In the July Issue of Housing Technology, Henk Korevaar from the Dutch housing IT consultancy F-fectis invited senior IT professionals to a study trip to the Netherlands. I accepted the invitation and travelled to Utrecht in September to the Corporatie Plein 2012, the leading Dutch conference for housing associations.
On arrival, Henk introduced me to Mea Kessler, the Chair of NetwIT, who explained the CORA and VERA publications; these documents define standards for the housing process and the interfaces between different applications and core housing management systems. Originally started by just eleven housing providers, the standards are now becoming a core requirement when purchasing new applications in The Netherlands.
The NetwIT members set up zones throughout the conference where you could sit and discuss a variety of topics. Some of the highlights which may be relevant to UK housing providers included:
- NetwIT have developed a value-added ICT benchmarking model and encourage members to explain the differences between the costs of service delivery rather than simply display a graph.
- Bring your own device (BYOD) – The employees of Havensteder Housing Association in Rotterdam were given the chance to buy their own laptops and are paid an allowance for using it at work. This has reduced the reliance on the internal IT department to support those machines.
- CORA/VERA – As mentioned above, these standards are being adopted by suppliers and make the selection of new software easier. Suppliers are now expected to have the core functionality and must show what extra their software does to win business.
- Tablets and social media – Thuisvester Housing Association in Oosterhout has replaced many of its laptops and desktops with tablet devices. It has opted for Apple products rather than Android-based ones due to restrictions on application downloads. AlleeWonen Housing Association in Roosendaal uses social media not only to push information to tenants but also to ‘listen’ to tenant voices. No topic or service is off limits and tenants may request any service applications such as Facebook, Twitter or Whatsup. Success is measured by followers rather than ‘likes’ and all staff are encouraged to monitor and respond directly to tenants, and the company no longer use paper to communicate with tenants. Frmwrk showed how it uses software to analyse and report on trends in social media activity.
- Outsourcing ICT – Many organisations are going through difficult times with reduced budgets and redundancies and this is affecting the back office and ICT in particular. Some are responding by outsourcing; Peter Paffen from Ieder1 Housing Association in Deventer is the only IT-related employee managing the outsourcing contract and SAP implementation.
This was an extremely interesting visit, looking at the IT challenges in the Dutch housing sector and some useful insights into how they are approaching delivering services to tenants. The CORA/VERA work will resonate with many ICT managers in the UK as this has been discussed previously at Housing Technology’s conferences.
For my part, I will be taking the benchmarking forward with colleagues in an attempt to improve the model and show how we add value.
Many of the NetwIT members will be at the IT in Housing conference in London this month and I am sure they will be more than happy to follow up these and other themes.
Richard Troote is head of IS at Cadarn Housing Group and Chair of Community Housing Cymru.