Gaining digitalisation skills – what does DigiWoh do?

Networking. Exchange. Learning from one another. That’s the motto of the centre of excellence for digitalisation of the housing industry (Kompetenzzentrum Digitalisierung), known as DigiWoh for short. The association, which was founded more than two years ago by the Bundesverband deutscher Wohnungs- und Immobilienunternehmen e.V. (Federal Association of German Housing and Property Companies) along with 16 housing companies, pushes for companies to exchange experiences, creates points of contact between the housing industry and technology partners and brings all participants together around one table with no mind to hierarchies – everyone from strategists and visionaries to IT managers and users all the way down to apprentices. Anyone who wants to tackle the subject of digitalisation is welcome. We spoke with Arne Rajchowski, head of the DigiWoh business office, about the growing network (it already boasts more than 150 member companies), participation formats and our individual mindset regarding digitalisation.
Kompetenzzentrum für Digitalisierung vom GdW

IT&I: Let’s talk about digitalisation – as a technology company and partner for many companies in the housing and real estate industry, the word digitalisation is in daily use at PROMOS. What is your understanding of digitalisation?

Arne Rajchowski: For me, digitalisation means the end-to-end virtualisation of everything that is important to us – buildings, processes, tasks. These newly created digital likenesses are the basis for all the advantages and solutions that we appreciate about digitalisation. They enable us to automate tasks and network people, companies and objects. However, this technical perspective is of secondary importance. The key aspect is consistent focus on the customer. By digitalising, we develop customer-oriented solutions and need to solve real problems.

IT&I: What is the starting point for your work with DigiWoh?

Rajchowski: We want to make the buzzword “digitalisation” tangible and promote exchange between housing companies regarding entirely practical digitalisation projects that have already been implemented. There are various event formats for this on our platform, including topic-based online opportunities to exchange experiences or live workshops. From the director of a major association right down to an apprentice from a municipal company – at our events, everyone sits around the same table and has the opportunity to share their views on the topic under discussion.

ITI: What was the deciding factor that led to the founding of DigiWoh?

Rajchowski: The idea to found a centre of excellence for the housing industry came about during a strategy workshop of housing companies on the topic of digitalisation. We realised that many housing companies have very different approaches to digital projects, although the challenge in the East and West of the country and in small or large establishments are often the same. The idea that companies could learn from other industry colleagues instead of reinventing the wheel every time was logical. DigiWoh gave rise to the vision of a platform that would provide the ideal space for this informal exchange of experiences and networking between employees throughout Germany.

IT&I: What kind of questions or problems bring companies to you? Which challenges do your members face in the industry?

Rajchowski: Many companies are lacking the time and experience as well as a method to develop their own understanding of digitalisation. In addition, 500 Prop Techs are constantly churning up the market with new ideas, but the individual housing companies cannot always immediately understand the various application scenarios or the new solutions are simply not suitable for them.

What is often missing is a common approach for the first and second project that would allow the company to gather experiences and a sparring partner in the housing industry that demonstrates which options are available to the company independently of suppliers and which solutions and approaches have already stood the test of the market.

IT&I: Are there focus topics? What are the most pressing issues right now? Perhaps you could give us a specific example.

Rajchowski: While future visions of artificial intelligence or digital building twins dominate the presentations at specialist conferences and congresses, our member companies are concerned with much more tangible questions: How can we perform an ERP migration without overloading the employees? How can I use digital tools to communicate with my tenants efficiently and in a customer-friendly way? An exchange of experiences with Chemnitzer Siedlungsgemeinschaft eG, which has developed a hybrid model in the area of customer communication consisting of a tenant app for digitally savvy tenants and a digital building bulletin board for all tenants and service providers, was very well received. The topic of energy management and how digital technologies can create more transparency here regarding consumption data and the building’s carbon footprint is also the subject of keen debate in our association.

IT&I: And what answers can you give the companies to their questions? You don’t just want to talk about digitalisation, but also motivate companies to act. How can DigiWoh support companies here?

Rajchowski: There is no one right answer to any of the questions. However, in DigiWoh, we can support companies by bringing them together with other companies that are perhaps already one step further in individual projects. Other housing companies’ experiences can be motivating because they proclaim:

“Look, it worked for us!” However, in the honest experience reports, we also discuss the challenges and stumbling blocks during the course of the projects and thus enable a realistic assessment of digital projects. This prevents housing companies from repeating the mistakes of other members or overburdening themselves with too many projects running in parallel.

To supplement this, DigiWoh offers work tools that can be used in various phases of digital projects. We have developed a model that our members can use to design digital projects themselves. This is available as a poster with an accompanying manual. We also offer templates to simplify cooperation between housing companies and technology partners. In addition, we have created a template that the housing companies can use to easily outline which issues they wish to solve with, for example, a tenants’ portal. A highly complex functional/requirements specification is not always necessary or helpful.

IT&I: On your platform, members can specifically exchange experience of the various fields of digitalisation. What is the response to this? How are the offers received?

Rajchowski: Our event formats are extremely enthusiastically received, as the increasing numbers of participants in the exchange formats and workshops demonstrate. Of course, the response always depends on the subject of the discussion – after two and a half years of DigiWoh, we have already developed a good feeling for what our members might be interested in. We develop our association’s offers flexibly – formats that are not very well received, such as the regular DigiWoh meeting or online working groups, are discontinued and we come up with new ideas. We also incorporate our members’ wishes and enable varied means of participation.

Der DigiWoh bietet Veranstaltungstipps zum Austausch über Digitalisierung

Figure 1: Various event formats are offered on the DigiWoh platform.

IT&I: Why should companies join DigiWoh?

Rajchowski: DigiWoh provides a fantastic opportunity for employees of housing companies and technology partners to converse with other industry professionals. The exchange helps with decisions regarding software or getting started with their own digitalisation strategy and thus provides concrete added value for day-to-day operations. The innovative live workshops from DigiWoh are not only certified as training courses for the participants, but are also quite simply fun thanks to the constructive yet relaxed atmosphere.

IT&I: To conclude, from the experience you’ve gained, what recommendations can you give companies if they want to get started with the process of digitalising? Is there anything they absolutely should not do?

Rajchowski: My main recommendation is to simply do it! In the housing industry, we are often still very reserved when it comes to true innovation. Projects are talked to death and we see only risks instead of looking at the great opportunities that digitalisation beings. This is a shame because the potential to find answers to the skilled-worker shortage or climate protection in our industry is huge. Not every digitalisation project has to work immediately or turn the entire company on its head. However, in my opinion, simply sticking to the status quo is the only thing that should be avoided at all costs when it comes to designing digital projects.

IT&I: Thank you for the interview!


Informationstechnologie und Immobilien (IT&I) Ausgabe Nr. 33 / April 2022

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