The time when asset management systems could get away with only maintaining and reporting on accurate component, servicing and regulatory data is over. These days, housing providers need systems that incorporate active asset management, asset and liability registers, workflow, GIS, mobile working and comprehensive integration with housing, finance, CRM, EDM, direct works and other systems.
Let’s start with a few questions:
- If you ran a 30-year investment plan from your asset management system, would it fit with your organisation’s business plan?
- Can you appraise alternative future treatment scenarios for any selection of properties based on both net present value (NPV) and a points-scoring model?
- If so, does this have the flexibility to respond to current issues such as rent reductions and to stress-test business plan assumptions with alternative discount rate and inflation assumptions?
- Can all relevant asset management information (planned component replacements, warranties, service dates, planned projects, asbestos and other risks) be viewed where they are needed in your housing, CRM or direct works systems?
- Does your asset management system deliver jobs directly to your direct works system for appliance servicing and planned maintenance projects and update itself from those systems with appointments, no-access records and completions?
- Can you set up and regularly change data collection templates with comprehensive data validation rules and know that your mobile working system will pick up and apply these automatically?
- Can your asbestos register be interrogated (with an audit trail) by anyone with an internet-enabled device and a valid password?
I could go on, but these are all examples of the ways in which systems have had to adapt to anticipate and meet housing providers’ aspirations in the last few years.
Those who are reviewing their use of asset management software can now choose from three types: independent specialist suppliers’ systems; integrated modules within a housing management system; and systems from suppliers who offer separate but integrated specialist systems for housing and asset management.
All of these have their pros and cons but, in my view, a successful IT supplier has to both recognise the depth of functionality required and have the specialist knowledge of the asset management practitioner in order to be able to adapt to deliver changing requirements. Historically, IT suppliers have been less successful in this area because they have underestimated the scope of the requirements and have not had the market expertise. It’s for this reason that several previously independent systems have been acquired by housing systems vendors. This has brought together subject experts from both sides and has resulted in more product innovation. Improved integration capability has flowed from this, and not just with products from the same vendor.
So let’s have a look at a few of the many market-driven changes of the past few years:
Asset and liability registers
Last year, the HCA introduced the requirement for asset and liability registers to be maintained, identifying all items affecting individual properties. For this, data items such as valuations, charges, easements, repairing obligations, rent and many more need to be stored and reported on. Asset management systems are now playing their part by providing the means of loading, storing and reporting on this data.
Active asset management
As we all know, the financial worth of a housing provider lies principally in its properties. Encouraged by consultants who were able to bring commercial experience to a sector whose focus was on customer service delivery, asset managers began to use spreadsheet-based tools to analyse stock viability and to highlight poorly performing stock. This was mainly done in two ways: the first was through NPV calculations which required the entry of all projected income and expenditure at a property level over, say, 30 years; and the second was by assigning point scores based on shared property characteristics. These spreadsheet models are often supplied by consultants and their involvement is often needed whenever the data has to be refreshed (at least annually).
It made sense to build this functionality into asset management systems because they have the property and planned maintenance records in them already. Options appraisals of this kind can now be created for any subset of properties and, in addition to establishing good or poor performance, systems can now evaluate alternative future treatment options such as disposal, conversion to market rent and demolition/rebuild. Systems have user-defined assumptions for inflation for each cost and income type and for the discount rate used in the NPV calculations.
Of course, the asset and liability register data is useful in options appraisals which can also be used to stress-test business plan assumptions, such as what happens when rent decreases by one per cent per annum.
Having robust mechanisms to deliver compliance has been a key requirement of asset management systems for years. Systems have been able to not only integrate with direct works and third-party contractors but also to drive and manage the no-access escalation processes.
The difference now is the need for a joined-up, workflow-based process. For example, the requirement for a fixed interval fire-risk inspection can be set up and this will trigger a surveyor to undertake the FRA inspection using a template, complete with automatic risk scoring, designed within the system and with data collection using mobile working. If the completed inspection then results in any requirement for action, the workflow will initiate that action and, when it is complete, update the collected data to reflect the adjustment of the relevant risks.
The recently-announced future change in the gas regulations will require systems to prevent any early servicing of boilers causing the ‘next service due’ date to be reset, and is an example of how systems have to respond quickly to regulatory change.
Asset management systems have always had a mobile data collection capability. I remember doing stock condition surveys 25 years ago using a Psion device about the size and shape of a brick. As you would expect, these have moved with the times and can now run on any iOS/Android/Windows device and provide easy data entry and full validation and integration with their host systems.
These days, there are also a number of form-based generic mobile working applications which offer huge flexibility but which have no native integration with the systems into which the data has to flow. The choice is, therefore, to standardise on a mobile working system and have to deal with the integration and data validation issues, not to mention the inability to cope easily with changes in the survey design in the host system, or to accept that you may need to have two apps running on the same device.
Here is a by no means definitive list of some additional market-driven changes that have been made recently or will need to be provided by IT suppliers:
- Better IT systems integration (e.g. integrating servicing and planned works jobs with direct works systems);
- Facilitating enterprise-wide reporting;
- Accommodating housing providers’ commercial aspirations;
- GIS integration;
- Internet of Things.
To conclude, I would say this: asset management systems should be as strategic and high profile in an organisation as its housing systems and, if they are not as well integrated as you would like, make the effort to get the parties together and make it happen. You will find a willingness there as it’s in everyone’s interest.
John Buckland is a director at In4systems.