The Swiss company VERIT launched a major project to digitize its operations, first by getting rid of paper, then automating its business processes.
Like many other industries, real estate is actively moving into digital transformation. Large organizations are no longer the only ones taking action - the example of VERIT shows how well digital transformation can work in smaller entities as well.
VERIT is a family business specializing in real estate, founded in the 1960s and based in Switzerland. They manage construction, sales, and rentals, and also in renovation and reconstruction.
Over the years, the business has flourished and expanded geographically. It has developed 9 regional entities with more than 160 employees, making them a national leader.
The need for digitalization
In recent years, competition in the real estate domain has intensified with the emergence of new players. The VERIT group realized it had to reduce its margin to remain competitive.
Faced with younger and more agile competitors, the company needed to act quickly and regain control of the market.
General management decided to launch a major project in 2018 to digitize its operations. The company wanted to streamline its operations and strengthen its efficiency by switching from paper /manual to digital to regain competitiveness.
VERIT recruited Martin Frei to manage the project and choose the digitalization tools. Martin recalls:
At the time, the need to modernize the company was understood, but what was not yet clear was how.
Martin set to work. He understood that he could not move forward alone, and had to regularly question the management team and in particular its CEO (Managing Director) Richard Hunziker to clarify various structural elements of the project. From their discussions it became clear that the digitization of VERIT was going to be more than just a choice of tools and systems. They had to talk about organization, process, data. According to Martin:
Instead of being its sole component, the choice of tools became one aspect of this project among many, along with the cultural and operational changes to be made internally.
In view of these new implications, the response was immediate. Martin was appointed Chief Digital Officer to strengthen the strategic dimension of the project, to become the embodiment of change and leverage the strong sponsorship of the CEO by reporting directly to him.
This step was decisive in ensuring the success of the project. One person on the management team was responsible for all digitalization - technical aspects of course, but also organization, communication and adoption.
New tools to support new processes
Martin then addressed the two intersecting main missions: on one hand, to understand the current business in detail, how it worked, and the systems in place; and on the other, to define the overall end view of the project and the objectives to be achieved.
Martin sums it up as follows:
We had to be able to project 5 to 7 years into the future and visualize our solution as it would be then.
This preparatory work took a year. The team took enough time to fully clarify the wants and needs of all stakeholders and management. Although it may seem long, this is a key phase in ensuring the success of a digitalization project.
This projection into the future also concerned the IT architecture. It’s impossible to define a whole new information system and shut down the business while it transitions from the old to the new. Since everything could not be implemented from the start, it was necessary to understand how to deal with the existing information system and combine it with specific systems that would come along. The team needed to start with only part of the expected solution and find the right synergies.
Martin makes an analogy with a puzzle: "You have defined what the puzzle will look like at the end. Current systems represent a set of pieces of the puzzle that are already more or less connected to each other. You then decide on the next actions: add pieces to existing groups, create new groups, remove some pieces. In the end, all the pieces must fit together and achieve the goal."
In a project like this, you have to give the company time to learn how to use the new tools and adapt to the new processes.
The adopted strategy was to create a platform called the "VERIT process management platform" based on Bonita, which serves as a backbone and which drives all of the company's processes connected to other company information systems.
Put an end to paper!
“We had a pure efficiency problem,” explains Martin. In a mass market and with tens of thousands of business objects like documents being managed by teams, manually executing different processes with paper was extremely time consuming. There was a need to automate those processes to enhance the overall efficiency of the company and support its desire to scale up.
Beyond improving efficiency, automation would also make it possible to meet the expectations expressed by employees, such as being able to fetch data in real time, using ergonomic and optimized interfaces, and being able to manage activity through reports.
At VERIT, many key business processes are initiated by letters and paper documents. To eliminate paper, two projects were launched in parallel: the first to digitize existing documents (2 million documents to be digitized and archived to integrate them into the platform); and the second to digitize all new incoming documents, in particular those used to initiate processes.
So today, when a letter arrives to terminate a lease, it is scanned and turned into a pdf. The lease termination process then begins. The scanned document is transferred to the home office, which receives it immediately and can start working on it immediately.
Improve business processes
The processes were reviewed, improved and standardized among the different entities as they were digitalized, so now everyone follows thge same processes.
Historically, across our 9 entities, processes were adapted over time and were different in different places. We wanted every employee to do the same process for the same operation, no matter where they are located.
This effort to standardize processes has made it possible to improve the versatility of employees in all offices, but above all has made the processes more readable, more secure and more governable.
Reducing complexity has led to improvements too. The number of different tools and interfaces needed to accomplish a task has been reduced, effectively increasing employee efficiency.
For building managers and their teams, everything is now available within a single platform: documents, tasks, and deadlines. This centralization of information makes daily work more efficient with more transparency and visibility on the case progress.
After this first step in eliminating paper, the company continued to digitize its processes one after the other. Martin details the approach taken by VERIT:
Start small, make regular releases with incremental evolutions, and keep moving from one process to the next. Above all, don't make a single, huge release every three years.
Not only does this approach give employees time to take ownership of new processes, it also underlines the importance of continuous improvement. Optimization follows digitization. A digital process should not remain frozen, but must continue to be regularly questioned, modified and optimized in order to make it more efficient. Feedback from process users is an important source of information and ideas.
VERIT will soon implement an electronic signature solution on its digital processes to complete the end-to-end digitization with a total elimination of paper both internally and externally.
Automation as a springboard
Gaining efficiency by digitizing and automating existing business processes was VERIT's main objective when recruiting Martin. While the operation is still ongoing, the company has already been able to measure the benefits of this transformation on part of its operations.
This project also deepened VERIT's understanding of the challenges related to digitization. They have built a strong vision, which Martin shares as a conclusion:
Efficiency is the first step. But that's far from everything. To complete our digital transformation, we will soon be thinking about new products, new business models, and new revenue streams, all coming from digital.
Hear more about Martin's story with VERIT in this video: