When you hear the term ‘hybrid’, you probably don’t associate it with customer communications, but it could be key to your digital transformation success with communications in 2021.
Delivering the best possible customer experience and going 100 per cent digital is the holy grail for many housing providers, but it can often feel like an impossible task.
Switching legacy software for new technologies is often the first hurdle. Where do you find the time, skills and people to support your plans? And how do you gain your board’s confidence that your sizeable investment will actually deliver value? Then there are your tenants – are they ready to be 100 per cent digital?
Not just ‘digital first’
The pandemic resulted in a rapid shift to online communications but it also created a greater digital divide. For ‘digital natives’, their customer experience was more positive, but less technically-minded tenants received fewer communications as housing providers’ communications teams struggled to access their usual systems and equipment to send post while working from home.
What has become evident is that a multi-channel approach to communications is vital. Yes, it’s important to think ‘digital first’, but not ‘digital only’; flexible technologies and services that automate physical document production as well as digital outputs are key.
And there’s definitely a need for user-friendly, cloud-based systems that teams can use for service delivery wherever they need to work.
Time for low-code and SaaS options?
With pressure mounting to achieve digital transformation, many housing providers are now considering a hybrid model for their digital aims. It’s about mixing legacy business applications and data with modern low-code or software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. It uses in-house resources with external open-source or third-party SaaS technology to automate communications via multiple channels.
This isn’t a new idea and has been a quick fix in the past to alleviate some IT pressures, but with clear objectives and the right technology partners, it can be a flexible, scalable and cost-effective way to keep pace with new technologies and tenant expectations.
The value of a hybrid approach
Being able to build or bolt on services to deliver multi-channel communications is a low-risk approach that has many advantages.
On the one hand, tenants quickly get the seamless experience they need, combining online services with physical post, as per their individual preferences. And on the other hand, using APIs to connect data from legacy business applications with SaaS technology is transformational and is less disruptive than replacing software while still being able to flex and scale as needed.
St Mungo’s is an example of a housing provider taking this hybrid approach, having made the switch to Datagraphic’s Aceni Hybrid Mail SaaS option. It now transfers data from its legacy applications direct to a secure cloud-based communications platform which automatically prints and mails documents to tenants, all without any coding or capital expenditure from St Mungo’s.
Cutting homelessness at St Mungo’s
Dydy Sodeinde, head of rental income services, St Mungo’s, said, “Aceni Hybrid Mail was a no-brainer for us. You can print and post a statement for around two-thirds of a stamp price. Datagraphic does all the printing, envelope stuffing and postage in that price, so it’s worth using Aceni for that reason alone, plus you get a great reaction from colleagues when you tell them that they no longer need to stuff envelopes!
“Busy people have many distractions, and it was often hard to find out if they had sent statements out. You need accountability with documents that must arrive by a certain date, and Aceni’s reporting screen gives me the reassurance of an audit trail of production and posted-out dates.
“Buying enough stamps was another problem for us. At statement time, we had to ask our office services team in advance to buy stamps in bulk, but we no longer need to think about that – Aceni is ‘pay-as-you-use’, so we just upload and send mail when we need to and pay for what goes out.
“During the pandemic, we’ve been able to adapt quickly. We can now build different mailing packs on screen which Datagraphic then assembles and posts without any further involvement from us. It’s very easy to use, especially when you need to work from home.”
A win-win with very measurable results
Overall, taking a hybrid approach to digital transformation is about setting clear goals and looking at your workflows to see which areas can gain the most from digitisation. You can then match your needs with proven cloud-based technology (digitalmarketplace.service.gov.uk is a good place to find accredited suppliers) to deliver scalable and agile projects.
I work with many housing customers on digital transformation and it’s rewarding to see the success they achieve when rolling out hybrid solutions. When you get the balance right of strategic thinking and agile technology, it’s a win-win.
Paul Francis is a document automation specialist at Datagraphic.