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Mehiläinen | Automating inventory counting with Microsoft Power Apps

Automaatiota inventointiprosessiin Microsoft Power Appsilla Roope Rauhalinna, Development Manager (Financial Processes), Mehiläinen
↑ Roope Rauhalinna, Development Manager (Financial Processes), Mehiläinen

We have done agile development before, but this was the most agile project so far.

540 offices across Finland. Over 1.3 million customers. More than 22 300 employees and private practitioners. An important precondition for the growth and development of Mehiläinen, a large Finnish provider of social and health services, are streamlined and uniform processes throughout the organization. Roope Rauhalinna, Development Manager at Mehiläinen, is responsible for streamlining the company’s financial management processes, such as their inventory counting process.

Saying goodbye to an extensive Excel exercise

Until a year ago, Mehiläinen's inventory counting process was an extensive, manual Excel exercise that more than 500 people took part in. And as one might imagine, inventorying hundreds of local inventories using Excel produced a lot of headache and manual work both at Mehiläinen’s administration and at the local offices. “First, our administration compiled an Excel sheet for each office and warehouse, then it was filled in by inventors at the inventories, printed, signed by approvers and finally stored in an online data storage”, Rauhalinna recalls. "Compiling product lists into the Excels required a lot of preparation from our administration – as well as finding inventors, communicating schedules and controlling the overall process", Rauhalinna adds and continues by saying that the challenges were faced also at the local inventories. "Filling in multi-row Excels was not without problems, and the end result sometimes had to be rechecked multiple times."

According to Rauhalinna, the need to streamline the inventory counting process was widely recognized, and once the right tool and partner were found, action was quickly taken. Both the right automation partner and the fitting automation tool were found in a training called App in a Day, organized by Efima. During the training Rauhalinna and couple of his colleagues familiarized themselves with building low-code applications with Microsoft Power Apps. As the next inventory counting already loomed ahead, the rapid pace of building business applications with Microsoft Power Apps tempted Rauhalinna and his colleagues – and so did the cost-effectiveness of its deployment: “With the help of Efima we figured out that our existing Microsoft Teams licensing enabled us to build Power Apps applications as well as covered access rights for all of our 500 inventors”, Rauhalinna describes.

Agile mindset and partnership

To the delight of Rauhalinna, Power Apps technology delivered on its promise: a custom-made Power Apps application was built on schedule, and the first inventory counting process with the new tool has already been carried out – without the use of any Excels. “We have done agile development before, but this was the most agile project so far”, Rauhalinna laughs. “After just a few weeks of a short configuration workshop, we got to see the first version of the application and got to develop it from there, together with Efima. We had weekly meetings, and every week we were able to add new features to the app according to our needs and desires.”

In addition to Efima's experts and Rauhalinna, who acted as a project manager, two of  Mehiläinen's accountants participated in the development work. At a later stage, the application was piloted with a wider group of people. Rauhalinna believes that in addition to choosing the right tool, the success of the project was due to the people who participated in the process and the partnership with Efima: “Cooperation between us and Efima was great. There were knowledgeable people involved and the work was done in good spirits. This kind of agile development requires agile mindset from everyone: you must be able to adapt and make decisions as they come, and not lock everything up in advance. And Efima’s people were very good at that from beginning to end.”

Power Apps opened eyes to new automation possibilities

The custom-made Power Apps application, called Inventory App, digitizes Mehiläinen’s inventory counting process and automates its many steps. The application pre-compiles inventory-specific inventory lists based on annual purchases, communicates instructions to designated responsible inventors, and reminds them as needed. Inventors post inventory balances directly to the app, and once the person in charge of the inventory has approved the inventory in the app and all inventories are inventoried, the Inventory App generates ready-made accounting data on inventory values.

After the first inventory process with Inventory App an extensive user survey was conducted, and Rauhalinna is satisfied with the feedback: “The app has worked very well, and we have obtained good results. Already on the first try, it was seen that everyone spent less time on the inventory counting process: the app has made inventory counting easier and faster, and we have estimated that we have saved up to a month for more meaningful work.” Successful initial testing and positive feedback have already sparked new ideas for using the Power Apps technology. "Some of the ideas has already been implemented", Rauhalinna reveals and says that low-code technologies have earned permanent place in Mehiläinen’s automation toolkit.

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