Coronavirus is forcing housing providers to consider how they interact with tenants virtually and exposing holes in their current technology infrastructures. While this may prompt a greater urgency for digital transformation, RPA (robotic process automation) could solve some of today’s issues and be implemented today, even while offices are closed.
What is RPA?
Robotic process automation is software with a very specific task – think of RPA and bots as being a more advanced version of functions or macros within Excel, except that RPA sits on top of other applications and so can link them together.
Today’s key issues
Disparate functions coming together
One of the oldest but still ongoing issues for those in the housing sector is the management of different departments and disparate systems. Housing combines different areas of expertise, different issues and different personnel. The management and tracking of services such as finance, HR, tenant services, estate services, maintenance, tenancy, social services and external service providers has meant that many organisations today struggle to find an effective CRM/ERP that works for everyone and so it is very likely that important data is sitting in different silos, making collaboration between departments very difficult.
One of the key benefits of RPA is that it can gather information from different servers, systems and spreadsheets as well as from online sources and aggregate it into a single location. This would mean that all of the disparate services relating to one property could easily be assembled into one place.
Lack of standardised processes
In order to serve these customers better, you must have consistent standards and procedures. The problem is that wherever humans are involved, there will always be errors, and this is especially true of monotonous tasks carried out in bulk.
Low-level tasks that are high in volume are much better suited to a robot. Not only does this ensure standardisation of process and remove human error but the ultimate aim is to give your team more time to focus on the customer as a person and improve the quality and personalisation of service.
Backlog currently building
During this pandemic, most housing providers will have prioritised certain types of work which can be carried out virtually. This has left a large number of small (but no less important) tasks to build up for return. Backlogs can quickly get in the way of day-to-day priorities and traditionally the only way to deal with them was to allocate extra time or resources, but RPA represents an alternative.
With remote access to your systems, an RPA bot can be created in a matter of days to suit your specific backlog and the backlog quickly cleared. For short-term solutions like this, you can even ‘rent-a-bot’ as opposed to buying licences, arranging hosting and so on.
RPA is a technology which can be implemented in weeks instead of months and can have an immediate impact on your business:
- The automation of high-volume, low-value tasks;
- Gathering, copying and collating data from different sources;
- Clearing processing backlogs, especially for ‘non virtual’ tasks;
- Tying together disparate systems for closer collaboration and better data integrity.
The cost of RPA is not as much as you might think, with an attended bot (a bot enacted by a human to do its task) costing £2,000-£5,000, depending on complexity.
Oliver Gwynne is the global marketing manager at Proservartner.