Innoboard: There is no consistent definition of innovation. Every industry and every department perceive it differently. How would you define innovation with respect to your position as Head of New Business at Vonovia?
Jan Timmermann: Innovation is one of our top priorities. We aim to ‘set trends in the housing industry’. Despite the fact that the housing sector is generally seen as being somewhat resistant to innovation, we always keep our eye on the future because our tenants certainly will do the same. For me, innovation is about incorporating advancements, which are shaped to a considerable degree by other sectors, into our product – housing. This approach has been working pretty well so far. In my view, however, innovation is also about thinking outside the box and thinking about how we can adapt established concepts to optimally fit with our current situation, just like we have done with modular construction.
What role does innovation play for your firm, and what are the particular challenges of the real estate sector in this regard?
Here at Vonovia, we are forging ahead with innovation on two levels. One level of innovation for us is about constantly offering tenants new solutions. For example, we are offering our tenants more and more services that are provided directly by Vonovia. We have our own craftsmen’s organization that works exclusively for us. On this basis, customers can get help quickly, easily and without a lot of red tape. This makes things efficient for everyone involved. Moreover, we have recently completed another successful project with DHL, installing mailboxes for packages in our buildings. The response to this idea has been very positive. The second level of innovation relates to our serial, modular construction system, which is allowing us to set standards on the market for newly built apartments in terms of both construction speed and price. We do, of course, look into other innovations as well, but not all ideas make it to the commercial viability stage.
How important is the trend towards digital transformation for your innovation and new business development activities? Will building information modeling (BIM) play a major role in this regard?
Digitalization is a big issue. Not even six months ago, we equipped all of our window fitters with tablet computers allowing them to measure the windows in a matter of minutes. But it is not just our on-site employees who are using digital tools. We have developed a software program internally that helps us to find space on all of our land. In the past, this involved time-consuming on-site assessments. Today, we can get a fairly good idea of the situation using an algorithm. And yes, we use BIM. Every single step in the construction process, from the very beginning to the very end, is part of a digital process. This makes any work relating to a residential building easier for everyone, be it employees working in construction or the facility management team.
In what way do you rely on external partnerships for innovation and new business development? How do you integrate these activities with your internal activities at Vonovia?
Here at Vonovia, we have access to a large number of in-house experts, some of whom have years of experience in the housing industry. This makes us flexible. When it comes to a few very specific issues, however, we also consult external opinions. Some of these come from young people who have an unconventional approach. That is why Vonovia is also supporting the blackprint booster, an investment company that promotes start-ups. We want to use this commitment to keep up to date and to offer our tenants the best solutions at all times.
What is your personal goal for the next year or so regarding innovation?
Innovations in the field of technology and digitalization will continue to make our work easier and more efficient. My aim is to place another product on the housing market within the next year that is the first of its kind and that sets a real trend. A bit like what we have already done with the craftsmen’s services. But my personal objective is not to forget the interpersonal side of things. Regardless of the advancements that we make, it is still people that are living in our properties. And, looking at things from a very personal angle, my colleagues are also still people that I value a great deal. This is something we should not forget, no matter to what degree digitalization takes over.
About the interviewee:
Jan Timmermann is Head of New Business at Vonovia SE, where he focuses on the development of innovative business models for the housing industry, for example by means of new digital opportunities. In addition, he is responsible for developing the internal service provider for heat cost billing. Before joining Vonovia, Timmermann worked for more than ten years at the consultancy Accenture, where he advised international industry clients in various countries. He has a degree in Industrial Engineering from Offenburg University in Germany.