You may have been sceptical about investing in a business transformation project prior to the coronavirus outbreak, with the perception that they are expensive, long and need substantial resources to deliver. You may also feel that the benefits of digital transformation don’t materialise fast enough.
However, given the huge transition all organisations have had to make in order to continue to operate through this uncertain time, there has been little choice but to change the way you work, with many organisations putting in temporary or quick-fix technology solutions.
Now more than ever, our customers are seeing the benefits of their already established transformation projects. Customers such as Grand Union Housing and Honeycomb Group have managed to keep their business operating and systems running with the technology they had put in place.
At the Housing Technology 2020 conference in March, I hosted a panel discussion with Simon Penaluna, director of IT at Grand Union Housing, and Darren Penny, ICT service delivery manager at Honeycomb Group, discussing business transformation from their perspectives.
Now is a good time to reflect on the technology you already have, from the security of your data to the ability to facilitate home working. I have summarised the key points from our panel discussion to help you to understand how and why they carried out their projects and where you may be able to start in order to take your organisation on a similar journey.
Grand Union Housing
The start of Grand Union’s transformation project was due to a merger of four companies in October 2018, with 320 staff working from different locations, using various systems and being unable to communicate and share data properly with each other. The IT strategy was part of the housing provider’s larger ‘customer 2020’ project, based around a complete organisational re-design.
The objectives of the project included creating an agile workforce, facilitating home working and updating ageing hardware. This coincided with moving all staff to a central head office and improving their performance through reliable systems based on an infrastructure that could be expanded as needed.
The project started with a detailed technical specification. Grand Union Housing used a framework agreement to avoid a lengthy tender process and this enabled the project to be ready to launch in May 2019, with the aim of project completion by October 2019.
During the project, the one of the key lessons learnt was to avoid underestimating how long it takes to sort out contracts and legalities in this type of project; Grand Union Housing found that procurement took 50 per cent of the 12-month project! Not everything goes to plan and how responsive the supplier is to resolving issues is key to the success of the project when striving to meet deadlines.
Some of the benefits that Grand Union has experienced include:
- Investing in its staff by providing up-to-date equipment and allowing them to work in an agile way;
- More structure and a tidier server architecture that allows its IT operations team to be more proactive to issues;
- Reducing the risks to the business around out-of-date operating systems, inefficient backups and uncertain resilience;
- Providing it with the right foundations for the next steps for in its ambitious technology strategy.
The next stages of technology development for Grand Union Housing include AI for automating processes and better MI and machine learning (but not using robots to take over staff roles!). It plans to make the most of Office 365, such as introducing Teams, SharePoint and Power Platform, and further development of an omni-channel strategy by integrating Teams into its new contact centre and a complete rollout of Teams by the end of 2020.
Given current circumstances, Grand Union Housing’s ambitions may have changed, but nevertheless the solutions it has installed have made it far more resilient and secure during these unusual times and being prepared for 100 per cent home working was a huge bonus.
Honeycomb started its project due to inconsistent information across teams because various customer data sets were being held across different locations. Customer feedback also highlighted a fragmented customer journey that needed improving.
The objectives were to get customer information into a central system accessible to everyone, linking key documentation to people and properties and developing consistent processes and procedures. In turn, this would increase customer satisfaction and improve Honeycomb’s capability for mobile workers to capture information digitally.
A detailed process plan was used to break down the overall project into sizable milestones. This included project leads, assigning clear roles and responsibilities, process mapping and, most importantly, keeping communications clear and simple across all parties involved.
During the project, Honeycomb developed a culture whereby it was okay to fail and try a different approach, and to not underestimate other team members’ commitments to their usual workloads. A vital learning was that data is key; it was essential to get data cleansed before starting the project.
The benefits seen by Honeycomb include the ability to provide consistent, accurate information on customers across all staff, allowing teams to work better together, and staff are now more engaged with technology and are challenging the organisation to make it better.
The next phase of the project includes increasing Honeycomb’s digital channels to provide customers with 24/7 access to information and services, including developing a customer portal to address its customers’ two biggest bugbears: repairs and payments. The Honeycomb portal, developed alongside Castleton Technology, has a repairs function that will feature easy-to-use icons for raising repairs. This will then automatically log a repair to Honeycomb’s contractor system (Novus, based on Castleton’s Maintain solution), and once logged into the system, appointment availability can then be selected. After the customer portal rollout, Honeycomb is planning to develop an application for a housing portal in line with its existing lettings processes.
While Grand Union and Honeycomb have each taken different approaches to their business transformation projects, they have both already seen the benefits and have been better prepared to cope with the pandemic.
I’ve seen from several of our customers that having digital solutions in place for out-of-hours contact is invaluable, reducing the pressure on contact centres and helping to maintain a good level of customer satisfaction. It has never been more essential to maintain frequent, reassuring contact with customers and to support their needs.
Jimmy Rogers is the sales and marketing director at Castleton Technology.