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Christoph Heizung und Sanitär GmbH

How do I actually digitize a SHK company?

We have been dealing with this question together with Christoph Heizung und Sanitär GmbH, a family-run company with meanwhile more than 80 employees in the fields of heating, plumbing, air conditioning and, more recently, electrical engineering, for many years with a so far satisfactory interim result.

All fitters are now equipped with mobile devices. The procurement of spare parts, order processing and time recording are largely digital and independent of location, with collaboration and communication tools being able to be significantly simplified and improved.

The main driver of this change process is the management, which has a very positive view of digitization and automation, sees great potential in the possibilities and is not afraid of any investments. New features and innovations are promoted and implemented top-down, whereby the motivation of the employees and their openness to the topic are important success factors for the implementation. Since many projects run simultaneously, a small part of the digitization work is presented and concretized as part of this success story.


The starting shot: Christoph goes Microsoft 365

The main pillar for the project presented below is the introduction of Microsoft 365.

But what is particularly innovative or trend-setting about the introduction of Microsoft 365? First of all, nothing. Nevertheless, the introduction has already simplified many processes and improved collaboration. A classic example is the organization of appointments via Outlook, which means that both the fitters in the field and the employees in the office always have a comprehensive overview of the schedule of each fitter. Tools such as ancient email correspondence, Microsoft Teams, OneDrive or SharePoint support operations in improving internal processes and data exchange.

Another example would be booking heating maintenance online through the company's website in real time using Microsoft Bookings.

Zusammenspiel von PowerApps, PowerAutoma

The tools: Microsoft PowerApps, PowerAutomate and SharePoint

With “rather new tools” we are talking about the native app platform Microsoft PowerApps, PowerAutomate and SharePoint. The idea of PowerApps is to give people who work in the Office 365 environment and are not software developers the opportunity to create their own applications. With a programming language that is based on the formulas of Excel, apps can be created independently and shared within the organization. The applications can be used on almost all Internet-enabled devices and the number of data sources and connectors is diverse. Microsoft Flow is a cloud tool that enables workflows to be carried out across multiple applications. All process steps can be automated. In the project that was carried out, SharePoint was the cloud-based data source for all apps and processes.

The advantage: All functionalities that we used in the context of the project with the company, or that the company uses today, are already included in the Microsoft 365 Business Standard or Business Basic license. No further services were necessary.

The benefit: Why a SHK company develops its own apps

Impressive advantages that convince Christoph of the development of PowerApps and Flows are that mobile apps can be developed with little effort that are tailored to the individual requirements of the company and optimize the desired work processes. No more and no less. Often you only want to optimize individual manual work steps and do not need the "ERP system" for this.

Why our own time recording was developed

The company started testing mobile time recording from various service providers back in 2015. In the long term, however, none of the providers was able to meet the requirements and the cooperation often failed due to interface problems and an insufficient degree of customization.

Thus, at the beginning of 2017, it was decided to map the development and implementation of personalized time recording using Microsoft PowerApps.

The main arguments for this were that the app could be adapted better to the requirements of the company at any time, could be scaled better and the connection to interfaces, especially through the expansion of the Microsoft environment, could be better than with the previous software. After a development phase of two to three months, the first version of the time and attendance system was published in the company in August 2017, and functions are still being expanded in regular sprints together with EinfachMachen.

The app: time recording with AZE

At the beginning of the publication, the company itself was not fully aware of the automation possibilities of PowerApps and so the focus at that time was still exclusively on the systematic recording of working hours and the elimination of handwritten timesheets. Even this step was a big leap back then; the effort involved in creating and processing 30 to 40 handwritten timesheets a week is compared with automated recording. An enormous time saving on the part of the employee as well as the employer. Another benefit at this point was that it was possible to make working hours more flexible for employees, since time recording is mobile and independent of location.

As of September 2019, the range of functions of AZE has expanded significantly.


As of September 2019, the range of functions of AZE has expanded significantly. In addition to time recording, fitters can now view their working hours retrospectively using the hour overview and digitally submit vacation requests or sick leave with the help of the absence planner.

The functions of the absence planner are a good example of the implementation of flows that have made it possible to automate a previously highly manual and physical process. Before the absence planner was introduced, a vacation request was submitted by hand, whereupon the responsible employee had to check the appointment calendar and / or obtain verbal information from the responsible manager. If the application was approved, the applicant got the application back signed and the employee blocked the respective period in the fitter's calendar.

All of these steps were manual and not part of a standard process. If the user presses the Apply button today, it will first be checked for the respective period of time whether an application already exists in order to avoid redundant entries. It is also checked whether the remaining leave is sufficient for the new application. If the response is positive, corresponding data records are generated for the period with the status "In process". At the same time, the corresponding period in the user's Outlook calendar is blocked with reservations and an email is sent to the colleagues in the HR department, who accept or reject this request at the push of a button. Depending on the decision of the HR department, the status of all data records is changed to approved or rejected, the applicant automatically receives a notification of the decision and the process is thus completed. All of these steps are automated using a single flow.

The remaining manual activity is accepting or rejecting an application.

The management tool for employers

After about a year of successful use of AZE, the first extension was developed with the AZE Admincenter. The AZE Admin Center is a tool in the form of a separate PowerApp with which the colleagues in the HR department have the opportunity to carry out all administrative activities relating to the working hours of the employees. This can be, for example, the correction of working hours or the recording of the total monthly working hours and the resulting overtime. In the meantime, the monthly worked hours and the resulting overtime can be calculated for all employees at the push of a button, this data can be exported for payroll accounting and the flexible working time account can be updated. With the help of mass processing by PowerApps and Flow, a process that was previously connected manually and with the collection of many physically created documents, and thus also entailed a high risk of data loss, could be automated. According to estimates by colleagues in the HR department, an effort of two to three working days could be reduced to one to two hours a month , which is a satisfactory result. Another benefit in terms of data management is that the centralization of all this data at a single point of truth avoids redundancies. An achievement that makes the hearts of our IT staff beat faster.

Who is where? for route planning and work allocation

A second use case to use AZE data came about at the beginning of 2019. Due to the company's growth, it was increasingly difficult for employees to record which colleague is on which project and when. By tapping data from the time and attendance recording, colleagues in the company were able to use an additional PowerApp "WerIstWo?" a tool can be made available which solves this problem. With the help of a digital overview board, it is possible to see which employee is on which construction project. If the individual employee card is highlighted in green, the employee is working and can be reached. Contacting them by video, phone or email is done directly from the app. With the help of this app, the development effort of which was very low due to the existing data, the route planning and work organization could be improved. A collaboration and communication tool could be created from a previously manual process that often involved a few phone calls or looking up work schedules.


Digitize documentation / automate shipping processes

One project that will be piloted next as part of PowerApps is to digitize the extensive documentation requirements for projects and construction projects piece by piece within the framework of the legal possibilities and to automate the shipping processes using flows. Here, too, AZE will be used both as a database and as a front-end for creating appropriate documentation forms.

The goal is for our fitters to be able to conveniently fill in the necessary documents for ongoing construction projects using the keyboard or dictation function, regardless of location, on their mobile device and send them directly to the assigned project manager and external contact person using Flow.

Our lessons: What we want to give along the way

Even if the company is satisfied with its results so far, it is still a very long way for us, which is changing every day due to the new technologies and the opportunities that arise. The company has understood that digital transformation is a constant process that cannot be carried out with a one-off investment, but requires perseverance and the will to change constantly.

For this reason, we would like to summarize the three most important learnings for us at this point, so that we can perhaps also impart something to other companies:


  • Keep it simple
    Our experience in working with the Christoph company has shown that it often makes more sense to start with a small thing and build on it. To make the "big hit" all at once is usually wishful thinking and a great financial and organizational burden.

  • Test & Learn
    All apps that have been published in the organization are, so to speak, "beta versions" that have been continuously developed with the users. The level that the company has achieved with AZE could only be achieved through user feedback.

  • 20% technology, 80% operation and instruction
    From a technical point of view, our applications are certainly not rocket science and a trained developer would certainly smile at the code . For the use cases of this company in practice, however, it is ideal and we have learned that we have to invest the greatest effort in properly instructing the employees and taking them with us at an early stage when developing a new function or app.


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