Greensquare’s group head of ICT, Rob Fletcher, reports on how a group of housing IT professionals met in London at the beginning of April with TSG at their London offices to discuss the integration of Microsoft Office 365 SharePoint Online with housing management systems.
The session was attended by representatives from GreenSquare Housing, Sentinel Housing, First Wessex, TSG, Knightstone Housing, Boston Mayflower and Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust. Sentinel and TSG presented an impressive piece of work that they have recently completed to integrate SharePoint Online with Capita OpenHousing. This included a demonstration and a review of the systems integration architecture and the methods used to achieve that.
Most housing providers currently use legacy document management systems and are increasingly looking at SharePoint Online as part of their migration to Office 365. The overall rationale is “why pay for two document management systems when you already have a top of the range EDRMS solution built in to your Office 365 subscription”. The savings from this de-duplication are considerable.
SharePoint has come of age and is provided as software as a service. It includes rich records management, archiving and disposal capabilities along with open APIs and the ability to process and manage either physical or electronic documents. A predefined and flexible metadata management strategy is key to a successful document management strategy and this was acknowledged during the meeting. As Sentinel’s IT applications manager, Shaun Dickman, said, “It’s all about the metadata”. He is an expert in the field of document management and systems integration and led the TSG, Open Housing and SharePoint integration project on behalf of Sentinel along with Anil Majevadia, Sentinel’s ICT director.
The concept of the SharePoint integration project is to offer deep and broad document management integration with a range of housing management systems. Tony Hughes, TSG’s SharePoint senior specialist, was keen to point out that the same integration methods and principles are equally transferable across any housing management system as long as it can deposit both the document and document metadata into a SharePoint ‘drop-off’ library; Microsoft’s open and accessible APIs make this a simple process. TSG then manages the onward processing of the document once it has been dropped-off. The integration includes full integration with the housing system plus a secure e-docs capability surfaced within the customer self-service portal. The e-docs facility allows customers to access their documents and also submit their own in-bound letters and documents directly from within the portal or app.
This change of direction has been coming within the sector as organisations become increasingly interested in adopting the convenience of a fully-integrated and feature-rich Microsoft platform. Furthermore organisations are attracted by the savings from centralising around a single document management platform that is receiving monthly software updates and on-going feature enhancements including mobile working and integration with CRM strategies.
Finally, the GDPR deadline of May 2018 is looming and now’s the time to get all that paper and digital content sorted out and provisioned within a system that offers strong records management, archiving and disposal automation.
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Rob Fletcher is group head of ICT at GreenSquare Group.