The phrase ‘digital transformation’ can conjure up a futuristic ideal of fully mobile operations and AI-driven processes that allow systems users to execute business processes at the click of a button with the maximum of efficiency. Some would have you believe that this future is already here!
Arguably, we’ve all been engaged in digital transformation for at least the past 30 years. The majority of business processes are now carried out using dedicated software, created to process our many tasks in the most efficient and labour-saving manner possible. But the reality is that in many housing providers, business processes have become entrenched over time and the systems that were designed to lighten the load aren’t always used to their full potential.
When Hafod Housing began an organisation-wide digital transformation in late 2019, one stream of the programme included a plan to re-implement its main Aareon QL housing management system, which it had been using for over 20 years. This part of the programme was intended to help streamline the use of Aareon QL and ensure that the housing provider was using the solution to its full potential by making its business processes more efficient and freeing up resources to concentrate on delivering extra value to customers.
What were we trying to achieve?
When the transformation team started to gather requirements from Hafod’s Aareon QL stakeholders, it became clear that there were conflicting views on what needed to be done within the various teams.
Rachelle Beasley, transformation lead, Hafod Housing, said, “It was very hard to establish common goals. Our colleagues all had different challenges and all used the system in different ways, which meant that there was no clear vision for what they were trying to achieve through the re-implementation.”
The transformation team realised that without a set of shared objectives, it was going to be impossible to re-implement the software in a way that successfully met the needs of every part of the business.
Finding direction through quick wins
As a method to establish business process priorities and as a way to build a plan, the team identified opportunities where simply by using Aareon QL more effectively they could make their processes slicker and more efficient. Based on surveys done by the business, the team created a list of ‘quick win’ changes that could be implemented by Hafod’s internal IT team each week.
The ‘simplify’ project was formed, with a defined process for gathering and processing the quick win changes. The organisation’s Aareon QL users could submit their wished-for improvements via a request form. The transformation team then assessed the requests based on the level of impact that the issue and its improvement would have on user experience, customer experience and business value.
Improved customer experience
Hafod needed to easily identify those customers who might be at risk of falling into arrears. By enabling Aareon QL to do all the hard work and automation around debtor reporting, it was able to increase accuracy, enabling it to support its customers sooner and, in some cases, even before the customer found themselves in arrears.
Improved data collection and analytics also meant that the housing provider could offer more help to vulnerable customers. For example, monitoring the use of food parcels was particularly important because it provided insights that showed where other support might be needed.
The team is also now using Aareon QL to capture responses from customers in a ‘question of the month’ initiative in which customer service teams proactively gather customer feedback on a range of service-impacting themes.
Having been started in September 2019, the project was in full flight when the pandemic struck. From then on, many of the priority change requests centred on responding to changing customer needs and higher levels of support enquiries.
Beasley said, “Through our project, we’ve not only focused on enabling our colleagues to work more efficiently, we’ve also created opportunities to deliver greater value to our customers.”
Over the first six months of the project, the ‘simplify’ project saw Hafod free up 951 hours (132 days) that the organisation could then devote to serving its customers. This has created an estimated budget saving of £543 per idea, worth around £11,000 to Hafod in total.
The key success of the project has been a change in attitude within the business, and the organisation’s Aareon QL users are now using the system to its full potential – just through a series of quick and easy changes, the system has been able to hugely improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the whole business. The Hafod IT team is now looking at other ways that its Aareon solutions could strengthen their ability to create value for customers.
Moving forward in partnership
Digital transformation at Hafod is ongoing and is now focusing on process risk and customer experience. For example, Hafod is in the process of implementing Aareon’s Mobile Workforce system. This is already reducing the burden of paperwork for field agents and customer service teams while ensuring that information captured during customer meetings is securely and reliably updated on Hafod’s central systems. In parallel, Aareon’s Self-Service App will allow customers to access all housing services from their smartphones.
Right now, the success of the ‘simplify’ project has meant that the original Aareon QL re-implementation may no longer be necessary, and the ongoing improvements in user experience prove that the power to realise digital transformation depends on an organisation’s attitude to change.
Beasley concluded, “We’ve created a customised version of Aareon QL without any extra support – even non-IT users can implement changes. By defining the way that our colleagues work with the system, we’ve been able to ensure that Aareon QL continues to support the evolving ways in which we want to serve our customers. We are looking forward to maintaining our close relationship with Aareon as our digital partner of choice.”
Paul O’Reilly is the ERP solution manager at Aareon UK.