I am a Star Trek fan and my friends at school were also fans. I grew up watching repeats of James T Kirk and Spock exploring the universe, meeting aliens and ‘boldly going where no man has gone before’.
One of the things I remember about growing up with Star Trek was that you either wanted to be the Captain outwitting the Klingons and meeting dishy green aliens, or you wanted to be the science officer using cool devices and saving the day with, well, ‘science’ and tech. I wanted to be Spock or Data. Also, I really wanted one of those pads – the ones that everyone carried around and used to report on the general running of the Starship. Didn’t everyone pretend to have one of those, alongside the Communicator device?
Most of us have one of those pads now. In fact, it can run things like the Starship and make calls like the Communicator. I use it to run my life as well as a method of communicating with everyone in the world using various mediums (Facebook Messenger). A smart mobile device truly has that power, and the world is switching towards this method. It’s far easier to sit on the train and update my Facebook status, check my bank account, read a book or take part in a simulation game or even watch last night’s episode of ‘8 out of 10 Cats’ rather than waiting until I get home to log on to a website using my laptop.
And when was the last time you watched a scheduled television programme? I’m now using my smartphone to broadcast onto a smart HD screen at home rather than using a TV box. And I watch television according to my own schedule and not one dictated to me (I’ve started to watch reruns of Voyager on Netflix – how cool is that?).
All of this is now achieved through the power of smart devices.
As a housing provider, Genesis believes that data is the key to a digitally-driven business and the winners will be those who use information to their advantage, whether to automate services or provide innovative smart homes for our tenants. As part of Genesis’ drive towards ‘digital’, we have recently implemented an app which allows our tenants to make payments and book a repair without having to make a phone call. Although this is a small change, it’s the start of releasing the power of digital to our tenants.
The journey started with Castleton Technology and 365Agile, with whom we wanted to:
- Provide an e-commerce service to allow our tenants to transact online;
- Reduce call volumes into the call centre;
- Provide a better service and improve our overall customer satisfaction ratings.
We also wanted to have an e-commerce service which could plug into our back-end systems without disruption, so we used an ‘extract, transform and load’ tool from Informatica to send and receive data, to achieve the following from the e-commerce service:
- Process near-real time transactions quickly and efficiently;
- Allow it to operate and not lose any data if the back-end system fails;
- Be able to unplug it with minimal disruption.
We developed a ‘proof of concept’ in 2015 to show what is possible with the customer app as well as establishing that the strategic IT design and vision was correct. We then delivered a viable product within four months, despite having only minimal resources, which was good enough for our customers to see for the first time. A product that:
- Shows customers’ personal information;
- Allows editing of some of their personal information;
- Displays rent statements and balances;
- Allows customers to make payments;
- Can be used to raise a repair and track its progress.
The feedback from our resident engagement group and overall first impressions were eye-openers and we received lots of interesting and differing opinions to help us improve the solution. We went back to the drawing board for six weeks for final tweaks, retesting, re-checks and then release.
So far, the app is on target to achieve the take-up rate we set the project and the quality of data is improving as a result of the app, as well as better two way engagement with customers.
We are continuing to assess the success of the app and we’re focusing on adding further functionality over the next few months.
So, I can finally realise one of dreams of my younger self, It’s (digital) life Jim, but not as we know it. One to beam up.
Richard Holland is head of business solutions at Genesis Housing Association.