Innovating together

Read this article

“Innovation track” – it sounds pioneering, focused, well thought-out. But what exactly does it mean and what’s it for? Bart Kalshoven, CEO of Aareon’s Dutch subsidiary Kalshoven Automation, and Sander Groot, director real estate management at long-standing CREM customer Sweco, are about to explain. By initiating an inno­va­tion track, the two companies have learned a great deal about optimising the cooperation between a software supplier and its customers.

No sooner has the property industry become acquainted with terms such as “lean”, “agile” and “scrum”, up pops a new buzzword for innovative forms of cooperation, namely “innovation track”. The term stands for constructive dialogue on new approaches to commer­cial real estate business and international knowledge transfer, and queries whether a company can really be a customer and an innovation partner at the same time.

If anyone has the answer to this question, it has to be Sander Groot. After all, his employer, Sweco, has been one of Kalshoven Automa­tion’s clients for many years and recently teamed up with the Aareon subsidiary in a project aimed at optimising and expanding the func­tional scope of its ERP solution for real estate management (REMS – Real Estate Management System). The motivation for the project came from a prior decision by Sweco to transfer its IT operations to Kalshoven’s data centre and use the ERP solution from the cloud in the future.

Bart Kalshoven: “As part of the international Aareon Group, Kalshoven Automation invests a lot in developing new applications for its customers. Wherever possible, we try to work directly with custom­ers who wish to take on a pioneering role. Sweco is a perfect example of just such a customer.”

Sander Groot: “Thank you for the compliment. And it’s true that we do pursue this kind of quality partnership. It allows us to focus on our core business of providing a top-notch real estate management service for the owners and users of property. In our relationship with Kalshoven Automation, the strengths of both companies complement each other. The partnership ensures that our mutual expertise is reciprocated in the best possible way, while not excluding technical know-how provided by any third-parties.”

Innovation track

An innovation track is a method of gradually introducing new technology into existing operating processes. It is directed towards introducing innovation not only for the benefit of the company’s own employees, but also, for instance, for tenants, property owners, investors and suppliers. The subject areas include supply-chain inte­gration, customer-oriented work processes, and mobile communications. By working through subject areas on a step-by-step basis, innovation is introduced in a controlled manner and this has benefits in terms of user acceptance.

Bart Kalshoven: “I think that’s true. During collaboration in the innovation track, Sweco was able to contribute its own ideas on the de­sired functions without having to develop the actual solutions itself. I think it is the ideal situation for both Sweco and Kalshoven Automation. Our focus is on producing standard applications developed by and for the market. Thanks to Sweco’s know-how, we are in a position to develop new standards that are quickly accepted by the market. And what’s more, these new functions can be used immediately by our other customers, too.”

Sander Groot: “And that can only be a good thing. Because if you only develop solutions on an individual basis, you hinder their acceptance by the market and shorten their shelf lives. We give our customers the space in which to share and grow their standard solutions in line with changing needs. And we’re convinced of the benefits of a collaborative approach to software development based on curiosity and the exchange of know-how.”

Bart Kalshoven: “The synergies between Kalshoven Automation and Sweco are further consolidated by the fact that we are part of the international Aareon Group. The teams at Aareon and Kalshoven Automation work together intensively when developing and integrating new products. Know-how and expertise acquired in the respective markets are discussed regularly and form the basis of our product roadmap. Kalshoven Automation continues to share information with Sweco throughout the process so that the customer’s requirements are incorporated into the target solution. Aareon provides technology and develops generic components and solutions that are of great value to both housing cooperatives and the independent property sector.”

Decision tree

Zeichenfläche 1

One example of a generic component that Aareon creates for respective projects is a decision tree. It’s a clever way to provide a tenant with step-by-step help when submitting, say, a repair job. Traditionally part of an ERP solution, the decision tree can be found in both the REMS ERP solution for Kalshoven Automation’s commercial real estate business and in Aareon Nederland’s Tobias AX for the housing industry. As this is a decentralised function that is available as a service for use with other applications, it can be launched from within REMS and Tobias AX too. This structure can also be the starting point for other innovations, such as the option of integrating a chatbot at some point in the future.

Sander Groot: “The innovation track’s first concrete deliverable is an app for tenants. In the coming months, Kalshoven Automation will also be fully digitalising our repair job process with traders and suppliers. The implementation of digital ordering and invoicing is also part of the innovation track. At the moment, we still issue jobs by e-mail and suppliers send us their invoices in pdf format.”

Bart Kalshoven: “By combining the Mareon service portal for connecting traders and suppliers with the UBL platform for invoice processing, Sweco is able to fully digitalise the process of communicating orders and invoices. Mareon supports the supply chain standard for construction and installation companies. As well as seeing when a real estate manager has issued a job in the Mareon digital solution, suppliers can also directly transfer digital information on planning and progress made, along with a notification when the work is completed. By integrating Mareon in REMS, this data can be processed directly and automatically in the ERP solution. The UBL platform for digital invoicing supports various taxonomies. This means that in the future, Sweco will be able to receive and process all other invoices digitally.”

Sander Groot: “In terms of providing a quality real estate management service, it’s important not only to have the latest technology at your disposal but also to ensure that management processes are developed and enhanced on a continuous basis. Wholesale digitalisation means that jobs are processed faster and errors significantly reduced, while providing owners and users alike with top transpar­ency. So our innovation track helps us to introduce new technologies step-by-step so that our operating processes are consistently optimised.”

Even commercial properties such as office buildings, shopping centres and hotels need to be managed. Aareon offers the appropriate software for that and draws on experience gained in the housing sector.
Photos: Getty Images

Customer profile

Sweco at a glance

Sweco plans and designs communities and cities of the future. The company provides services in the fields of engineering advisory, environmental technology and architecture, undertaking projects in 70 countries worldwide.

The Sweco group is active in seven business areas: Sweco Sweden, Sweco Norway, Sweco Finland, Sweco Denmark, Sweco Netherlands, Sweco Western Europe and Sweco Central Europe. The company is listed on NASDAQ OMX Stockholm AB.

Real Estate
The employees of the real estate management segment headed up by Sander Groot are responsible for all commercial, technical, administrative and promotional matters affecting clients.

Around 15,000 employees in Europe

Revenue (2017)
EUR 1.8 billion (Sweco group)

Customer of Aareon’s subsidiary Kalshoven Automation
Since 2009 (since 2015 as Sweco), Sweco has been using the Real Estate Management System (REMS), including the Internet portals.

Know-how transfer
into neighbouring areas

The commercial real estate market is becoming increas­ingly important for Aareon and several of its subsidiaries boast profound expertise in this field. In combination with know-how acquired in the housing industry, Aareon is helping more and more companies to digitalise their Commercial Real Estate (CRE) operations. IT applications can link together large volumes of data from the management and technical operation of, say, office buildings, shopping centres and hotels for the long-term forecasting of financial requirements and operating profits. Other applications can help optimise property asset management, allowing both companies and their investors to quickly obtain information about the economic situation of “their” real estate.

Developing solutions like these and transferring know-how into new markets are founded on the experience of Aareon Nederland B.V., which took over Kalshoven Automation in April 2017. The Dutch market leader has been offering IT systems and services for more than 25 years, combining specific know-how with research and development. Its product range includes REMS and REMS cloud computing, a standard for property administration, and real estate management.

Aareon consolidated its footprint in the CRE market segment in Germany and also gained access to the Austrian market with the acquisition in October 2017 of the sales companies of mse, as well as the development company mse RELion GmbH. Since then, mse’s customers have been able to benefit from the comprehensive range of digital solutions from the Aareon Smart World.