Improving the efficiency of their internal processes and external services to tenants is a high priority for most housing organisations, particularly in the current economy and following pressure from regulators. This need for improved efficiency is a key impetus for the housing sector’s adoption of next-generation networks, which allow voice, data and video to be transmitted over a single infrastructure. With next-generation local- and wide-area networks providing the necessary building blocks, housing organisations can share information quickly and efficiently across disparate sites, mobile staff can access data as and when required, and tenants can gain from new high-quality services.
Connecting and mobilising staff
Housing organisations often have a number of offices spread across disparate sites; once a single, converged network infrastructure is in place, a wealth of applications can be deployed to increase efficiency and cut costs. For example, VoIP enables free internal phone calls across the entire organisation. As well as reducing call costs, VoIP ensures that staff have a single contact number regardless of their location; incoming calls can then be automatically routed to another desk phone, their soft phone or their mobile. Consequently, staff are easier to locate, call-back delays are reduced, and communication and productivity are improved.
With a next-generation network, outlying offices and smaller sites, such as sheltered housing developments and hostels, can be linked seamlessly so that remote and mobile workers can access central computer systems wherever they are. This cuts down dead time spent commuting and ensures that staff always have access to up-to-date information even when they are visiting residents’ homes.
A safe and secure environment for tenants
Once the foundations are in place, IP CCTV is another example of an application that can be run across the network infrastructure. As well as the cost savings resulting from simpler maintenance and the ease of centralising control, IP CCTV adds flexibility and increased functionality to CCTV monitoring. Cameras can be added to the network to address specific problem areas and tackle a range of crimes, including fly-tipping, damage to property and violent behaviour. Live and recorded images can also be seen, controlled and distributed to/from any point on the network, either via a laptop, PC or traditional CCTV monitor.
As well as increasing security and targeting problem locations, the installation of an IP CCTV system can also support a concierge facility, enabling tenants to speak directly to control room operators, for example if they are concerned about anyone trying to gain entry into the premises. Consequently, residents feel protected.
Next-generation networking in action
Merlin Housing Society, which took over the running of South Gloucestershire Council’s housing stock in February 2007, is a good example of how a next-generation network can support housing staff and help them to provide high-quality housing to its residents. As a new organisation, Merlin needed a flexible, robust infrastructure that would allow its 270 staff to communicate quickly, efficiently and securely access corporate resources, whether in the office or working remotely.
Merlin’s £300,000 network infrastructure from ntl:Telewest Business comprises a WAN, which runs at up to 100Mbps and links Merlin’s main sites, smaller offices, sheltered housing and hostels, and a Cisco-based LAN for each office. This network means that the organisation is now supported by a single converged network infrastructure and can reap the cost-saving benefits of VoIP, resource sharing and lower network management costs.
Finding the right fit
Having a modern, resilient network is vital for the efficient flow of operational information across all housing sites. Only by having effective access to information can staff provide the community they serve with high quality services. With the right network design and robust technology, housing associations will be able to meet today’s demand for housing and ensure that they have the building blocks in place for future expansion.
Tim Lawson is a public sector specialist at ntl:Telewest Business.