Hoivarakentajat, the largest constructor of public log buildings in Finland, found the keys to a real-time situational picture of the business, smoother work and sustainable business growth. The digital heart of their business was built in three months using Microsoft’s low-code platform and made available to the whole organization via Microsoft Teams. Now when the possibilities of a modern cloud platform have been demonstrated to all their employees, 83% of the new development ideas are coming from the actual users of the system.
Our children spend the majority of their most important years of growth in their second home – school and kindergarten. Since children cannot make construction choices, it is up to us adults to provide spaces for joy, growth and everyday adventures. On the other hand, we can show our appreciation to the older generation and their caregivers by building nursing homes from domestic natural materials that maintain functional capacity and make everyday life easier. Hoivarakentajat is Finland’s largest builder of modern public log buildings. The company gives its customers a competitive advantage with sensory- and climate-friendly, healthy, and functional buildings designed for everyday life.
Hoivarakentajat raises responsible construction to a new standard in Finnish construction. Responsible construction means overall responsibility for the construction process and includes planning both in terms of usability and environmental impact for the entire life cycle of the building. This all requires transparency, manageability and fluency of daily operations.
Fragmented data and isolated information systems as the barrier for growth
In the winter of 2021/2022, Hoivarakentajat struggled in managing and measuring their growth targets due to the lack of information systems that could have provided the necessary metrics to assess the state and direction of their business. “We had a lot of fragmented data about projects and customers, but not a decent overall picture,” says Mikko Vainioranta, Customer Success Executive at Hoivarakentajat. “In our organization, a lot of manual work was done to combine data and still the critical information for decision making was often behind individual people. This inefficiency meant we didn’t have any reliable dashboard for steering our business when needing to make adjustments to our course.” Employees at Hoivarakentajat also had to log in to each application separately, which made common work activities unnecessarily cumbersome.
The company approached Forward Forever, the leading Finnish experts on Microsoft’s low-code platform, with its challenges. The solution was designed around a business-oriented vision: Microsoft Teams would form the core operating system for the business of Hoivarakentajat. The guiding principle was that neither the employees nor the management would need to switch between multiple systems in the future – Teams would serve as the digital heart of all everyday activities.
In order to bring this vision into life, key data related to the different areas of the company’s business were first modeled and transferred into a single database. This made it possible to utilize the information in various applications. Power Platform’s versatile low-code tools were used to build applications and various automations designed for the unique business processes. Reports, applications and communication were centralized in the Microsoft Teams user interface, so that users could find all the relevant information and tools in one place. Hoivarakentajat gave this new system the name “Taapeli” *.
* Taapeli = A stack of sawn timber, where the timber is arranged in way to optimize the air circulation around it. Searching for information is like a current of air, which flows effortlessly through the gaps of individual boards and passing the crickets.
Improving everyday work with purpose-built tools
In order to facilitate the daily work of sales personnel, information about stakeholders, sales cases, construction projects and completed buildings was imported into Taapeli . Now each salesperson or supervisor can plan their own activities, monitor recent customer dialogue and record business-critical information such as turnover & margin forecasts related to projects.
In the process of digital land acquisition, on the other hand, when creating a new plot, the system retrieves the property’s coordinates and a number of other parameters from the API provided by the National Land Survey of Finland (Maanmittauslaitos). This information is transformed into a format that can provide ready-made map links to services like Karttapaikka and Google Maps. The Hoivarakentajat plot database can also be viewed, filtered and analyzed visually on a map via an internal facing tool. From the collection of available plots, it is possible to filter their properties according to the customer’s needs and drill down into the information. “There was no ready-made system on the market where you could enrich the information with your own business data and add, for example, photos, map materials and distances to, say, the nearest school. By analyzing environmental data, we are even able to predict the so-called path of least trouble for our customer, i.e. to avoid plots where the probability of an appeal process is high,” Vainioranta describes.
Another application was built for data review during the construction project, which is displayed inside each project’s own Microsoft Teams tab. This application shows the project’s stakeholders and activities, alongside the project’s level of readiness that is regularly updated by the project manager via Teams. All this data is of course available for use in other business applications and reports, too. With Taapeli, conflicting versions of Excels and documents are a thing of the past at Hoivarakentajat, since the latest versions are always accessible, be it via the local OneDrive folders on the PC, through the Teams client application, from a browser on any device, as well as via mobile devices.
Helping knowledge spread freely across teams
Bringing all discussions related to sales cases, projects and details related to log buildings into one common collaboration tool has increased cooperation between Hoivarakentajat teams. Whereas previously the growth in number of employees slowed down the organization’s day to day operations, it is now possible to share information efficiently and ensure knowledge transfer to new employees.
Vainioranta describes examples from everyday life: “There was a discussion about the fire classification of buildings in a Teams channel, and a colleague who was not connected to the project in question happened to notice this. Since the issues had already been resolved elsewhere, this colleague was immediately able to help the other project come up with more cost-effective solutions while still in the planning phase.”
In another example, a land lease agreement was discussed in Teams . A colleague who was not directly involved in the matter noticed the conversation in passing and noted that the contract was on his desk. “When information flows freely and is made discoverable to the organization, we are able to reduce the number of internal meetings and phone calls,” Vainioranta mentions. Through the active use of common Teams channels, the key benefits of the traditional open office have been regained: colleagues from different teams may overhear the conversations of the neighboring team, allowing knowledge to be shared informally just like in the physical coffee room back in the day.
Automating routines to save time and improve consistency
Low-code tools were used to automate processes that previously required manual effort. For example, upon the launch of a new construction project, a Microsoft Teams team for the project is generated automatically using a common template. Members are added to the team, the right authorizations are granted to them, and certain project data is brought in ready to be utilized.
Hoivarakentajat already had a well-functioning process model for project communication and documentation, which was now brought into Teams. Template-based channels, subfolders and OneNote notebook are automatically added in the team created for the new construction project, based on the information retrieved from the Taapeli system. In the background, dynamic groups are created that bring in both internal users from Hoivarakentajat and guest users who are invited on a project-by-project basis. Automation has helped to reduce routine manual work and prevent errors.
Real-time business insights enable better decision making
Hoivarakentajat wanted all the information related to its industry and processes to be viewed, updated, appended and analyzed in one place. “Never before have we had such a good understanding of the company’s situation,” describes Tarmo Kemppainen, CEO of Hoivarakentajat. “Any issues and factors related to our business can now be looked at from different perspectives, such as from a customer, person or project,” he continues. “For example, which plots, which customers, which partners are related to a certain project. One of our team members described it by saying this is far beyond just a reporting cube.”
Hoivarakentajat now has a real-time snapshot of the company’s key numbers and ongoing projects through a single user interface presented via Teams. “On the basis of project actuals data coming from our ERP system, it is possible to calculate turnover and profit margins for the current and coming financial periods. Financial metrics, such as cash or capital committed to projects, can be seen at the company level, and the numbers can be drilled down to individual projects,” Kemppainen praises and continues: “Our goal was to find a platform on the market that can be used to gather previously scattered information into a common database, produce real-time dashboards from it and unify our separate software tools into one place for easy access and use. In addition, we wanted to implement these changes in an agile manner with as few compromises as possible. We are very satisfied with our choice of partner and the resulting Taapeli system that was built.”
Enabling future growth with a solution that can scale
The project started practically from scratch, yet Taapeli and Teams were put into operational use already three months after the start of the project. It took in total five months for the entire organization to fully adopt the new tools. Every employee at Hoivarakentajat now uses Teams as the center of their daily work.
“We were able to build a system tailored to meet the specific needs of Hoivarakentajat, including a comprehensive customer management solution, with just a few dozen days of work,” says Forward Forever CEO Olli Korpelainen. “In the future, the system will be developed further and new functionalities are to be introduced, yet it is remarkable that after replacing several point solutions that were in use before, this new system now serves the everyday tasks carried out by all Hoivarakentajat employee. There was hardly anything left outside the system other than the ERP solution for specific financial processes.”
Hoivarakentajat now has the tools that enable a rapid but controlled growth of their organization size. The digital platform is scalable and ready for future services and operating models. There is no need to acquire and integrate separate applications for managing, visualizing and sharing information. Microsoft’s Power Platform business data processing tools together with Microsoft 365 productivity apps cover the end-to-end needs for digital work at Hoivarakentajat.
Olli Korpelainen is especially delighted about how perfectly the creation, implementation and success of the Taapeli project aligns with Forward Forever’s mission. “We want to help forward-thinking organizations succeed with low-code”, says Korpelainen. “Hoivarakentajat is a company that produces a positive impact on society, and their system implementation has been done cost-effectively, while taking future needs into account. So we are indirectly doing good by helping an organization that does good with low-carbon and sustainable construction. This is a perfect match for what Forward Forever as a company wants to achieve”, sums up Korpelainen.
Identifying new opportunities – the true value of citizen development
Mikko Vainioranta is delighted by how the entire staff of Hoivarakentajat is committed to the further development of Taapeli. “I consider citizen development in the true sense of the word to be a bit too Americanized as a concept,” he admits. “When an organization acquires the capability to build their own applications, you can certainly experiment with creating small tools and automations for yourself. Still, I don’t see a true business case for – to put it a bit bluntly – everyone starting to develop new applications during their coffee breaks. However, the fact that our people who specialize in completely different fields have started to identify new digital ways for, for example, processing warranty labels in Taapeli – that, to me, is citizen development in its purest form. This work is definitely not a one-man show.”
Today, 83% of the items in Taapeli’s development backlog are ideas that came from the staff directly. These include, for example, warranty work, partner information management, project portfolio and task management, contract archive and cooperation with external stakeholders. Vainioranta says that the ease and visuality of low-code solutions have transferred the ownership of the system and its underlying platform to them as the customer: “We set the original vision and from here on we also decide in which direction our solution will grow, develop and evolve.”
Taapeli technical building blocks:
|Data storage and management
|Microsoft Azure AD
|Microsoft Power Apps, model-driven app
|Construction projects members & activities
|Microsoft Power Apps, canvas app
|Project documentation and communication process templates in Teams
|Microsoft Power Automate cloud flow
|Plot information enrichment
|Microsoft Power Automate + Azure Functions
|Microsoft Power BI
|Data sharing and collaboration