Housing Technology interviewed business process automation (BPA), data integration and workflow experts from Active Housing by Hallnet, CGI, Manifest Software Solutions, MIS Active Management Systems, NEC Software Solutions, Neo Technology and One Consulting on the role of BPA in housing providers’ internal- and external-facing operations.
What is BPA in social housing?
Alan Swift, technical director at Manifest Software Solutions, said, “BPA is the IT-enabled simplification of complex business processes, helping the integration of a variety of processes across numerous housing services – in short, housing providers want to use BPA so they can do more for less.
“BPA allows housing providers to automate their many of their resource-heavy, time-consuming processes. Without the need for manual interventions, they can run 24/7, not only improving efficiency but also enabling services to be delivered at any time of day or night.”
Chris McLaughlin, managing director of MIS Active Management Systems, said, “The goal of BPA is to increase efficiency and reduce the risk of manual errors; housing providers can use BPA to automate repeatable, multi-step tasks without human interventions.”
Trevor Hampton, director of housing solutions at NEC Software Solutions, said, “BPA is all about automating repetitive tasks, in particular those that happen again and again and follow the same series of steps. For example, housing applications and the processing of rents and repairs are all high-volume, repetitive tasks, which is why many housing providers, especially those managing very large portfolios, already have some degree of BPA built into their systems.”
Steve Repton, CEO of One Consulting, said, “Housing providers should bear in mind that introducing BPA into broken processes is a sub-optimal improvement. Care must be taken to review, redesign and reconstruct processes before any BPA activity; don’t make BPA the final answer but consider it instead as the icing on the cake.”
Choosing the right processes
Stephen Hall, director of Active Housing by Hallnet, said, “Our research shows that over 60 per cent of calls to housing providers are repairs-related. By using BPA and digital transformation for the repairs reporting process, we’ve found that housing providers have cut their call times while improving their ‘no access’ and ‘right first time’ KPIs.
“Less complex processes that are in high demand or are most resource-intensive can benefit from BPA. For example, we digitised Southern Housing’s ‘add a new household member’ process, reducing the transactional cost from £19 to just £2.50, an 87 per cent saving.”
Ben Nduva, director of consulting services at CGI, said, “Operations involving repetitive, complex processes are the best candidates for BPA. However, to really deliver value to tenants, we should look beyond the automation of existing tasks and try to improve and expand housing services.
“For example, conversational AI is a form of automation which understands variation so the inputs are less constrained regarding input and format, and acts as a connector to access and update disparate systems. We recently worked with a housing provider to automate its HR processes; by collecting, evaluating and managing referrals from previous employers for prospective staff, we reduced the time staff spent per week from 25 hours to just 30 minutes.”
Stuart Payne, strategy director at Neo Technology, said, “BPA is best suited to large-scale housing providers who must deal with thousands of tenants and, under legacy systems, mountains of paperwork and tortuous manual processes.
“BPA makes life much easier for housing staff and brings enormous cost benefits to the housing providers themselves. Smaller housing providers will benefit from BPA and suffer without it, but not to the same degree.”
MIS-AMS’s McLaughlin said, “In our experience, case processing, voids, repairs and maintenance are the main areas that gain the most from BPA. For case processing, BPA is ideally suited to cover areas such anti-social behaviour, complaints, on-boarding, changes of tenancy and aids/adaptations, to name just a few.
“For repairs and maintenance, BPA can be used to create a highly-tailored solution in which tasks and actions can be run automatically in response to events or timing triggers. BPA can also be proactive, highlighting likely repairs and maintenance problems before they happen. With voids, some housing providers might have 10,000 properties, with 1,000 empty at a similar time; BPA can automate repetitive tasks to reduce turnaround times.”
The business imperatives of BPA
Manifest’s Swift said, “The effective integration of BPA with housing providers’ existing systems is the key to delivering 24/7 services. Although many housing tasks are boring and repetitive, they still need to be done to a high standard; BPA not only allows tasks to be done more efficiently but also to consistently-high standards.”
CGI’s Nduva said, “BPA saves staff time and improves job satisfaction by reducing repetitive work, along with cutting response times. For example, by using a combination of authentication, containment and intelligent routing to reduce by 30 per cent the time spent on calls by contact-centre staff, a £4 average cost per call (CPC) could be slashed to £2.80.”
NEC’s Hampton said, “The big advantages of BPA are cost reduction, faster processes and greater customer satisfaction. For example, it can speed up the voids process by automating the workflow and removing the need for manual inputs.”
Neo Technology’s Payne said, “BPA delivers cost savings, scalability and increased efficiency. With automated systems, housing providers can expand without overwhelming their existing workforces; an automated case management system (CMS) allows most tenants to manage their own cases while enabling housing staff to devote more time to priority cases.”
Benefits to tenants
One Consulting’s Repton said, “I’ve yet to meet a housing provider’s customer or tenant who prefers their landlord to have complicated and hard-to-access services. As such, properly implementing BPA leads to simpler interactions, happier tenants and an organisation which then has the time and resources to help those most in need.”
Manifest’s Swift said, “Self-service portals and virtual assistants deliver cost-effective 24/7 customer services. We are working with housing providers to enable their tenants to access housing services via any method at any time of day or night by scripting BPA processes so that processes are done exactly as they would be by a member of staff.
“Furthermore, BPA enables new services to be created because those additional services don’t always require additional staff. For example, the processes that monitor heating and the conditions of homes using IoT devices would have previously required people to visit every property; now these IoT devices can automatically trigger responsive repairs or the creation of cases in CRM systems.”
MIS-AMS’s McLaughlin said, “With BPA, housing staff no longer need to spend valuable time on manual administrative tasks; this reduces the risk of manual errors and boosts productivity. With fewer processes holding them back, housing providers can get more done, with a tighter focus on improving the customer experience.”
A roadmap for BPA
CGI’s Nduva said, “When considering BPA, we usually start by looking for processes that scale, although that’s not the whole story. Depending on how they choose to tackle BPA, housing providers with healthy IT operations and/or modern CRM, finance and telephony systems might be best placed for automation but the process will still be unique for each of them.
“However, don’t try to fit every process into BPA – some processes may simply not be suitable for automation and these should be identified as you review and build your process catalogue.”
Active Housing’s Hall said, “BPA adoption needs to be mapped out to see what fits in a structured and process-driven way. This should be part of your end-to-end workflows to avoid over-complicating your processes from a customer’s perspective.”
NEC’s Hampton said, “Adopting any new technology is always about trialling, testing and proving it meets the intended business need before implementing it at scale; BPA is no exception. Housing providers considering BPA should therefore start small and build up.
“The first step is to identify which operational area has highly repeatable tasks that are similar in structure, steps and complexity and then automate that single process. Once several areas have been identified and automated, they can be combined later.”
One Consulting’s Repton said, “BPA should be used as part of a wider organisational transformation methodology, one that uses the ‘best product and the most knowledgeable people’ to solve the right problems and to maximise the outcomes. Above all, make sure you pick the right processes for automation because automating a broken process simply gives you bad outcomes faster.”
Robotic process automation, AI & business process management
MIS-AMS’s McLaughlin said, “Business process management is a methodology used to standardise processes and eliminate human error through constant analysis and optimisation. BPA only plays an important part in driving efficiency, consistency and stability once housing providers understand all aspects of their current processes because those make it easier to identify areas where automation can fit in.
“All housing providers have masses of data in their core business applications; with optimised processes in place, overlaying this data with AI opens the door to achieve advanced pattern analysis and predictability. Combine this with RPA and you can achieve advanced machine-learning capabilities that take away the guesswork inherent today.”
Neo Technology’s Payne said, “AI automation is when you combine AI with your integrated software tools for faster, smarter decision-making. The system can then make choices on your behalf using the data it’s presented with. Add in machine learning and it will grow the ‘intelligence’ of the AI system as it learns and analyses more information. As a result, AI automation can help you spot patterns and trends that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see.”
One Consulting’s Repton said, “Too many housing providers want to be seen as innovators and often turn to technology to solve their problems. This approach is flawed and often ends with failed projects because the housing providers didn’t have the right technology foundations to start with.
“It’s important to have a stable technology environment before you start innovating. Once you have that stability, BPA can help with the deployment of RPA and AI but the key thing is to never lose sight of what the customers want and what the workforce needs to deliver great service. Get the basics right and innovation will follow.”
Examples of BPA
CGI’s Nduva said, “We used BPA recently to support a housing provider’s internal customers. By automating a repetitive reset process (typically generating over 100 cases each week) for the housing provider’s IT service desk, IT staff time was reduced from 12 hours to just half an hour through a combination of RPA and conversational AI.”
Neo Technology’s Payne said, “When we deployed BPA for Notting Hill Genesis, we automated 50 per cent of its processes, which led to time savings of 50 per cent and a 38 per cent reduction in project delivery costs. In total, around 70 per cent of NHG tenants use our self-service portal, with 50,000 cases going through the portal each month.”
NEC’s Hampton said, “Although the use of BPA is now becoming relatively widespread in social housing, our sector still has a long way to go before we see its blanket adoption. Where it is most evident is in the automation of voids management, housing applications, work-order processing, repair scheduling and the triggering of alerts and events.”
Housing Technology would like to thank Stephen Hall (Active Housing by Hallnet), Ben Nduva (CGI), Alan Swift (Manifest Software Solutions), Chris McLaughlin (MIS Active Management Systems), Trevor Hampton (NEC Software Solutions), Stuart Payne (Neo Technology) and Steve Repton (One Consulting) for their editorial contributions to this article.