At the end of 2019, M2-Kodit, who offer rental housing, commissioned usability testing of its online service. Based on the findings, it was decided to implement a comprehensive renewal project. The website was outdated in many ways and it caused frustrating marketing and content optimization difficulties. The decision to renew was also greatly influenced by the feedback received from customers: the site was perceived as challenging to use.
North Patrol is a consulting firm specialized in the design of digital services and information systems. We shape ideas into a vision and service concept, find the best architectural and technological solutions, design a functional user experience, and compete to find the ideal partner for implementation work. We do not sell implementation projects, nor do we sell licenses; we are genuinely on the side of the customer.
The Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA) challenged the online service concept
M2-Kodit is a non-profit organization owned by the Y-Foundation Group, which focuses on ARA rental housing. M2-Kodit has more than 10,500 rental apartments all over Finland. Currently the organization has residential properties in 30 different municipalities.
One of the tasks of ARA, the Housing Finance and Development Center, is to support the construction of affordable rental housing. Rents charged for ARA rental apartments are regulated and resident choices are guided by the income limits that vary depending on municipality and the urgency of the need for housing. Resident choices are therefore always made on the basis of a needs assessment.
M2-Kodit, on the other hand, wanted to bring e-commerce aspects to the new online service. Browsing residential properties had to be easy and finding information about housing and sending a housing application had to be effortless. With the growth of mobile use, the organization wanted to make the online service as usable and as accessible as possible.
The key conceptual challenge was to combine the formality required by the ARA process with a modern, e-commerce like user experience.
From preparation to implementation
"We decided to have an online service renewal after evaluating the findings of the usability testing we commissioned," says Laura Penttilä, Y-Foundation's Director of Communications and Marketing. "We had previously identified several areas for development, but the user experiences and their analysis finally set the project in motion."
External support was also needed for the design of the new online service concept. North Patrol was selected as a partner, with whom the new entity was structured. During the work, it became clear that the new online service is intended to serve two main target groups in particular: people who need housing, i.e. applicants, and residents already living in M2-Kodit.
The needs of these target groups differ significantly. It is important for housing applicants to find an interesting apartment and make the housing application as smooth as possible. Correspondingly, the aim is to guide current residents to the information they need in a simple fashion. The service experience of the current residents is also essentially related to the development of a separate OmaM2 transaction service.
On the basis of the chosen concept, more detailed definitions were drawn up and a tender was launched for website renewal. North Patrol continued to assist M2-Kodit in tendering and completing the partner selection. The best candidates in the tender were very equal and each had their own strengths. In the end, Trimedia, which had previously acted as an implementation partner for the M2-Kodit online service, seemed to be the most natural option. The knowledge of the operating environment and, above all, the experience of the integration of the real estate management system, which serves as a key background system, convinced at the selection stage.
The technical dependence on the ERP system was soon identified as a constraint on development, and there was a desire to reduce this dependence with the modernization of integrations. “Integration with the ERP system was challenging as expected, but no big obstacles came up in the end. Our partner had completed a similar project in the past, which made their job easier,” Laura says about the technical implementation of the project.
The importance of partners
The renewed M2-Kodit online service was launched in the early summer of 2021. Although it took a little longer than expected to complete the renewal, Laura is very pleased with the result: “The entire project was completed from start to finish during the pandemic year. That's one more reason why I'm really proud of the end result and grateful for the team who got it to this point with their positive energy and supporting approach when challenges were faced."
In order to achieve the end result, the help of several parties and cooperation between the different parties was needed. “We were very successful in the collaboration between many operators, which is not always this easy,” says Laura. She praises Trimedia for its flexibility, efficiency, and customer service oriented attitude. In addition to North Patrol and the implementing partner, representatives from Berry Creative, a brand marketing agency that designed the visual look, and representatives from the ERP system vendor also took part in the project. “We wouldn’t have had as good of a starting point without outside experts,” says Laura.
In the future, the site will be actively developed further. Special attention will be paid to mobile usability and accessibility. “We will conduct usability testing to implement usability and accessibility improvements. Additionally, we will develop the site on a monthly basis based on feedback from customers and employees," Laura describes.
From a business perspective, one key indicator to monitor is the number of housing applications received, which is naturally expected to increase. The renewal project has also impacted the way M2-Kodit does things as the organisation has taken a step towards more agile and continuous development.
Tips for a successful renewal project
Laura gives three tips based on her experience for those planning a similar reform project:
- Thorough planning, conceptualization and specification of requirements is worthwhile. That is the most important part of the project, where you need to invest enough time and money.
- Tender the partners and choose a partner who is not only professional but also easy to work with. It's important that it's easy to do business with your partner because you spend a lot of time solving problems together. It is a good idea to meet with an implementing partner in person before making a final decision.
- Listen to your own organization at every step and engage people with the project through surveys, interviews, workshops, testing, etc. The actual project team of your own organization should still be kept fairly small.
Technology platform: WordPress
The value of the project: 100 000 € – 200 000 €
The schedule of the project
- November 2019: Testing usability (Vincit)
- February-May 2020: Web service concept and definition of requirements (North Patrol)
- May-September 2020: Tender implementation and partner selection (North Patrol)
- October 2020 – June 2021: Implementation project (technical implementation: Trimedia, visual design: Berry Creative)
(This article has been translated from the Finnish original. Read the original article.)