked him seven questions. Here are his responses.

1. How does ProPotsdam promote sustainable living in Potsdam?

Jörn-Michael Westphal: We view ourselves as a municipal service provider for urban development because we develop residential neighbourhoods in the interests of sustainability and provide housing for broad sections of Potsdam’s population. More than 70 percent of our apartments are now assigned based on social criteria. Around one sixth of Potsdam’s residents lives in one of our properties. We renovate and build various forms of housing: compact, barrier-free apartments for people with physical or other limitations and housing options for students, large families and those sharing accommodation. Our strategic approach is geared towards environmental, economic and social objectives.

We are continuing with our programme of new builds and renovations despite difficult conditions, in particular higher construction costs and increased interest rates, and will be launching our first modular building project for social purposes this year. Every year, we provide 600 social dwellings in Potsdam and are continuing to work intensively on designing Potsdam’s green future, for example through energy efficiency and electricity/heat generation using renewable energies as well as developing charging infrastructure for e-mobility in the city’s districts.

2. How do you, as a group of companies, manage the implementation and organisation of many different tasks and to what extent can digital tools contribute to your success?

Westphal: A few years ago, we sat down with the managers of PROMOS and agreed on a digitisation roadmap with upcoming topics and their order of priority. But a supportive corporate culture also includes ensuring that all employees are equipped with suitable mobile devices and providing good user support. Having already focused on maintenance processes in the years following the introduction of SAP® in 2001, we have largely digitised and partially automated cooperation with trade companies as well as our ordering and accounting processes.

The successfully completed projects – ranging from the introduction of SAP® in 2001 to the easysquare craftsmen portal and digitally supported rental processes all the way to the integrated utilities statement – support workflows in many different departments. The digital applications we have set up also shape our tenants’ and the commissioned service providers’ perception of ProPotsdam as a professional business partner.

3. How does PROMOS support you in living up to your mission statement?

Westphal: Our goal is to simplify both internal and external processes by continually expanding digital options and tools. First and foremost, we want to further enhance the communication with our tenants and integrate them into the digital world, for instance through our ProPotsdam app.

Looking back, our collaboration with PROMOS has always been very constructive and solution-oriented. Milestones in our collaboration include the introduction of SAP® on 1 January 2001, the expansion of the easysquare solutions for the tradesman's interface and rental processes, the IT-supported legal safety precautions and the launch of our digital customer portal and our ProPotsdam app. New functions for the app went live just recently, including the translation function for 23 languages.

4. What has changed for your company since the introduction of SAP S/4HANA® with PROMOS.GT?

Westphal: The main driving force was the necessary switch from SAP 4.6c with RE-Classic to RE-FX. With SAP S/4HANA® and PROMOS.GT, we have created an excellent foundation for the new technological standard for the continued development of our company. The tenant communication via the ProPotsdam app and the mapping of other mobile processes in particular support us in our customer orientation by making workflows efficient.

Looking back, I am extremely pleased that we implemented the conversion project before the coronavirus pandemic – the new system went live on 1 January 2019. After all, around 100 company employees were integrated.

5. What digitisation projects would you like to implement in the future?

Westphal: We are currently looking into further expanding our customer communication as an enhancement of our 24/7 availability by phone. Having integrated the EED functions, we have now achieved 47 percent use of our app by tenants in addition to the approximately 30 percent who can be reached by e-mail. Our current focus is on the workflows for processing digital invoices and construction invoices.

Informationstechnologie und Immobilien (IT&I) Ausgabe Nr. 37 / Mai 2024

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6. How are you as a company preparing for current challenges such as the energy crisis or resource shortages for construction?

Westphal: Housing companies already had to deal with a significant price increase on the energy market as well as for construction services and materials at the beginning of 2022. The war in Ukraine has exacerbated the situation further, and housing companies are generally facing urgent new challenges. We’ve made strategic and operational preparations for this over the past year.

In light of the situation on the energy market and the resulting high energy prices as well as increasing costs of living and housing, as a municipal housing company we signed an agreement with the city of Potsdam in 2022 to secure affordable housing. The key elements of the “Potsdamer Aktionsplan für bezahlbares Wohnen und sozialen Zusammenhalt” (Potsdam action plan for affordable housing and social cohesion) are a rent moratorium, protection of tenants against eviction in the event of rental arrears due to rising heating costs, and the continuation of social housing construction. We intend to continue our new residential construction programme to create 2,500 dwellings by 2027 despite the considerably more difficult conditions resulting from high construction and financing costs.

7. Which moment with PROMOS was particularly memorable?

Westphal: Apart from the challenging introduction of SAP® on 1 January 2001, I remember discussions about contracts and an exchange with the PROMOS management team regarding content at data record level. Our objective was to ensure that we had a shared vision of the solution to be developed. A short, but just as detailed, exchange about flexible iPad applications also gave us the incentive for a strategic focus and to develop dynamic forms instead of using fixed screens. In 2011, I was surprised to receive the PROMOS.Award at the 8th OpenPromos User Forum for this idea.

Something else that we won’t forget in a hurry: due to the coronavirus pandemic, we had to go through the acceptance reports for the S/4HANA® conversion together separated by a safety panel. That felt quite surreal at the time.

Thank you for the interview.


7 question for...

is dedicated to digital innovations in the real estate industry. How well placed are companies? Which measures are they focusing on? Experts and industry insiders answer questions in brief interviews.

Part 7:

Jörn-Michael Westphal, Managing Director of ProPotsdam GmbH

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