Aareon is driving digitalisation in holistic fashion, supporting its customers with digital solutions, consulting and design thinking. The Company is transforming its working environment with the help of flexible working models, state-of-the-art technology and a pioneering corporate culture – and has launched the work4future project with an eye to the future.
The work4future project builds on the existing corporate culture that centres on the people at Aareon. Topics such as flexible working models, work-life balance and health management have been enshrined in this corporate culture for many years. It is now a case of looking to the future and taking greater advantage of the opportunities presented by digitalisation for the benefit of Aareon’s working environment. The employees will be involved in this transformation process, as digitalisation will not work without people. Sylvia Clöer, Director Human Resources and Organisation at Aareon, and Head of Board Office Elke Wolff outline the latest ideas for for continued progress on Working World 4.0.
Why is Aareon focusing so strongly on digitalisation?
Sylvia Clöer: Aareon is the big driver of digitalisation in the sector. We want to consolidate our leading position in the market for the future and expand our integrated solution portfolio Aareon Smart World. This will allow us to shape the digital transformation process and create new potential for our customers. The trend towards mobile solutions is gaining momentum in various sectors. Our online consulting and e-learning offerings, for instance, are being taken up with enthusiasm. But it is the digital solutions in particular that are increasingly supporting new areas and networking the relevant partners.
Elke Wolff: Precisely. When it comes to managing customer relationships, for instance, our customers are increasingly relying on mobile solutions such as our tenant app in addition to ERP systems. Aareon is continuously developing its processes, systems, organisation and corporate culture with a view to keeping pace with changing market requirements.
What does this mean in practice?
Elke Wolff: We now have to step up the pace in our efforts to create new digital solutions. Professional management of the product life-cycle – in particular optimum close interaction with our customers in the innovation and pilot phase – has an increasingly important role to play in this context. However, continuous delivery, by which we mean optimisation of the software delivery process by means of process automation and the like, is also a major factor when it comes to bringing digital solutions to market as quickly as possible.
Sylvia Clöer: All of this means that we have to be able to work increasingly flexibly and communicate quickly. We are also an international player and benefit from the strengths of all 36 locations in the Aareon Group. We are networking more and more with one another as a result.
This has resulted in the work4future project. What is behind it?
Sylvia Clöer: It’s a large-scale, Group-wide project that is rooted in our holistic digital perspective. We want to practise agile work throughout the Company with the help of digitalisation. We are involving our employees in the transformation process, as digitalisation will not work without people – we need enthusiastic and motivated employees who, above all, enjoy their work. Because it is so highly relevant, work4future is enshrined throughout the Group, with project managers in a number of departments. It is based on a three-part package of measures:
The first measure is to establish a tool for the complete reorganisation of our internal communication – a social intranet that allows us to link our locations and enables project teams and employees to put their activities on a digital footing.
The second measure concerns the technical framework. We have already introduced conference tools and teleworking, but also have to ask ourselves who needs which devices in order to work flexibly? How can we provide our employees with optimum technical support, for instance via self-service portals or various means of system access?
The answers to these questions have a close bearing on the third measure: flexible working hours and work locations. Aareon has long had a broad offering in this sphere, and we wish to extend it further.
Decisions on when it is appropriate to work from home and when from the office should be taken on as flexible a basis as possible because above all, Working World 4.0 is designed to create more freedom for employees and their ideas. This approach is also supported by a spatial concept for the promotion of creative collaboration. It has already shown impressive results both domestically and outside Germany, for instance in France, the Netherlands and Sweden. We were also ahead of our time when we constructed our new building in Mainz in 2007. We are now creating an inspirational outdoor working environment with a number of open-air offices to complement our long-standing outdoor area for use in summer. We are seeking to design and implement a collaborative spatial concept in Leipzig that may well serve as best practice in the near future.
It sounds as though the transformation of the corporate culture is a long-term project. How are you structuring the process?
Elke Wolff: Aareon has been pursuing an active change management policy for over ten years with the aim of developing our corporate culture on an ongoing basis. Transformation and change must be enshrined in the corporate culture in order to ensure enhanced performance in the long term. We have continuously expanded our raft of change measures implemented over the past few years. We seek to include as many people as possible via collaboration in projects and workshops, sounding-board feedback, Group-wide video messages and digitally broadcast employee meetings. We turn affected parties into players. However, it is also important that the transformation process is practised from the Management Board downwards via the other executive levels, otherwise it simply would not work.
Aareon is working with design thinking to change the perspective on product development. How has this method been received?
Sylvia Clöer: Extremely well. The management has long since identified design thinking as key to success and incorporated it in its strategy. This problem-solving and user-centric approach is not just bearing fruit in software development but is also used to deal with complex internal requirements. It can almost be regarded as a new fundamental attitude and proves that we are able to free ourselves of habitual thought patterns. Many employees use the method to redesign internal processes or to optimise existing ones. An important aspect of design thinking is that people should be allowed to make mistakes in their efforts to succeed. Mistakes are part of an iterative learning process – after every mistake, we go back one or two steps and improve something, enabling us to arrive at the optimum solution more quickly.
Start-ups, in particular, often operate in this fashion and are usually quick to develop digital solutions. Does the strategy also involve strengthening our hand via partnerships?
Elke Wolff: Yes, that’s important for our expansion of Aareon Smart World. We benefit from the momentum generated by the start-up approach. User-centric development work and open-mindedness in particular are increasingly prevailing at Aareon and at our customers alike. Our partnerships are established with this in mind, as demonstrated by our recent purchase of a stake in Immomio.
Sylvia Clöer: From the viewpoint of human resources, you can acquire new perspectives and know-how with the right external support. A case in point is design thinking and our expert Dr. Mehdi Javadi, who has inspired many of our internal teams that are now using this approach to develop new ideas for products and services. What’s more, he has collaborated with customers in a number of workshops run on the basis of design thinking principles. Both parties are consequently benefiting from a more creative way of thinking.
Let’s conclude by taking a look at the future: what will the working environment look like in ten years’ time – especially for the digital generation?
Elke Wolff: It will doubtless be even more mobile and individual than it is today. If you want to exercise at lunchtime and work through your e-mails in the evening instead, there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be possible. That’s the sort of thing we’re looking to facilitate. Young employees who have grown up using apps and mobile devices are leading the way in this regard. These are the people who tend to be always online, arranging their working and leisure hours flexibly. In addition, many project teams will probably work together for shorter periods before devoting their attention to the next project in future. Skills and know-how are changing rapidly, even in established professions. Cooperation, networking and digital literacy are new core skills and knowledge is no longer just know-how, but also know-why. What is particularly exciting in this context is our targeted collaboration with external partners – some from quite different sectors – or with competitors with a view to developing new ideas.
Sylvia Clöer: The topics of knowledge transfer and knowledge management are also becoming increasingly important. All generations of employees are capable of digital networking. Our holistic approach that combines technological, spatial and working hours concepts prevents knowledge from being archived and forgotten. In short, digital technologies make our work easier just as our digital solutions make our customers’ lives easier.
Thank you for speaking to us!
Design thinking centres on a change of perspective that puts the customer’s/user’s requirements at the heart of all considerations. It is a “design first, develop later” approach. The design process involves developing personas – typical users with specific characteristics and consumer behaviour. When developing ideas, you have to ask what the persona is doing, and what their customer journey involves. This provides an insight into customer requirements that have not been adequately addressed to date, as well as the customer’s pain points. Ideas to alleviate pain, close process gaps and enhance benefit are developed on this basis. The outcome: a simple prototype used for further development. The process results in a clear product idea geared towards the target group that can be cast in a concept and implemented as such.
Aareon has stepped up its design thinking activities since 2016. The user-centric approach has become part of the corporate culture during this period and more and more project teams are operating in accordance with this principle. Design thinking expert Dr. Mehdi Javadi supports teams with product development and designs workshops for customers with a view to establishing a fresh approach together. The DesignLab in our Mainz head office is the ideal space in which to support creative work.