One of the many impacts of the pandemic is certain to be an acceleration in changes that we have already witnessed in consumer behaviour and customer expectations over the past decade.
After a long period with very little choice other than to use self-serve, online and digital as default, it is not unreasonable to expect that the channel shift to digital will be expedited and with it, customer expectations of all the services they access, including those from their housing provider, will continue to rise.
This article mainly covers Housing Plus Group’s recent investment in a cloud-first strategy, delivered in partnership with Incline IT, and how it is already paying dividends by driving service improvements and laying the foundations for the business to focus on value adding, innovative technologies such as IoT in its new builds.
Life before cloud
Prior to its digital transformation, Housing Plus was operating across dispersed locations following extensive M&A activity. The IT system comprised an amalgamation of components from each estate, rather than a coherent and fully integrated environment. As a result, it was inflexible and complex to change, with multiple unknowns.
Andrew Dale, director of IT, Housing Plus Group, said, “The rate of growth and change in the business couldn’t be supported by our existing infrastructure. We knew we needed a new IT system which could accommodate future merger integrations, on-going group expansion and service transformation.”
On a day-to-day basis, productivity was affected across all areas – resilience to incidents was limited, and the risk of outages and unsecured or out-of-date security profiles was becoming progressively worse and adversely affecting the users’ experience.
Cloud migration was identified as the key enabler for a more agile working strategy. Such a diverse organisation as Housing Plus needs strong network connectivity and a flexible infrastructure to deliver critical services to customers and provide access that the service staff need to operate effectively.
Housing Plus chose to migrate to Amazon Web Services, favouring the platform for its flexibility and stability. As users of Office 365, the housing provider’s choice of AWS also served as a means to manage its risk by splitting services across different IT providers.
Unified infrastructure and network capability
After monitoring the group’s existing IT infrastructure over a six-week period, a unified infrastructure and software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) capability was designed, which supported its ‘cloud first’ strategy and removed the need for costly multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) networks.
Importantly for Housing Plus Group, this approach created a standardised framework for rolling out the new systems to its new and existing branch sites and schemes, unifying the existing subsidiaries and removing many of the challenges previously experienced when absorbing acquisitions.
Migrating a complex system
With a complex system and a large amount of data to migrate to cloud, a phased migration approach was favoured because it posed a much lower risk than the alternative of a ‘big bang’ approach.
A migration journey was designed which resulted in an uncomplicated cloud migration with no incidents or data loss, as well as the creation of a tried and tested migration roadmap which can be applied to any future mergers or acquisitions.
Overall, given that a common piece of advice is that “housing management software doesn’t work in the cloud”, we’ve actually deployed a new SD-WAN and created a staggered migration path for the applications, as well as created over 400 Amazon Workspaces to replace a legacy Citrix farm. These were set up as pay-as-you-go and scale up and down as needed to optimise costs.
Connecting people and places
As well as resulting in significant cost savings, the inherent flexibility of its cloud-based SD-WAN enables Housing Plus to easily provision its schemes and sites with a range of connectivity options. This means that regardless of how the business grows and what devices and services it wants to incorporate, the IT team can easily do so.
The housing provider’s sites and schemes were updated to communicate mainly via robust cloud networks with multiple connection paths, with failover to 4G also incorporated to enhance business continuity.
Within its new cloud environment, Housing Plus chose desktop as a service (DaaS) for the efficient deployment of virtual desktops as its business grows. It also enables the Housing Plus staff and contractors to access their desktops from anywhere.
With significant cost savings and Q1 2020 uptime of 100 per cent for AWS and all Housing Plus Group applications built on top of AWS, the results of the digital transformation have been excellent.
After the initial bedding-in phase, Housing Plus is now planning to extract further value from its new IT environment with a new wave of innovation where data and IoT will become key themes in transforming services and the customer experience.
In conclusion, Andrew Dale said, “We devised a clear IT and digital strategy but needed the right services and partners to enable its delivery. Working in partnership with Incline IT has enabled us to realise our strategy and allow IT to become a true enabler of change. We now have sound foundations, and this allows us to focus more on the business and innovate with new technologies such as analytics and IoT.”
Dave Mason is the technical director of Incline IT.