As part of its 50th year anniversary, Orbit Housing has delved into its archives to draw out a timeline of the changing face of technology; from the first PC arriving in the office to offering real-time feedback to its customers.
March 1985 – Orbit’s emergency response unit
In 1985, the Orbit emergency response unit (ERU) was set up to respond to Lifeline calls from older tenants living in sheltered housing schemes. At the time, six staff monitored three Orbit schemes with 50 Lifeline alarms.
25 years later, the team was still monitoring Lifelines but the system was now available to non-Orbit customers and was linked to telecare technology, helping people to live safely and independently at home. Telecare has sensors which remotely monitor homes linked directly to the ERU. 18 staff still monitored 141 schemes with 2,340 Lifeline alarms. The monitoring element of the ERU was outsourced to Appello CarelineUK in 2013, but the Lifeline alarms are still in use.
July 1985 – Backing up information in the 1980s
“I used to carry out the ‘back up’ of systems daily. I remember it being a large machine with two large spools which I had to change to complete the back up of all the information. It would take three, four or more spools depending how much information was there and then these were stored in big cabinets.” – Housing Assistant, Orbit.
March 1990 – Changing technology
Lesley Mason, procurement compliance manager at Orbit, said, “One of the reasons I chose Orbit as my first ’employer of choice’ was that at least I wasn’t going to have to manage with a manual typewriter. We had electric versions.
“Note: electric, not electronic. These old Olivettis were not the precursors of the word processors that would enable you to type a few lines of text and edit before committing it to paper. However, they were quicker and less clunky than the piece of engineering that I’d typed my dissertation on two years earlier.
“It wouldn’t be long before we had the magnificence of ‘auto-correct’, which was the wizardry of being able to lift the newly-applied piece of carbon back off the paper if you spotted it quickly enough, but for now, we were impressed (genuinely so!) with Tippex paper for top copies and coloured Tippex for making sure the pinks, blues and yellows remained legible in the file.
“So what have I seen change in this area? Compare that with what we have now and I’m sure you can work out the differences. There are, though, a few stand-out memories for me.
“I remember the first PC arriving in our Norwich office, fax machines had moved away from heat-roll paper onto plain paper (I remember ours was loaded with pink paper because you needed to know it was a fax rather than incoming post, apparently), and cell phones had been invented but they were large, clunky and gimmicky. PCs were the coming thing and plain-paper printing was the marvel of the age.
“And then someone sent our chief executive at the time (David Hucker) to Harvard. Suddenly the technology we’d been told we didn’t really need was top of the agenda. Not only would every office be wired up, computers on every desk, direct information available to everyone that wanted it, Microsoft Office, this new-fangled thing called email… but the biggest shock of all; we were going to have a centralised call centre. This was going to revolutionise the way we worked.
“Not everyone approved and quite a few believed it would never happen, but it was a genuine revolution and we joined the modern world.”
March 2010 – GIS mapping
In 2010, we started using a geographic information system (GIS) to map our properties and estates accurately, and in 2015 we created customised versions of GIS for all staff in the form of a platform named ‘myM@ps’. Recognised at the time as sector-leading technology, myM@ps enables staff to view and map our properties, providing instant answers to ownership and boundary queries.
March 2010 – New mobile devices
Staff started to use mobile devices to improve service for our tenants in 2010. The handheld devices allowed housing officers and surveyors to have information at their fingertips so they could answer questions quickly, using the most up-to-date information. Previously, they would have had to go back to the office and find the answers.
2011 – My Account online portal
We were one of the first housing providers to create an online portal providing tenants with 24-hour access to their accounts.
The portal enables tenants to make a payment, view their account, report a repair, view outstanding repairs as well as a range of other options such as report incidents, sign up for paperless communications and provide feedback.
September 2012 – Getting online
In order to help to get our tenants online, we provided wi-fi access in 20 of our sheltered and supported schemes in 2012. With our partner, CommunityUK, we offered over 650 tenants the opportunity to access the internet free of charge.
April 2015 – Real-time feedback
We were the first housing provider to use real-time feedback, allowing tenants to let us know how we are doing. They can text us, email us or tell us over the phone how they feel about the services we provide.
We ask them to rate our services on a scale of 1 (very dissatisfied) to 5 (very satisfied). We then ask them why they gave that score. That’s it. No big survey, no long list of questions. Just the customer, their experience and how they felt about it.
The scores and comments are then analysed in real-time and presented back to staff using specially designed dashboards. Customer service advisors can then identify an issue, contact the tenant and resolve any problems within 48 hours of receiving feedback.
The platform, developed by customer engagement specialists Rant & Rave, is our principal method for listening to what tenants are saying and it was shortlisted in the UK CX awards in 2016.
January 2016 – Orbit Move
Since its launch in January 2016, over 90 per cent of our tenancy applications have been completed online using ‘Orbit Move’, an innovative digital way of signing up for a new tenancy. Orbit Move has since helped us win several prestigious awards and it’s helping us achieve our goal of getting 75 per cent of our tenant contacts online by 2020.
March 2017 – Changing communications
To put our technology progress in a wider perspective, one of our longer-serving members of staff said, “When I started, there was this mythical land in Queens Road, Coventry, known as ‘the computer room’. Few had seen it, and even fewer understood the mysteries of its operations.”
David Leach is the digital services director for Orbit Housing.