Coast & Country is the latest housing association to deploy dynamic scheduling and mobile working in the quest for ‘first-time fix’, using mobile technology from 1st Touch.
Iain Sim, chief executive of Coast & Country, which manages more than 10,000 properties around Redcar and Cleveland, explained, “Repairs and maintenance are how we are judged by our customers. We have over 60,000 customer contacts a year, which means we are being judged every day on how well we deliver services. Yet despite our focus on this area, we reached a plateau a couple of years ago. We were putting more resources in, but seeing no major improvements in service.”
Coast & Country called in external consultants to advise on re-engineering its approach to repairs and maintenance, who advised the implementation of a scheduling system. Coast & Country decided to go further still and also move into mobile working.
The aim of the mobile working solution was to replace paper-based data collection systems for the 100+ operatives with a more efficient PDA-based system, while also integrating with Coast & Country’s new Orchard housing management system which holds all repair, job and property data.
Ronny Harris, operational director, said, “We had two drivers when looking for a mobile solution. First was a right-first-time service – to have the correct tradesperson turn up at a convenient time. Second, we wanted to be more efficient and effective in our own operations.”
After researching the market, Coast & Country selected 1st Touch, whose solution lets organisations replace paper forms with electronic versions on PDAs. Tailored to each organisation’s specific needs, the forms technology reduces the amount of data operatives need to input. Operatives use a familiar-looking form, but on-screen rather than paper, with the PDA sending the input data directly to head office.
As Coast & Country was already running Orchard’s HMS, it needed to integrate the two systems to allow data to be easily transferred to and from operatives and the back office. One issue was that the Orchard HMS was unable to handle the level of detail provided at PDA level, which was solved by 1st Touch’s provision of a mobile server which acts as a staging post where low-level data, such as completed tasks within a job and variable costing data, can be managed and rolled up to a level where they can be fed back to the housing management system.
Before the introduction of electronic scheduling and mobile working, operatives would be issued with a list of appointments for the day. Under the new electronic system, operatives receive one job at a time, appropriate to their skills. As well as receiving jobs, they can use the PDA to report back immediately on start and finish times, parts used and compliance issues.
Operatives with the right skills can now be more easily directed to each job. With fewer worries about meeting appointment times, operatives are able to focus more time on applying their skills. There are fewer repeat calls, and customer liaison advisers have more time to look at customer satisfaction and further ways of improving service.
Anthony Brown, head of property maintenance, said, “We have increased the efficiency and effectiveness of our service. We have cut down on paperwork, such as time sheets and job tickets, saving us time and effort. At the same time, we are providing what the customers wanted – a right-first-time service.”
1st Touch provided support before and after implementation. John Dunn, head of ICT, said, “The implementation went very well with very little involvement needed from us. There were one or two support issues in the first couple of weeks, but then none.”
Dunn added, “The next step is to build on what we’ve done with repairs, and look at areas such as housing management and void inspections – all functions where it will useful to have operatives gathering information and delivering it back to our core system.”
Iain Sim, chief executive, Coast & Country, concluded, “We are getting through the culture change successfully and are beginning to see some real productivity increases. One very noticeable difference is that where we had 14 per cent successful appointments last year, we now have 75 per cent. That’s a huge benefit for our customers.”