Performance management software (PMS) has been rising up the agenda for most housing organisations for the past few years, particularly as regulators are now taking a closer interest in how housing organisations measure, monitor and report their corporate performance across an ever-wider set of criteria. So, why do housing organisations need PMS, what are the short- and long-term benefits, how should they use it, and how can PMS help both their corporate performance and their regulatory behaviour? Housing Technology asked a selection of software suppliers and housing associations for their views…
Why performance matters
The simple reason for implementing PMS is that the complexity of the measurement and reporting necessary for both internal business planning and external regulatory oversight is now beyond the realistic scope of non-dedicated applications, such as Excel, generic business reporting applications or housing management systems.
Talking about her decision to implement a PMS, Janet Daniels, assistant director of corporate services at Knowsley Housing Trust, which uses Covalent’s PMS, said, “The main reason was to rationalise performance management systems prior to an inspection in January 2007. Managers found it difficult to know what they needed to concentrate on as action plans and PIs were in many places – as well as paper-based systems, we also had three different systems for performance, risks and action plans.”
Joanne Gardner, performance management officer for Oxford City Homes, which uses Rocket Software’s CorVu system, added, “We installed our PMS in 2006 to provide a robust system with a single reference source for data with capabilities to drive the reporting and reviewing processes which support service improvement.”
Looking at a more widespread implementation covering most of Wales rather than a single organisation, Jason Cooper, responsible for local government strategy and performance at the Welsh Assembly Government, which uses SunGard’s Aspireview, added, “Welsh local authorities wanted a system to support the collaborative approach to service improvement that is being pursued by the Welsh Assembly Government. The resulting system was implemented at 22 local authorities in Wales, the three national park authorities, the three fire and rescue services and the Welsh Assembly Government.”
Who needs PMS?
Given that almost all housing associations and RSLs have similar strategic goals, such as improving customer service or reducing voids, and they are all inspected and regulated in much the same way, PMS is applicable to all housing providers, with the possible exception of the very smallest organisations managing less than 100 properties.
The variations between housing providers’ requirements for PMS is more commonly at a cultural level or to do with future growth plans. Andy Steeds, CorVu business development manager for Rocket Software, explained, “A bigger difference in requirements, from an implementation point of view, is governed by the level of performance culture that already exists within an organisation, but interestingly this is rarely related to an organisation’s size.”
Richard Stoneman, marketing manager for Covalent Software, added, “While larger housing providers will be dealing with greater complexity, with an increase in the number of performance indicators, action plans and complaints, a strong performance culture is as applicable to a small provider as it is to a large group with 20,000 properties.”
Market consolidation, stock transfers and mergers mean that progressive and proactive housing providers need to consider both their present requirements for PMS, but also how the system and their processes will cope with significant increases in properties, tenants and staff. Ray Fielding, CEO of SunGard Public Sector Aspiren, said, “As consolidation in the market continues, more large organisations with disparate and complex structures are forming, creating an increased burden on their performance management teams to report and manage both regulatory, operational and strategic PIs. With size comes more staff, tenants, partners, contractors, locations, projects and regulatory PIs.”
The spreadsheet alternative?
The commonly-used alternative to a dedicated PMS is the Excel spreadsheet and, occasionally, Microsoft Project. While Excel is possibly a viable alternative for the very smallest housing organisations due to familiarity, little extra cost and their relatively simple requirements, all of our contributors agreed that Excel isn’t feasible for any larger organisation.
Spreadsheets are difficult to manage, require more manual administration (and are consequently prone to error), and version control is hard to enforce. Furthermore, spreadsheets are simply not designed to support the workflow necessary for performance management and, with the inevitable multiplicity of different spreadsheet files, it is almost impossible to get a coherent view of performance across the organisation as data needs to be constantly imported and exported between multiple spreadsheets.
The over-riding, immediate benefit of PMS is having all performance measurements in one place and to make reporting much easier. Nicky Hawkins, operations director for Clearview Systems, said, “The short-term benefits include greatly increased visibility and availability of performance information, in one coordinated and linked system. The associated increase in self-awareness enables the management to focus on the areas requiring immediate attention.”
Jacquie Yaxley, business applications manager for Freebridge Community Housing, added, “The immediate benefit was to show all our KPIs in one place, accessible to all staff in all areas of the business. We decided not to make a ‘cottage industry’ out of performance management, rather to integrate it within the day to day management of the business.”
Consequently, once performance data is managed within a single system and managed in a consistent way across the organisation, managers are then able to gain an holistic view. Keith Tallintire, director of finance & corporate services for Derwentside Homes, which uses various modules of Clearview’s PMS, explained, “One of the immediate benefits was an increased awareness of the organisation’s goals and objectives. At the end of 2008 we ran an employee survey and were delighted to find that 91 per cent of employees were aware of and understood the goals and objectives of the organisation.”
Steve Finegan, head of business improvement for Northwards Housing, “With the Covalent system, we can coordinate what is happening across the company better and the simple traffic light system provides a quick visual indication of our performance. We use the reporting tools within the system to produce a high-level corporate scorecard which is presented at our management meetings.”
Andy Steeds from Rocket Software added, “Housing organisations usually have two priorities. First, the need to consolidate and gain better visibility of performance information from a number of disparate data sources. Second, they want to manage all of their action plans and service improvement programs and align them with their corporate plan, Audit Commission KLOEs and other continuous improvement frameworks.”
Following the immediate gains made from the implementation of a PMS, housing organisation should be looking at what they want it to deliver in the future. Two key areas are service improvements and staff productivity.
Keith Tallintire from Derwentside Homes said, “The ‘golden thread’ linking corporate objectives to day-to-day activities provides a management tool in areas which are key to the delivery of service improvements. The long-term benefit is obviously to embed a performance culture within the organisation with efficiency improvements measured against set targets and previous-year performance.”
Productivity is also often improved when teams have a common view of the goals. Andy Steeds said, “A lot of users have commented on how our system leads to more ‘joined up’ working between teams, as resources are shared to achieve common targets, thus reducing the silo mentality.”
The quantitative nature of PMS can add extra clarity to decisions. As Nick Fraser, strategic account director in Civica’s housing and asset management division, explained, “In the longer term, a PMS takes the emotion or operational bias out of reporting by providing an objective measurement that cannot be swayed by less tangible elements.”
Working practice and cultural changes
As with any new business technology, the key to the successful adoption of PMS is to explain the benefits of the new system, and explain how it will help individual members of staff, departmental teams, the organisation and ultimately tenants themselves. Nicky Hawkins from Clearview Systems said, “The key to a successful implementation is to ensure all staff understand the benefits of PMS for themselves, and their customers, as well as the benefits to the organisation.”
Ray Fielding from SunGard Public Sector Aspiren added, “All individuals in the organisation need to become aware of how their performance influences the strategic direction of a business, and how the information they supply, by carrying out their daily duties, can be summarised to drive a cycle of continuous improvement and operational efficiency.”
While some of the strategic benefits of PMS may be slightly intangible to members of staff, they are quick to appreciate things that make their jobs easier. Jacquie Yaxley from Freebridge Community Housing said, “One of the major changes to our working practices is that individuals no longer need to keep and update a plethora of spreadsheets, often showing the same KPI in a different format with differing outcomes. All information is now in one central repository and is mostly fed from our housing management system.”
Performance management is a constantly-moving target, so that it is important to configure the PMS around an organisation’s business plan, willingness to change and resource availability, rather than the existing status quo. Andy Steeds from Rocket Software said, “A good PMS will introduce a performance culture almost without being noticed. The mistake many organisations make is to radically redefine their processes to fit an ‘out of the box’ performance framework, that may have been relevant for the past couple of years but could be about to change.”
Organisations should also bear in mind the consequences of the PMS making under-performing areas or departments much more visible. Richard Stoneman from Covalent Software explained, “The major cultural changes revolve around how decisions are made once key performance data is readily available. A good PMS will make the lines of accountability very clear and therefore put a spotlight on underperforming areas. Consequently, the roles of different meetings may need to change to make them more about making decisions and reviewing progress, rather than simply an exchange of information.”
However, some organisations already have a well-established performance management culture before the PMS implementation so it simply accelerates and improves what they are already doing. As Janet Daniels from Knowsley Housing Trust explained, “I don’t think it has [changed the culture] as we are quite a performance-driven organisation anyway; PMS just makes it easier and everybody has higher visibility of where we are.”
The HCA and TSA are both demanding greater oversight in housing organisations’ activities and performance, and while a PMS can’t make up for under-performance, it does make it easier to prepare for inspections and to deliver the necessary information to the regulators.
Janet Daniels said, “Our PMS has been a massive help, particularly for the post-inspection period as we could store both the inspection plan and the evidence documents in one place and check and report against them; we were complimented by the inspectors on our organisation of the material. Now we are also using the system for our KLOE self assessment.”
Regulations are also expected to change so the PMS needs to be flexible enough to accommodate those changes. Nick Fraser from Civica said, “The HCA and TSA both have stringent regulatory requirements that all housing organisations need to adhere to. A PMS can be programmed to measure specific KPIs directly linked to regulatory requirements so that housing organisations are monitoring the correct performance indicators. The system can also be easily updated as regulations chance, to ensure that a housing organisation keeps up to date with requirements.”
The regulators also seem to appreciate the role of PMS before, during and after inspection. Steve Finegan from Northwards Housing explained, “We achieved the highest possible inspection rating in 2008. We were able to show the inspection team how we use the Covalent system and they were interested to hear how it is helping us to improve; in their report they stated that our performance management was strong.”
The value of PMS comes when it is pervasive across the organisation and is not treated as a standalone application to be only used by the performance managers. Jim Hayton, executive director of housing and technical resources for South Lanarkshire Council, said, “At the moment we have rolled out access to the CorVu system to senior managers. From July 2009, all housing staff in housing and technical resources (around 800 people) will have access to the system as part of the council’s new allocations policy.”
Keith Tallintire from Derwentside Homes added, “The system has been cascaded down to all levels, with front-line staff accessing and updating progress against specific tasks within a project. In this way the ‘golden thread principle’ is embedded at all levels.”
PMS helps everyone in the organisation understand the importance of performance management, and the role they play in helping the organisation achieve its performance goals. Jacquie Yaxley from Freebridge Community Housing said, “Operational staff no longer have to spend vast amounts of time manipulating data and reports. They can now log straight into the PMS and see performance in all areas of the business.”
Staff also need to spend less time inputting and manipulating data, resulting in improved morale and greater data accuracy. As Joanne Gardner from Oxford City Homes said, “It has improved data quality and reduced workloads as the systems can link data.”
As analysts Butler Group stated in a recent report, “At the highest level, corporate performance management software delivers a series of metrics which allow the organisation to achieve an accurate and balanced view of performance. Managers have to strike a balance between becoming more customer-centric and motivating staff in a positive way to re-energise corporate performance.”
It is clear that most housing organisation need some form of dedicated PMS; spreadsheets are no longer an option. PMS should make most housing organisations more productive while reducing administrative overheads, more able to manage their regulatory responsibilities, and deliver better services to tenants.