As part of a major shift towards creating effortless customer experiences, Futures Housing Group is rolling out brand new systems across its operations to help staff work with greater flexibility and give tenants more ways to interact with them. In order to achieve this objective, Futures Housing is implementing Microsoft Skype for Business (SfB) and Enghouse Interactive Contact Centre (EICC) with ‘tight’ integration to its Orchard housing management system.
In the first article in this series (see Housing Technology, July 2016), we described how we investigated the business case, then specified, procured and carried out a proof of concept for the solution to replace the group’s legacy telephone and contact centre systems. In this article, we explain how we have been ‘preparing to execute’ during June to August 2016.
After rigorous testing of all aspects of the new system, we were able to assure the business that the solution we identified was the right fit for Futures Housing. Following that major milestone, we quickly moved on to the design, review and planning stage of the project, scoping out what was to be delivered and when.
Systems integrator Amillan worked with our internal project team to consider the overall project design and approach, and took the lead in developing and driving the execution of the project’s delivery.
Amillan’s director, Richard Reid, said, “In a business transformation project of this type, meticulous project planning and change management are critical to the project’s success, and ownership of delivering this to precisely meet Futures’ particular requirements is something that we take very seriously.”
During June, July and August, the technical aspects of the project progressed as system configurations were designed, challenged and then refined to enable system builds that were ‘right first time’ and ready for user testing. A series of high- and low-level design workshops were run by Amillan to design the overall topology, technical requirements, call flows, contact centre queues and other important aspects of the system.
Chris Cheetham, Futures Housing’s project and change manager, said, “The time we invested in the design and configuration workshops with Amillan and Enghouse Interactive was essential; it’s the old adage of ‘if you fail to prepare, you’re preparing to fail’.”
Culture and change management
We worked out very early on that, while offering major improvements to the customer experience, introducing significant changes to the systems currently in place would present a big challenge to traditional work practices and engrained culture.
The proof of concept had already identified the requirement to upgrade Microsoft Office and at this point we decided to move to Office 365.
Additionally, to gain the maximum benefit from Skype for Business, most staff would be migrated from traditional desk-based telephone handsets to headsets, and from thin-client terminals to laptops to enable flexible working practices. Skype integration with mobile devices such as tablets, smartphones and laptops would also be deployed to make mobile working a genuine option for the workforce.
Significant time and effort is being spent on the ‘change’ aspect of this project, but sometimes it’s the little things that can make or break a project. Having to take a new version of Microsoft Office, a new laptop with new software to learn, and then adapting to use a headset instead of a traditional telephone handset can be intimidating and a bit scary.
For those reasons, we have a clear communication, engagement and training plan to not only deliver the new ‘stuff’, but also to ensure that all staff understand why it’s being done, how it supports our corporate objectives and, most importantly, to ‘sell the benefits’ of the project to get them on-board and positive about the changes.
Mike Underwood, Futures Housing’s head of communications, said, “We are working hard to support the communication aspect of this project for all group staff and planning ongoing activities such as personalised emails, event days, updates on screen displays and noticeboards, and blogs and vlogs. We are also planning to create tailored information packs based on a staff member’s specific ‘persona’, such as a ‘road warrior’, ‘flexible worker, ‘home worker’ or ‘desk worker’. All of this will be highly visual and with as little ‘geek speak’ as possible.”
To streamline customer contact and enable them to communicate with us easily via telephone, email, SMS, web chat or social media, integration with our Orchard housing management system was fundamental to the success of this project.
We wanted the inbound ‘contact’ to be automatically identified and matched to the customer record held in Orchard, with the contact centre agent then being automatically routed to the correct Orchard screen and the contact history being automatically collected and stored at the end of the communication. Options to efficiently update customer information and add unrecognised contact details also needed development to help with maintaining accurate customer information.
We have engaged with Orchard’s development team and the integration process is currently underway, with all the communication channels and data capture targeted for delivery in November 2016 and web chat (integrated with Orchard’s self-service portal) following in February 2017.
Clarity of purpose and ‘tales of the unexpected’
Over the next few months, the project will move from ‘preparation to execute’ into the deployment and live roll-out stages.
With projects like this that take place over a fairly long period of time, from initial conception, through procurement, contract award and project delivery, it is important to keep a check on the purpose and expected benefits of the project, to make any necessary adjustments and to accommodate those unexpected ‘curves in the road’.
We identified both financial and non-financial benefits during the business case phase of this project and these are allocated to ‘benefit owners’ and monitored throughout. However, we have had to manage various unexpected factors due to the ‘cutting edge’ nature of this project, some technical (as you would expect in a project like this) but also some organisational such as the group redesigning its operating model, with a consequent knock-on effect to the project.
September to November this year will be very exciting; we’ll bring you updates on the project in the next issue of Housing Technology.
Gavin Hitchcock is head of ICT at Futures Housing Group (email@example.com).