Castleton Technology is one of the fastest-growing technology providers in the social housing sector and is arguably one of the largest. Yet, its rapid growth has not been without problems, and despite an impressive track record for innovation, the company remains widely misunderstood. Housing Technology puts Castleton CEO’s Dean Dickinson under the spotlight and discovers why.
Castleton Technology’s growth through multiple acquisitions has left some confusion around what the company stands for, so why the huge acquisition programme?
You’re right – at the point when I came on board two and a half years ago, Castleton had already made six software acquisitions and two managed services acquisitions in just two years. The rationale was to bring together best-in-class software to provide the first fully-integrated ERP system for social housing, delivered in the cloud.
Currently, much of the market is using a collection of siloed legacy solutions; we wanted to change that by providing a cohesive, cloud-delivered approach to facilitate mobile working, self-service tenant platforms and more.
Has Castleton just re-skinned old architecture through acquiring lots of companies?
No, we have redeveloped what were already best-in-class solutions to create the APIs that facilitate integration, then added new functionality incrementally based on market response and emerging technologies.
What have been the challenges for Castleton along the way?
We inherited eight small businesses with individual cultures, all operating separately, with their own management and support teams, systems and processes, and with no real cohesion between any of them.
My challenge was to create a holistic view, integrating these diverse businesses into a single entity with common values, a consolidated back office, standard processes, consistent procedures and a single support system. Unsurprisingly, this has proved to be a challenging process, leading to high staff churn and, regrettably, a poor support experience for some of our customers.
None of this helped Castleton’s reputation in the market in the short term, but ultimately it was necessary and, more importantly, it helped us to get absolutely the right people in place at Castleton.
Describe some of the strategies you’ve implemented since joining Castleton and the results of them.
Our twin strategies have been to focus on improving customer support services while continuing to innovate with new products designed to deliver an integrated solution.
From a support point of view, customer feedback confirmed that once they were actually reached, our technicians were knowledgeable and provided high-quality advice. The frustration lay in our poor response performance. Accordingly, our strategy has been to expand the size of our support team substantially, invest in training (including cross-team training), foster morale and improve team spirit. By the beginning of this year the impact was clear; our response rates were up to 96.3 per cent against our SLAs, with ticket backlogs reduced by 80 per cent and internally our employee ‘net promoter score’ has improved by 60 per cent in the last year.
On the software front, our strategy has been to integrate our entire solutions and services suite. We have innovated to help housing providers drive efficiency and provide better services to tenants. In particular, introducing 24/7 self-service technology such as our configurable Castleton.Digital web portal reduces the pressure on call centres by driving engagement digitally and more cost-effectively.
A number of customers have now gone live with our fully-integrated solution suite which demonstrate a positive impact and we’ve also seen customers signing long-term contracts of up to 10 years, which I believe underlines customer confidence in our integrated digital solutions. They know we’ll adopt emerging technologies, continue to innovate and keep them ahead of the curve.
How does Castleton compare with its competitors’ offerings?
Well, we’re the only company that can provide fully-integrated systems using all our own software, and we’re certainly leading the field on self-service, facilitated in the cloud.
Castleton is the first software provider to have harnessed emerging technology to develop and deliver an AI app, with help from our customer Housing Solutions. AI Manager enables tenants to communicate with their housing provider at any time via an Alexa or Google Home device, whether to check their balance, raise an enquiry or request a repair.
We’re specialists in social housing too. Unlike some of the big players, who also provide software for healthcare, police and other sectors, social housing is our sole, 100 per cent focus. We have over 600 customers in the housing sector, which I believe is more than any of our competitors.
The other thing that sets Castleton apart is the range of services we offer. As well as being software developers, we also provide managed services. So, we can truly offer a full service, including private, public or hybrid cloud hosting – and as agnostics, we can advise on the best and most secure options. In fact, some customers use us for all of their IT, from Microsoft Office and firewalls to voice IP and Skype.
We don’t fear bold investments. We opened Castleton India last year, bringing 16 new developers to the Castleton team. This strategic scalability provides our customers with enhanced services, enabling us to bring solutions to market faster and more cost-effectively. We also invested over £750,000 in the latest hardware for our datacentre.
What about integration and APIs?
Yes, this is an important point. We know that legacy systems and supplier lock-in are perceived as barriers to the introduction of new products and systems’ integration. However, Castleton has open APIs that can plug into any other systems, and vice versa. This means we can provide an integrated solution, whether that solution includes just Castleton software or a mix of our software with customers’ existing systems, which gives them much more flexibility.
How do housing providers realistically move to a new supplier when they are already using multiple applications?
We recently completed a move for a leading housing provider; they wanted to add mobile technology to an incumbent system, so we used API technology to integrate the solution. Open APIs enable us to take a phased approach rather than a ‘flick of a switch’ type changeover. In this case, the housing officers used our ‘Agile’ technology for a year, so when we replaced the entire housing system, it was a seamless and pain-free process because users were already familiar with the Castleton front-end.
What are Castleton’s biggest achievements and what of the future?
Our biggest achievement is to have created an organisation that can consistently and repeatedly deliver to customers’ requirements. We have established ourselves as innovators and are sector leaders in AI, facilitating tenant self-service. We’ve turned around our poor support performance and we are beginning to achieve positive brand recognition.
Finally, we have attained double-digit growth year-on-year, with a 15 per cent revenue increase in the past 12 months despite the flat market. This has enabled us to continue our journey, investing in ever better services, the latest equipment and new products for our customers.
For the future, there’s still a long way for us to go, but we recognise there’s great potential for Castleton. We need to improve our service and support delivery further still, and better explain to customers and potential customers the breadth and depth of our offering.
Our next move is to improve our account management structure in order to provide a single point of contact for customers, regardless of whether the need is for software or managed services. This is what we refer to internally as truly becoming ‘one Castleton’.
Housing Technology would like to thank Castleton Technology’s CEO, Dean Dickinson, for taking part in this interview.