Case Finnish Forest Centre

Better customer management in the cloud – the Finnish Forest Centre’s new CRM is Microsoft Dynamics 365

High-quality customer information plays a key role in almost all of the Finnish Forest Centre’s activities. Their previous system couldn’t be further developed in the desired direction. In addition, it had become an internal integration node. Renewing the CRM was therefore the logical next step in modernising the Forest Centre’s services. They decided to use solutions from the versatile Microsoft Dynamics 365 product family.

The Finnish Forest Centre is part of indirect state administration. The unit is tasked with serving and promoting forestry as an expert organisation. It does this by promoting forest-related enterprises and funding forest and nature management. The organisation also collects, manages, utilises and shares data about Finnish forests, forestry and forest resources.

The Finnish Forest Centre’s customers are forest owners and a variety of companies and organisations to whom it provides information, advice and training according to their needs.

Customer information and its management lie at the heart of the Finnish Forest Centre’s services. This is why modernising the CRM was an important step in the organisation’s digital development roadmap.

They decided to use solutions from the Microsoft Dynamics 365 product family. As a recognised expert in CRM and integration, Digia was chosen as the provider.

mita-teimme.pngWhat we did

Cooperation with Digia has gone very well indeed. From the outset, they committed to both our objectives and providing us with the best outcome. Their professionalism has been evident at every stage of our collaboration. The project has progressed through negotiation and working together, and we never really ran into any conflicts.

Tapani Hämäläinen, Director for Development responsible for digital services, Finnish Forest Centre

Customer information lies at the heart of the Forest Centre’s operations

Customer-related information is used and processed in almost all of the Forest Centre’s activities. High-quality customer information is required in order to provide forest owners and partner companies with services that suit their specific needs.

Tapani Hämäläinen is Director for Development responsible for digital services at the Finnish Forest Centre. He says that the Finnish Forest Centre’s previous customer register had reached the end of the road in terms of technology. This led to a competitive tender for both a new solution and a provider.

“Our previous customer register, Ahjo, was not a customer relations management solution in the truest sense of the term. It was partly because of this that its potential for further development was limited. It had also become an integration node. Changing the system was thus inevitable,” says Hämäläinen.

Anssi Niskanen, Business Development Director at the Finnish Forest Centre, says that they had high expectations for the new solution. The new CRM would also serve as a launch pad for the Forest Centre’s digitalisation project. The centre is aiming to provide both improved and better-targeted services to its stakeholders.

“Our key objectives were too enhance the quality of our customer information and improve the usability of our tools and data. We also wanted to use the solution to group customers, target services and improve the quality of our customer service,” says Niskanen.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 solutions on an Azure Integration Services platform

The Forest Centre did not place any limitations on technology during the tender phase. The most important thing was to find a workable system and a reliable and professional partner. The package proposed by Digia (Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales and Dynamics 365 Customer Service solutions and Azure-based integration services) impressed the Forest Centre with its clarity and cost-effectiveness.

“The package proposed by Digia was clear and met our specific needs. Although cloud-based CRMs are nothing new, our choice made us a pioneer within public administration. This choice was technically and functionally justified, as many of the things we wanted would be best implemented in the cloud. The new system’s technical integration capabilities had to be good and it had to stand the test of time – and these are some of the cloud’s main strengths,” says Hämäläinen.

Agile system deployment using the Forest Centre’s own SMK SAFe operating model

The Finnish Forest Centre has created its own agile model for application and system development: SMK SAFe,a version of the SAFe® framework that has been tailored to the Forest Centre’s environment.

SMK SAFe is based on the idea that the Forest Centre’s own people and all of its application and system development partners will work together agilely to serve the system as a whole. All partners are required to commit to SMK SAFe.

Digia also committed to the operating model and the results speak for themselves.

“SMK SAFe, like all agile development models, requires a learning phase. The same went for cooperation between us and Digia, and there was learning on both sides. However, they committed to our operating model from the outset and we quite quickly reached a point at which the model was being followed by the book,” says Hämäläinen.

First version deployed quickly in spite of the package’s large scale

In order to make the new system available as quickly as possible, an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) was defined for the CRM in accordance with SMK SAFe. Deployment began in August 2019 and the MVP was in production use by September 2020.

“All in all, I have to say that deployment went very smoothly and to schedule on Digia’s side. Further development has also gotten off to a good start, as the first update was received only a month after the system was introduced,” says Hämäläinen.

The new CRM was called Sermi (as the result of an internal naming competition) and its excellent reception among users has surprised even the Forest Centre’s management. Jouni Aila is a customer account manager in the Finnish Forest Centre's Western Service Area, and both he and his team of customer advisors use Sermi in their daily work.

“System projects usually encounter resistance, with people hankering to return to the previous solution. This didn’t happen with Sermi – quite the opposite in fact. The feedback from everyone in my team has been positive, and Sermi is being used even more than Ahjo,” says Aila.

Cloud migration initially a concern, but went well in the end

System projects always involve two main concerns: will system development be successful and will data migration be successful?

System development was very successful and there were no problems with data transfer either, in spite of the vast volume of information involved. Tapani Hämäläinen has a lot of experience in system projects, so these concerns were taken seriously on the client’s side.

“Transferring data to the cloud was something that we started planning right from the outset, even though it would only be carried out in the final stage of the MVP deployment.  We had a huge volume of data, and the migration took nine days. Large-scale projects like this always involve a couple of small surprises, but all in all the cloud migration went without a hitch,” he says.

As the Forest Centre is a public administrative organisation, they had to be particularly careful with regard to data protection and data security. Cloud-based solutions are not yet commonplace in the public sector, and a close eye is being kept on pioneers such as the Forest Centre.

“When we decided to move to the cloud, we knew that we would have to demonstrate the safety of our choice in terms of both data protection and data security. We engaged an external consultant to help us ensure this. When this concern had been successfully addressed, there was no obstacle to transferring to the cloud,” says Hämäläinen.

Easy to collaborate with Digia

Modern system development is a continual process, and Sermi will be further developed as per the agreement. Due to the competitive tendering practices employed in the public sector, it is impossible to speculate on future cooperation projects, but Hämäläinen takes a positive view of the idea.

“Cooperation with Digia has gone very well indeed. From the outset, they committed to both our objectives and providing us with the best outcome. Their professionalism has been evident at every stage of our collaboration. The project has progressed through negotiation and working together, and we never really ran into any conflicts.”