No more ‘business as usual’?
We have all had to adapt to working remotely over the last few months, but what about the future reality of the virtual office? Google has announced that it has no plans to return to the office until July 2021 at the earliest. How can you continue to support your people, your contractors and your tenants in a world where there is no physical office? The simple fact is this will drive a need for faster, cheaper, more dynamic digitisation of processes. The need to manage tenants and contractors and buildings from a remote environment is critical. Providing access to services for tenants without pushing up contact centre costs; managing the work lists for contractors without being able to provide a physical list of jobs and properties. Allowing tenants and contractors to access this information via apps and portals to enable self-service and seamless integration into your ERP means significantly fewer admin tasks and much more time to support customers who can’t self-serve.
Tenants’ digital expectations
Your customers will continue to expect more from you too. They already want to access services 24/7 across a choice of methods. The aim should be to provide services in as cost-effective a way as possible, being able to reduce the amount of people focused on administration and increase the amount of people focused on front line services, specifically to support the vulnerable. One of your key financial KPIs should be to reduce rent collection and arrears, with payments via app or portal, plus the ability to agree a financial payment plan to suit them. These digital tools will help you to deliver your KPIs.
Tenants will also want you to recognise their individual needs and provide flexibility around appointments – scheduling their own to suit their availability is definitely their preference. Digital communities will become more and more important to enable rapid and effective communication with your tenant community, but advances in technology mean these communities can now be integrated into your ERP to drive outcomes such as reporting an issue in the communal area. This can trigger a chain of events including assigning a work task, approving a budget and a contractor completing the work and invoicing, all without any need for the process to have any human intervention. Digital solutions can also be used to support people to be able to live independently, so increasing their satisfaction while reducing the strain on the housing provider to offer more hands-on support for these individuals.
Changing your relationship with tenants
These new ways of working also provide the opportunity to re-examine the relationship between the housing sector and its tenants. If a contractor can’t go on-site to a customer’s property, how about the tenants providing some services? For example, they could do a first-stage assessment of a repair and, with guidance, they even might be able to complete the repair themselves. There could be a new value exchange where the tenant could receive a discounted rent in exchange for providing some of the first inspections or fixes.
Voids and smart buildings
Maintenance of your asset base during these times is also critical – being able to access properties to assess and schedule repairs is more challenging. This could drive up the number of void properties or extend void periods. There are such advances in technology to provide ‘smart buildings’ where the devices in the property can remotely monitor, identify repair needs and raise fixes directly into your back-office ERP system. There is a future where these devices could support a ‘no-inspection’ check out, saving a huge amount of time and money while reducing a property’s void time.
Data, analytics and AI in housing
The importance of the use of data, analytics and AI to support more intelligent processes will continue to grow. How about virtually pre-matching tenants to properties? Using data and analytics to segment and define specific types of tenants to help understand how they need to be serviced differently, especially those who are more vulnerable. Or using AI to identify repairs that are at the same property and bundle them into work packages? Add to this the ability to pre-empt repairs through using data, analytics and smart devices in properties to remotely monitor and report condition and do first-line fault resolutions. This could raise fixes in the ERP automatically, and even predict future breakages and schedule maintenance tasks before the breakages occur.
The choice of technology is critical, requiring an open platform to enable simple end-to-end integration across your IT estate, with limited need to spend time and money on integration or customisation. This enables you to deliver new digital capabilities and realign your resources faster to support any ongoing changes. This end-to-end technology enables you to manage your tenants’ whole lifecycles effectively and with the highest customer satisfaction while reducing operational costs and freeing up resources to provide more support to those who need it.
Embrace rapid digitalisation
Ensure your organisation is ready for the changes we are seeing – embrace new ways of working to optimise your current solutions and build new capabilities aligned to your strategic plan to enable rapid digitisation and ongoing support for your people, your tenants, your contractors and your buildings. Use the best of technology to support the delivery of front-line services, helping you to improve the lives of your tenants and free your people to deliver the most valuable interventions.
Tina Kennedy is head of digital at Aareon UK.