As a housing provider, you rely on your technology to work efficiently and deliver the best outcomes for your residents. But with so many options available, how do you find what will suit your organisation best? It starts with understanding how you currently operate, what’s working now, what your goals are by focusing on the outcomes you want to achieve, and how you can reach them.
Conduct an internal process audit
This is the most important part of your procurement process. Think about your different teams and how they carry out each function of your organisation. What technology is used at each stage, and how effective is it? Are resources being used efficiently or could things be streamlined?
You may want to improve a specific area, such as resident services, or upgrade several parts at once. Whatever your decision, it’s important to view all your technology solutions as a single ecosystem in which each part connects with the other.
With those thoughts in mind, map out your current processes on a piece of paper. How does data flow? Are there bottlenecks or inefficiencies where processes are slowed down or repeated? This is where new technology could help, for example if your solutions all feed from one central management system that functions as a single source of truth.
Don’t forget to include staff across all areas and levels of your organisation in your audit. A staff member on the ground will have a different understanding of their day-to-day operations than senior management and will provide a valuable contribution to your discovery efforts.
Use this audit to create a specification sheet that lists what you need from a software solution to fill the gaps and improve your performance.
Lastly and by no means least, one of the most important areas to consider is, of course, your data. You need a clear understanding of what good clean data looks like and audit your data effectivity. Nearly every housing customer I’ve spoken to deflates at the thought of auditing and cleansing their data but don’t ignore it; good data is the foundation for all your operations and data-driven decisions.
Follow your customer journey
Your residents are at the heart of everything you do, and the needs of your organisation should branch from these. Think about the key stages they go through when they become a resident, move properties or communicate with your organisation.
How is their data transferred to you and how do you ensure it’s kept up to date? What happens when they want to report a repair or make a complaint? This will help you identify anything you might have missed while mapping your processes or what needs improving. Use this understanding to adjust your specification sheet. Now you can have this in mind as you research.
When speaking with technology providers, make sure that they are as customer-obsessed as you are, that they are curious about how their product fits into your context and how your internal or external users will benefit from what the technology provider already knows from the usage of their current customers.
Consider growth and scalability
As your organisation grows, you’ll want systems that can grow with it and handle the extra workload. Technology solutions are a significant investment and you don’t want to waste resources on something that won’t be suitable in a year or two. Think about the future of your organisation and where you want to be. Will your technology be able to meet those needs? Avoid locking into proprietary systems that limit expandability and won’t play well with the rest of your ecosystem.
Calculate the total cost of ownership, including subscription fees, training, customisation, and ongoing support, and factor in your budget constraints.
Demos – see before you buy
Once you’ve built your shortlist, book some demos to get a better idea of what solutions meet your needs. Use your specification sheet to discuss what you’re looking for and how potential solutions could provide this.
Include stakeholders from across your organisation in these demos because they can provide a different perspective and may have needs you haven’t thought of. This will also offer them the opportunity to ask their own questions to the technology provider’s representatives and help them feel involved in the procurement process. Consider the benefits of best-in-class solutions that are focused on configurability rather than customisation; this could make the difference between a solution that fits now and a future-proofed ecosystem.
Compromise with a view to the future
Sometimes you will face two solutions, both of which are promising you a bright future. Learn about how these products are built, what the processes are for future development and what initiatives are on the roadmap. Ensure that the technology provider is transparent and honest about how they will involve you as a customer in the continuous development of that solution, such as feedback channels, focus groups and user-acceptance testing. It is also worth thinking about which functionalities will give value to your teams tomorrow and which are nice to have, an edge case or a scenario you only deal with once a quarter (i.e. do you really need those features?).
Also consider how long you’re planning to spend making a decision, signing the contract and then setting up the system and testing it before you actually start using it, but don’t worry if the timeline isn’t tomorrow, next week or next month.
Combined with the right release cadence and a solid research process, a slightly longer timeline will mean that your provider is putting more work into building the functionality properly, doing a discovery cycle and ensuring the end-users’ experience is ‘great’ rather than ‘we did exactly what you told us’.
Prioritise software solutions that integrate.
It can be too easy to get stuck into finding solutions for every part of your business without considering how they connect with each other. This results in wasted time having to re-enter data and increases the chance of data conflicts and input errors.
However, if you integrate your systems and give them the capability to share data and sync automatically, you can work much more efficiently and accurately, so prioritise solutions that are designed to work with each other. This doesn’t mean only sticking with one company; in today’s software ecosystem, many providers will partner with others to provide full support.
One way to encourage connectivity is through Aareon Connect. Aareon Connect is a low-code automation and data platform which will enable your solutions to work together from a unified data source. This reduces the barriers to effective integration, allowing your solutions to work more efficiently and ultimately deliver better outcomes to your customers. Look for solutions that support Aareon Connect or encourage providers you have in mind to consider working with it.
Alek Legosteva is the head of product at Aareon.