Your IT infrastructure is sorted out, you have all the right software platforms in place, so it’s time to sit back and relax… or is it?
Business process outsourcing (BPO) is joining the likes of cloud computing, software as a service, social media and ‘Digital by Default’ as a key consideration on the agendas of many housing providers over the next 12 months.
The key focus in many companies is ensuring that all of their internal IT solutions and systems are in place and that the correct software, hardware and vendors are sourced. For many housing providers at varying stages of systems and solutions implementation, the key focus is to ensure that the delivery of projects is carried out in a controlled manner, on time and within budget.
Simple cost-saving opportunities
In too many cases, it is often too easy to overlook very simple cost-saving opportunities. Over the last few years, there has been a focus on delivering IT solutions either wholesale throughout an organisation or implemented across specific departments.
We all know that there is an ever increasing selection of products and systems on the market that will enable companies to manage processes better, centralise information and provide greater control of finance, HR, tenant, housing and development information. The question now is, “what next?”
A lesson learned
Just over five years ago, we saw many companies joining the mass stampede to outsource a large number of core business functions in the hope of significant cost savings and resource reduction. For a while, all was well until it all started to go wrong as service levels dropped sharply and in some cases there were serious breaches of data protection and security.
Customer service was at an all-time low and a hatred of offshore services was spreading at an alarming rate. The offshore dream gradually turned into a nightmare, with many companies beating a hasty retreat and returning to their original operational set ups.
While in theory the outsourcing route should have worked for the majority of businesses, it was quickly realised that there were pitfalls that had not been considered.
A return to outsourcing
Many businesses have learned from their mistakes and have focused on their core business processes, improving technology and staff capabilities. What has now emerged over the past twelve months is the large number of businesses looking once again at their outsourcing, however this time with more caution and on a much more targeted basis.
Businesses are keen to reduce operational costs and attain process improvements but not in the wholesale manner of the past. Workflow, automated processes, less-paper offices and integrated systems now form part of many IT future-planning meetings.
Here are a few helpful tips, simple by definition but easily overlooked in many cases;
Choosing an outsourcing partner:
Outsourcing is about creating a successful partnership, so choosing a company to outsource to is very different from choosing an ordinary supplier. You are embarking on a long-term relationship so take time to look in detail at potential service providers. Some suggested areas to consider and assess include:
- Track record – Ask yourself: does the provider have a track record of service commitment (including tracking customer satisfaction levels), and has it been recognised within its own sector? Is the business expanding, how good are the service level agreements it offers, and what are its security credentials?
- Relationship management – This is critical to your business. How will your relationship be managed and how good (and available) is your relationship manager?
- Customer references – Find out who the provider’s existing customers are and how satisfied they are, including an assessment of the provider’s strengths and how it deals with problems, preferably by asking several existing customers.
- See them at work – Visit potential service providers and look at the working environment and ask about staff retention and turnover. Also check their IT systems and equipment, management processes and quality assurance procedures.
- Financial stability – Check that your potential provider is financially stable. If it is a limited company, get copies of its recent accounts, ask for banker’s references and consider getting a report from a credit-checking agency.
- Subcontracting – Ask your potential service provider if they plan to subcontract any of your work and if so, proceed with extreme caution; third-party outsourcing is not secure and fraught with many dangers.
So what is the future for housing providers? The key priorities will be to cut costs, save on resources and to find more efficient ways of working in order to concentrate on core business areas.
Over the past five years, the housing sector has undergone a massive transformation and increasingly housing providers are keen to share ideas and experiences in their drive to provide better customer service.
However, a much smarter way of working is rapidly emerging – the desire to improve and develop a sustainable range of process improvements, allowing housing providers to concentrate on core business functions.
Digital mailroom services
For example, the introduction of a digital mailroom service, when implemented correctly, can boost compliance, reduce the costs associated with opening and sorting mail and negate misplaced mail items. Digital capture, indexing, electronic distribution and workflow allow housing providers to access the most up-to-date information, complete with its own digital audit trail.
However, before investing in a digital mailroom system, consider and understand your company’s needs as digital mailroom systems are not a one-size-fits-all concept.
With a digital mailroom system, your mailroom costs will reduce significantly, in addition to time and efficiency gains and better compliance. The more you invest in image recognition and data extraction services the better, and although you will need to standardise some of your mail, by choosing the right service provider, implementation is straight forward. Furthermore, the cost savings will almost always self-fund any project by identifying the main costly areas from the outset.
With Digital by Default being a key focus in 2012, BPO is showing itself as an area that all housing providers should be giving serious consideration to.
Simon Challis is managing director of Optical Record Systems.