When we made our pre-pandemic decision to integrate our housing management system with a cloud-based platform, we opted for PanConnect by Housing Insight. As you would expect, we followed a full procurement process and considered a number of vendors before making a final choice.
We found that Housing Insight’s costs were competitive and, from speaking to friends at other housing providers, we knew that its main product was already being used successfully. We were particularly interested in the customer self-service app and portal as well as the staff app, all of which are part of Housing Insight’s PanConnect suite of products. In particular, we knew that the self-service app would enable us to fulfil the wish-list put together by our residents’ panel; the list included the capability to update details, log repairs, pay rent, view rent statements and balances, and make outstanding rent repayments.
Since our full launch in September 2022, we’re pleased to report that 700 of our 3,000 tenants have downloaded the free self-service app. Engagement has been high because we’ve spent time talking to residents about it and helping them learn how to use it. We also planned ahead to make sure that the product would be as easy as possible for our residents to use.
Six community languages
English isn’t the first language of many of our residents so, after consulting our staff, we chose six languages for the self-service app and portal: English, Welsh, Urdu, Arabic, Bengali and Somali.
We used professional translation services to give us confidence that the product would perform well in all those languages, rather than relying on free online translations.
Housing Insight had already created multiple-language functionality within the module, but I think we were the first housing provider to really maximise its potential in this way. Following a soft launch in English and Welsh at first to test the functionality, we rolled out the additional languages in September 2022.
Acting on feedback
We didn’t want to do too much, too quickly because our priority was to make sure that our residents felt comfortable using the app. However, even within five months, we’ve already made improvements. We’ve amended our mini-statements, on request, so that residents can now see a breakdown of what’s coming in and going out of their accounts. We’ve also changed some of our terminology to make it clear and unified across all platforms.
We’re always looking for feedback as long as it’s achievable, and I keep reminding people that this is just the first phase of the launch. We’ll gradually add more functionality, although we already have forms within the app to help our residents give feedback, request repairs and report anti-social behaviour. There’s a payment portal to streamline rents, so that residents can do everything in one place without having to log into another app.
Equipping staff members
We launched an off-the-shelf version of Housing insight’s PanConnect staff app at the same time as the customer self-service app and portal. However, we deliberately made the staff app a lower priority in order to focus on helping residents to engage with their technology.
We now plan to develop the staff app, working with our teams to find out what they would find most useful. We’re embedding some standardised forms, for example, which should streamline data collection.
We previously saw significant duplication of work because our HMS wasn’t linked to the cloud; staff would take notes during a visit before returning to the office to type out and upload their notes to the system. Now our teams can use the app when they are out and about and they can search for the information they need in the app itself.
We’ve already enjoyed one quick win – using the staff app to send text messages between staff and residents has halved what we were previously paying for this service.
In addition, the filters embedded in the app help with efficiency savings when it comes to missed appointments. If a resident isn’t at home when a neighbourhood manager arrives, then rather than having to return to the office, a staff member can use the filters to identify other home visits that could usefully be carried out instead, such as visiting a tenant who is in arrears.
A measured approach
It’s still early in our collaboration, but we’ve found the Housing Insight team to be both responsive and reactive. We intend to move forward with one thing at a time, picking and choosing whatever we feel will make the most difference to our tenants and staff.
Nigel Lee is the head of ICT and procurement at Cardiff Community Housing.