Housing Technology interviewed Integrator Housing Solutions’ managing director, Vic Harrison, about the company’s 30-year pedigree of providing housing asset management software and his views on the future of IT in social housing.
What is the background to Integrator Housing Solutions?
Integrator’s asset management software originated from a request by Orbit Housing to develop a system to bring together several different spreadsheets, including stock condition and SAP, into one manageable reporting system in 2001. During the next five years, 28 other housing providers found our flexible and friendly approach of merit and they are still working with us today.
The key to the success of Integrator was the ability for each housing provider’s staff to talk direct with Alan Horton, our senior developer, about their specific requirements, which gave them the flexibility to buy a system that was bespoke to their requirements. In turn, this benefitted the rest of our customers, through constant enhancements to the Integrator system.
Integrator’s senior management team
My interest in starting a company to develop asset management software came from a 20-year background in building management, working for companies such as Bovis Construction, Bovis Homes, Huntingate Homes and then with Greenwood Homes in the energy capital of Milton Keynes where the SAP and the present-day EPC were developed by the BRE from the NHER and MKECI, (Milton Keynes Energy Cost Index). I qualified in 1990 as one of the first energy assessors with the National Energy Foundation and a BREEAM accredited assessor, using the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method for several housing providers.
I then spent the next 10 years gaining valuable experience with National Energy Services demonstrating the value of energy-efficient housing to builders, local authorities and housing providers throughout the UK. I set up ecmk in 2001; this included the Integrator software together with a government-approved accreditation scheme for SAP and EPCs.
Our senior developer, Alan Horton, was closely involved in many of the pioneering low energy housing field trials in Milton Keynes during the 70s, 80s and 90s, working with the Open University, Milton Keynes Development Corporation, the National Energy Foundation and National Energy Services. Much of this work contributed to the development of the energy-labelling software that underpins EPCs in widespread use today. Much of this work involved database development, and he began work with me in 2000 to develop the Integrator asset management system. Alan is still very active today and is always very keen to hear from customers about enhancements to Integrator that they would like to see.
Mike Hartney, our technical development manager, has been involved in energy efficiency and housing for the best part of a decade, focusing particularly on assessment methodologies and software. Several years of participation in the Department for Communities and Local Government’s RdSAP Conventions group resulted in his involvement with many changes to the national energy efficiency methodologies. In previous organisations he has focused on business analysis and software management and has led various large-scale software development projects in the energy efficiency and social housing sectors.
What is Integrator’s proposition to housing providers?
Our unique proposition is that Integrator is developed for housing providers by housing associations. All features of the system have been developed with full cooperation from housing professionals to follow their working practices.
Furthermore, Integrator has always included the ability to calculate a full SAP for all of a housing provider’s housing stock. However, with the changes over the past year or so, we now have included a facility to download pre-lodged EPCs direct from the approved companies such as Elmhurst, ecmk, Quidos and Stroma directly into Integrator.
What are your views on the future of IT in social housing?
In recent years, there have been broad technological shifts which have influenced how social housing organisations work and interact internally.
With an increased emphasis on legislation, process and departmental division, separate areas of the business often require access to the same information and cannot rely on individual, isolated solutions pertaining to the very specific scope of a particular domain. There has been a marked increase across the sector in the employment of organisational middleware products, designed to aggregate and unify data across several discrete platforms. This is not, of course, limited to the social housing sector, but it is especially relevant to its nature – with the efficient handling of so many distinct elements functioning as minimum requirements from the get-go (such as accounting, maintenance, legislation, tenancy and more).
Moving forward, we will see this emphasis on data availability and system interoperability moving ever more to the forefront. Users across the business need access to various data and systems need to interact with each other.
As technology has rapidly progressed towards web and cloud functionality, there is a growing expectation of “all of my data, now, anywhere”. When a business can draw the emphasis away from managing their own ICT infrastructure and focus on their primary functions, more can be achieved at lower cost.
With the above in mind, we can build a loose picture of the future for social housing organisations:
- Any staff member can be given easy access to any data;
- Any system can be configured to share data with other systems;
- Systems are ‘light’ for client organisations, with the primary weight of infrastructure lying with the supplier;
- Systems are ‘environment agnostic’, removing the limitations created by past infrastructure choices;
- Systems are flexible in usage to accommodate modern working practices.
It is the aim of Integrator Housing Solutions to help deliver this future to our customers, from new interoperability features in the existing Integrator system, to the entirely web-based Integrator project now in development.
Vic Harrison is managing director of Integrator Housing Solutions.