Hannes Gutmeier has been head of IT for the market-listed conwert Immobilien group since 2011. The group includes companies like KWG Kommunale Wohnen AG and ECO Business-Immobilien AG as well as service providers like alt+kelber Immobilienverwaltung and Resag Property Management. Since 2001, the conwert group has been one of the largest developers and managers of residential real estate in Germany and Austria, managing more than 55,000 units at around 35 locations and investing primarily into intra-urban residential realties with potential for development. Gutmeier’s experience is industry-related and ample: In 1986, he began his IT career as a software developer in the metalworking industry, then changed to the consumer goods sector as IT manager in 1997, redesigning the IT department and successfully introducing SAP to the Sara Lee Corporation. In 2006, he joined the BUWOG group, where he restructured the IT team and led an extensive optimization project to streamline core business processes and completely modernize the IT landscape. He was eventually appointed head of IT at Immofinanz group, where in 2008 he once again designed a new IT structure and renewed the application landscape. His work has earned him the TOP CIO award in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
The conwert Immobilien group has been one of the largest developers and managers of residential real estate in Germany and Austria since 2001. It manages more than 55,000 units at around 35 locations, investing primarily in high-value inner-city residential realties with potential for development. Market-listed since 2002, the corporation includes (among other companies) KWG Kommunale Wohnen AG and ECO Business-Immobilien AG as well as the service providers alt+kelber Immobilienverwaltung and Resag Property Management. The portfolio of the group comprises around 1,700 buildings with a total floor space of more than 2.2 million square metres and a total value of around EUR 3 billion. Since 2007, conwert has been operating as a monistic Societas Europaea (SE) under the management of an executive board together with an administrative board. Core business areas include portfolio management, development and sale of real estate, and the sphere of real estate services reaching from property management to sales and marketing.
Movie with Hannes Gutmeier
The conwert Cloud Strategy
Real Estate in the Cloud
For innovative and internationally oriented enterprises, could solutions are already indispensable and an increasingly important element of the overall IT strategy. For the conwert Immobilien group, the targeted use of enterprise cloud computing allows not only new services, but also a focus on the core business. In addition, the cloud enables conwert to reduce the complexity of the internal IT landscape and achieve more flexibility in scaling without having to establish a proprietary environment.
The wave of the digital revolution has already swept the entire globe. It helps to implement new business models, achieve faster and more targeted production, and communicate and work more efficiently. A fundamental role in this process is played by cloud computing – an umbrella term for services and applications relying on dynamic provision and usage of IT hardware (processing power, storage), IT software, and IT services over the Internet. With the help of the cloud, the IT landscape is no longer operated locally by the operator, but instead “rented” from one or more external providers. This allows modern businesses to not only manage computationally intensive tasks and processes successfully, but also to utilize resources to their greatest efficiency by networking systems at different locations.
It is clear that cloud technology is already a game changer in today’s business world. Companies neglecting to make use of the possibilities it offers will vanish from the market in the long run. In Austria, quite a few enterprises seem to have not yet recognized the chances provided by the new technologies. There are, however, a number of trailblazers who are already successfully harnessing the benefits of cloud computing – not just as an enhancement to the provision of IT-based solutions, but also to reduce costs, increase their own agility and competitiveness, and meet requirements in terms of innovation, security, flexibility, speed and scalability more effectively. One of these pioneers is the conwert Immobilien group, which is among the largest developers and managers of residential real estate in Germany and Austria. The market-listed corporation manages more than 55,000 units at more than 35 locations, investing primarily in high-value inner-city residential realties with potential for development. The portfolio comprises around 1,700 buildings with a total floor space of more than 2.2 million square metres and a total value of around EUR 3 billion.
Consolidation, Sustainability and Operative Business Support
Due to the size and complexity of conwert and its multiple locations, cloud computing is an increasingly important element of the IT strategy for the group’s head of IT, Hannes Gutmeier: “We have developed an IT strategy with the goal of making IT resources available quickly and flexibly depending on our operative requirements. This flexibility is essential for the real estate sector. Wherever it is possible and sensible, we are migrating to cloud applications in this context. Only in the cloud are we able to be faster, more flexible and more agile.”
In the implementation of the new IT strategy he has developed, Gutmeier needs to guarantee flexible and volatile use of IT resources for more than 500 users. The main emphasis is on consolidation, sustainability and supporting the operative business, whose goal is the long-term management and continued development of residential real estate with a regional focus in Austria and Germany, but also in countries like Hungary, Luxembourg and Ukraine. The strategy focuses on expanding and enhancing high-yield properties, primarily in German metropolitan areas like Berlin, Leipzig or Dresden, minimizing the share of commercial porperties through the sale of units, reducing vacancy through sustainable improvement of realties, and improving value as well as return on equity. Following a period of brisk growth over the past years, with KWG, RESAG, ECO and alt+kelber being added to the group, the emphasis is now on continued improvement of profitability, transparency, and optimal integration of the individual divisions. IT is naturally a key instrument in this process, and it can also be used to provide new impulses.
Cost-efficient and Flexible IT Solutions
“To be able to focus fully on our core business, we were looking for a cost-efficient and flexible solution for the financial area that would simplify our business processes while simultaneously minimizing the costs for hardware, support and operation,” Gutmeier says. “The enterprise cloud solution we selected allows us to reduce the complexity of our IT landscape and provides us with flexibility in scaling without having to develop our own environment.” Hence conwert is now operating parts of its system landscape in the cloud, which enables the Austrian real estate company to handle the financial, reporting and consolidation processes for its around 350 employees nearly in real time. What is more, conwert has also been able to harmonize its IT infrastructure and streamline business processes thanks to this cloud operation. Ultimately, a flexible real estate management system that is likewise operated in the cloud and, as an industry solution, will integrate with the existing system is scheduled to be introduced in late 2015.
Gutmeier adds: “The head of IT needs to recognize what requirements the group has in terms of IT. And in that context, cloud solutions are indispensable.” In his current position, for example, Gutmeier had to harmonize six separate financial systems and consolidate disparate approaches to Exchange, Active Directories and the domain area, where mergers and purchases had resulted in different IT solutions for each company. In addition, human resources were to be consolidated, workflow and document management systems needed to be introduced, and accompanying adaptations to the intranet and website as well as the entire CRM environment and the different property management programmes of the individual companies had to be seen through. Next up, Gutmeier wants to migrate the email system into the cloud along with other infrastructure services.
“The cloud provides (almost) all the benefits of outsourcing, but with simultaneously much greater customer self-determination in terms of granularity, contract duration, unit-based pricing and pay-on-demand, as well as the absorption of demand peaks,” he explains. “Besides potential cost savings, the cash requirements are significantly lower. Also, every component can be retroactively resized upwards or downwards. This allows customers to use new technologies that are provided automatically, thereby generally achieving much higher security standards than those offered by established providers.” Last but not least, innovation and sustainability are important topics for the conwert Immobilien group. “In the area of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and sustainability, we were recently named ‘Best Improver’ at the annual CDP conference for the DACH region,” Gutmeier says. “With the cloud, I can make an even bigger difference in this regard.”
“The cloud provides more advantages than pure outsourcing”
For the conwert Immobilien group, one of the largest real estate managers in the German-speaking area, cloud computing is an essential part of the IT strategy. The market-listed realty giant manages more than 55,000 units of private and commercial property at around 35 locations. Central elements of conwert’s cloud strategy are the consolidation of existing infrastructure and the development of new services for more flexibility and speed. KURIER spoke about current plans and concrete measures in the area of cloud computing with Hannes Gutmeier, head of IT for the group and responsible for implementing the IT strategy for more than 500 employees with a focus on cost optimization and sustainability.
KURIER: In what way are you involved with cloud computing?
Very intensively, since cloud computing is an important and forward-looking topic for us at conwert. In using cloud computing, we want to achieve cost optimization by taking advantage of all the benefits like flexibility, innovation, scalability and sustainability. We have already successfully completed three cloud projects at conwert. To me, success depends on doing things in the correct order: The first step is consolidation; after that, we can transfer individual services into the cloud one by one.
What exactly does consolidation mean in this context?
For example, we had six separate financial systems that we reduced into a single system. We then took the step into the cloud from that secured position.
In what areas will the cloud be essential for your company in future?
The cloud provides more advantages than pure outsourcing. We have much lower costs, and the security standards are much higher and can be implemented more economically than with an in-house operation. The generally higher level of standardization also facilitates innovation – therefore we will be going into the cloud wherever it is possible and sensible.
What cloud services are you already using?
We already have several cloud systems in operation. We started with the Web Content Filter, then followed up with the Document Management System. Our most recent project was our entire financial system including our ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), BI (Business Intelligence/Data) for planning and reporting, and our consolidation software with an In-Memory technology. The next item will be our mail system along with other infrastructure services.
How do you react to the frequently voiced concerns about cloud computing?
There are a lot of concerns, for instance in terms of data security or reliability, as well as in regard to existing internal resources becoming superfluous because the external versions are more cost-efficient. We always examine these questions in appropriate detail. When we scrutinize individual points, however, we usually find that they are really more personal issues and do not affect any areas of organizational or contractual – and thus legal – definition or importance. Why shouldn’t mail services work via the cloud, for example? They are already operated over the Internet now, and everyone uses them without qualms. Personal data is always encrypted at conwert anyway.
How do you ensure that the individual departments know in which forms cloud computing is allowed or forbidden?
In legal terms, the topic has been discussed and settled with our internal legal department. This also applies to the topic of data protection, where there is close coordination with our external data protection trustee. For the other departments, flexibility, cost benefits and availability are paramount. All of these requirements can be met better in the cloud than in a proprietary data centre. In addition, the standardization aspect means that we can make new functionalities available more quickly. On principle, however, cloud services are cleared for use selectively by our IT department to avoid uncontrolled proliferation.
How do you ensure that individual employees have the required know-how to handle a complex sourcing relationship like cloud computing effectively?
My staff already have experience with large-scale outsourcing projects in the infrastructure and application areas. The requirements are largely similar, e.g. regarding SLA (Service Level Agreement) management and contractual issues. In addition, our employees are introduced to and instructed on these topics, for example through targeted trainings for junior managers or on data protection.
What is the requirement profile for new IT employees enabling them to properly handle future IT and cloud-specific requirements?
Fundamentally, new employees should be open-minded and simultaneously critical towards new topics. And any existing staff members who can no longer work in their previous function within our cloud strategy are retrained to other areas.
How do you verify the sufficient quality of a potential cloud service prior to employing it?
For our first project, we called in external advisors; during our most recent project, we were able to handle everything internally. With each new cloud project, I would make a decision based on our existing know-how.