Cobalt Housing decided in 2016 to de-merge from Onward Group in order to become an independent housing provider. As a consequence, Cobalt Housing went through a competitive tendering exercise for back-office IT services which South Liverpool Homes then won.
Following the signing of a 10-year contract in November 2016, the go-live date for the project was set to coincide with Cobalt Housing’s immovable de-merger date in early October 2017. The project team was set up immediately, with separate work streams for the housing management, finance, HR and payroll, and asset management systems.
Cobalt Housing also wanted a completely new IT infrastructure and new telephony, CRM and integrated document management systems. During the project, South Liverpool Homes engaged with its existing IT providers – Britannic Technologies, Cascade HR, Orchard Information Systems, Phoenix Software and PIMSS Data Systems – to help with the implementation.
- All of the systems went live as planned on 2 October 2017.
- Cobalt Housing adopted Cisco Meraki Wireless throughout its premises very early on in the project providing high-speed internet for staff, a quick win for all.
- As part of the implementation, South Liverpool Homes provided automated solutions for rent statements, job tickets, monetary imports, remittances, compliance processes, no-access letters and notices for seeking possession (NOSPs).
- Both South Liverpool Homes and Cobalt Housing now benefit from failover to either site with the Mitel telephony system. In the event of either organisation losing their on-premise Mitel controller, the system would utilise the other controller at the opposing site.
- Both organisations now benefit from reduced consultancy and development costs from external suppliers.
- Both organisations used the opportunity to move to Office365 and SharePoint.
Cobalt Housing’s new ICT strategy, aligned to its five year corporate plan, was approved by its board in 2017. Progress against actions is monitored quarterly at project board meetings and reported back to Cobalt Housing’s board every year.
What we learned…
- The initial specification assumed that the infrastructure and business applications would be shared. This would avoid the need to have separate instances of each database and separate interfaces, of which there are many. This multi-tenanted, single-licence model initially posed a problem with some of the technology providers because it had never been implemented before, but in each case a solution was found that was acceptable to all parties.
- There is never enough time for testing when you have an immovable go-live date; you just have to do as much as you can, then go with what you have, and then fix any problems once live.
- The pace of the implementation and the amount of change staff had to cope with was huge; by the start of year two, we had found the middle ground that staff in both organisations were comfortable with.
- It’s important to engage with the software suppliers at the very outset of the project; in hindsight, it would actually have been better to have started certain elements of the project ‘at risk’ before the contract was awarded.
- The resources required from South Liverpool Homes to deliver the contract almost doubled during the course of the implementation, while also being mindful to not dilute the existing support services that South Liverpool’s staff needed.
- There were times during the project when a single, common solution couldn’t be found; for example, there are separate instances of the PIMSS asset management system due to the need to have different surveys.
- The concept of the various systems’ ownership and administration has been the subject of some negotiation at times.
The shared services contract is attractive to both organisations. Cobalt Housing has access to a highly-skilled, innovative IT team that can deliver on its aspirations for the future, while South Liverpool Homes can use its additional income from Cobalt Housing to deliver more services for its tenants.
To continuously monitor and improve the IT support delivered to Cobalt Housing, satisfaction surveys are being sent from closed helpdesk request tickets as the contract moves into its second year. These are reviewed at quarterly project board meetings, where new products, future directions and progress against strategy are also discussed.
South Liverpool Homes and Cobalt Housing are now jointly implementing some further innovative solutions, such as Orchard’s Income Analytics and Tenancy Services products.
Ian Cresswell is director of risk and technology and David Chatterton is head of ICT at South Liverpool Homes.