VBW BAUEN UND WOHNEN GMBH has been a part of the real estate landscape in Bochum, North Germany, since 1916. The company was originally founded as Bochumer Heimstätten GmbH and is now one of the leading real estate businesses in the city. The company is a co-founder of an IT interest group (“IT-IG”) that also includes the real estate firms BGW Bielefeld, DOGEWO Dortmund and GWG Wuppertal. IT-IG’s goal is to define common standards for carrying out the complex procedures involved in company migration to a SAP solution and to create models that can be reused for SAP-based applications. Gerald Westphalen, a management consultant from Hamburg, has been the IT-IG coordinator since 2001.
The VBW implemented the SAP portal solution in 2004 and, as such, was one of the first real estate firms in Germany to do so, and at the same a pilot for the IT-IG. The driving force behind this decision was the desire to make the marketing and leasing of its entire portfolio more efficient. As a result of its experience both in real estate and with SAP NetWeaver, OctaVIA AG was given the job of implementing portal-based prospect management.
Central portal for customers and co-workers
It was hoped that the portal would form a central communication medium for customers and co-workers alike. One of the aims of the portal project was therefore to collect detailed information about customers and their requirements, enable demand behavior to be analyzed, and even proffer tips on how to improve what the company had to offer. The other was to improve the efficiency of internal processes through automatic generation of outline property descriptions with pictures and plans, referred to here as exposés.
Since going live in January 2005, VBW has been using the SAP R/3 components for Financials (FI) and Controlling (CO), Project System (PS) and Plant Maintenance (PM), and other industry-specific processes (standard RE). Having already installed the SAP R/3 software, VBW started the portal project in September 2004 as an enhancement. VBW wanted to see one end-to-end process that would cover customer registration, searching for available rental properties, managing rental inquiries, generating exposés, and even allow binding offers to be made. With this in mind, the consultancy firm OctaVIA made further developments to the prototype they had already created in their own development portal. The flexibility of SAP NetWeaver Portal allowed OctaVIA to quickly tailor a new user interface to fit VBW’s requirements. All screens and input fields were adjusted on a role-specific basis.
Throughout this process attention was paid primarily to the user interface and the functions customers could use to search for available properties on the VBW Website. A lot of thought also went into determining what information customers should enter when performing an online VBW search, and the service that VBW could provide in return. VBW decided to allow customers to search for apartments without having to register and enter additional data beforehand. The search criteria used include city district, size, rental cost and furnishings, and these provide pictures and floor plans of corresponding properties to enable customers to see exactly what is on offer.
However, after completing a search customers must register with a user name to generate a PDF exposé of any suitable property they have discovered. VBW deliberately designed the process this way so that it could identify serious customers. Just a few days after going live it was clear that the fear that portal visitors would be deterred by having to enter personal data was unfounded. A fact Norbert Riffel, VBW managing director, was eager to emphasize: “After just a week online, 43 people had registered on the portal and five ended up signing a lease. Obviously more people do searches without registering, usually about 100 searches are performed each week, and this figure is rising. Overall this is a very positive trend and proof that by implementing the SAP portal solution we are closing in on our target of providing the best possible service for our customers in each information channel.”
The new portal has brought positive changes for VBW co-workers as well. The role-based user interface of the SAP NetWeaver Portal accelerates and simplifies the daily task of matching up customers and properties. All the relevant information, for example, what properties are available, who is looking for an apartment, which apartments are in most demand, and all the main applications can be accessed immediately after customers have registered. Portal-based use of SAP prospect management allows different solutions, such as SAP R/3 and CAD systems, and data sources to be combined in such a way that any properties found by a search automatically contain all marketing-relevant details. This means that in addition to standard SAP property data, pictures, floor plans, city maps and information about the surrounding area are now also available.
More time for face-to-face customer care
The SAP NetWeaver Portal was installed at VBW in October 2004 and the user interface enhanced by OctaVIA was integrated into the portal environment. At this point in time, the SAP R/3 test solution had also been installed and preconfigured. Linking the portal and SAP R/3 meant that prospect management could access all the property data it required. The existing CAD program was then also connected – CADNet provides different sizes and qualities of photos and floor plans. After the testing and training phase, followed by acceptance of the software, the new user interface went live for staff and customers on the VBW website in June 2005.
Users themselves are totally unaware of the technology behind what they see. The user interface now links information from the CAD server with data from the SAP solution. The information the portal requires to generate exposés is provided automatically, this includes pictures, floor plans, rental costs, furnishings and descriptions. When the software is running a PDF document is generated with a set layout. This can then be saved, printed or sent. SAP NetWeaver provides easy-to-use functions for outputting forms and documents in Adobe format and supports standard Adobe functions, such as save, print and send. Norbert Riffel adds: “At the click of a mouse we can now generate attractive exposés with a uniform appearance using up-to-the-minute system data. This leaves us more time for personal consultation with customers.”