Despite the wider economic outlook, IT budgets in social housing are on the rise, with an industry-wide commitment to making the best use of innovative technologies – these are the key findings from the Housing Technology 2009 survey.
While the full Housing Technology 2009 report will be published later this month, the survey has closed just a day or two before we go to press so this article highlights some of the key findings from our cross-industry survey.
Departmental budgets for IT and technology over the next 12 months are increasing by an average of 6.7 per cent across the industry, with mid-sized organisations (2500-4999 housing stock) expecting to allocate an extra 16.5 per cent to the IT department. However, smaller housing providers are anticipating modest budget cuts of up to 2.4 per cent.
It should not be a surprise to find that housing management systems, mobile working, CRM and call centres, reporting and KPIs, and intra- and extranet sites are top of housing associations’ lists of either successful 2008 projects or planned for 2009, closely followed by electronic document management and workflow. On the infrastructure side, virtualisation and the integration of disparate systems are key areas, alongside developing the right internal business processes to take advantage of the applications and infrastructure.
Looking at housing management systems in more detail, Orchard, IBS OpenSystems and Civica are leading the market in terms of customer installations. Despite mutterings in the industry, most organisations are above-averagely happy with their HMS, no doubt related (among other factors) to an average HMS replacement cycle of just over 6.5 years.
The technology suppliers and vendors specialising in the social housing sector were praised for their industry knowledge and support services, but were criticised for implementations not matching up to pre-sales expectations, and a lack of flexibility over pricing and costs. Our view is that this latter problem will only get worse as a result of less competition following the recent mergers between large IT suppliers.
Regular readers of Housing Technology will know that we have regularly raised the subject of the difficulty of integrating disparate systems and applications. The results of our survey shows that over 85 per cent of respondents agree. Furthermore, almost 70 per cent agree that technology standards for the social housing sector would make application integration much easier.
Technology projects are generally (65 per cent) delivering their expected savings and service improvements. Almost all such projects have a pre-implementation business case and, almost as importantly, just over half have a post-implementation review against the original business case. Not unexpectedly, use of formal project management methodologies, such as Prince2 and ITIL, increases with the size of the organisation, ranging from less than 10 per cent for the smallest housing associations, up to 76 per cent for the largest housing groups.
Shared technology and IT services are expected to grow, with the focus on 2010/11 rather than the next year. Over three-quarters of housing associations have relinquished part of their IT services, either via outsourcing or a third-party managed service; specific business applications, such as HMS, payroll and finance, are the most popular, followed by support and helpdesk functions.
With the increase in mobile working, it is interesting to note from the survey that PDAs, mobile devices, and wireless devices are considered only slightly less important than laptops and desktop PCs, reflecting the industry-wide need for integration across the entire process chain, or straight-through processing as we termed it a few months ago.
Despite the importance of technology and IT, board- and executive-level responsibility for this area still remains broadly beyond the IT department itself, with over 55 per cent of organisations having no IT-specific representation at either level; the role is typically taken instead by the chief executive, corporate services director or finance director.
Looking at the figures for staffing levels, IT support and housing stock under management, there is a fair degree of consistency across different sizes of organisation. There is an average ratio of 27 full-time staff to each member of IT staff, typically PCs per server and 1.8 residents per property.
The average annual IT and technology budget (including staff) is around £900,000, ranging from just £13,000 per year for the smallest associations to almost £2 million for the largest.
As mentioned earlier, this article merely skims the data collected from the survey. Please order your free copy of the final report, which will be published in mid/late September, by completing the short form at housingtechdev.wpengine.com/report.