Following the merger last year of AmicusHorizon and Viridian Housing to form Optivo, Housing Technology interviewed Jeanette Alfano, director of technology, and Jane Porter, chief operating officer, about Optivo’s IT plans.
How does the merger affect your IT infrastructure?
Jeanette Alfano: It dramatically affects it. Two separate infrastructures, one infrastructure sitting on-premise in a datacentre and one sitting in the cloud so there were important decisions to be made on how to move forward, and what was best for the future of Optivo.
Jane Porter: Those decisions were made early in the process and that enabled us to get started, which is why we’re quite a long way down the roll-out of CRM and moving to a single housing management system. We really wanted to think about customer service and the customer journey; keeping our eyes on the end goal has made it easier to make decisions, thus enabling us to get to where we want to be faster.
How did you decide which technologies to keep, discard or mothball?
Alfano: Deciding about the applications was the easiest part. We looked at which were in use at both sites, which ones were approaching the end of life, were out of support, had high maintenance costs, the relative skill base in the organisation around the individual applications and what the roadmap looked like for those applications still in support to see whether it all fitted with our business future.
The infrastructure was slightly more difficult because there was a big push for cloud-based services. But two years ago at AmicusHorizon we did some work looking at the cost of cloud computing and found that our legacy applications would have struggled in the cloud so we would still have had to have an on-premise presence. We decided that it would therefore be best for Optivo if we brought it all on-premise.
Why did the merger take place between AmicusHorizon and Viridian?
Porter: We merged because we both had similar kinds of cultures and passion for delivering brilliant customer service, but it also generated huge capacity for us to build more homes.
What have been the IT changes so far?
Alfano: We started to move to an on-premise solution for all of our servers and our target was to have everyone in Optivo using a single desktop by August 2017, which we achieved. The real driver for this was that we wanted CRM across the whole business to help the organisation come together. Our approach has been unique in that we have done all that without merging the two housing management systems; we’ve used our Microsoft Dynamics platform and our integration layer to service both our customer portal and our mobile applications. We further developed the integration layer and we now have Dynamics sitting on the top of Universal Housing and Orchard Housing.
What does Optivo’s technology look like now?
Alfano: At the moment, it’s a bit of a jumble but we’re beginning to pull it all together. We’ve some ambitious targets, and CRM on a single desktop was our first one. At the moment, we are making sure that all of our applications reside on the on-premise infrastructure. There are still a couple in the cloud, but that is the best place for them. By March 2018, we will have a single Orchard housing management system and a single financial platform for the business.
From an IT perspective, what have been the advantages and disadvantages of the merger?
Alfano: In terms of technology, when we put the business case together for the merger, the opportunity to achieve significant savings across the organisation due to bringing the two infrastructures together was recognised. In terms of advantages, we expect to see savings in the cost of the infrastructure and also the applications in the longer term because, although as a big organisation we are paying more licence costs for our housing management system, the benefits of having everyone on a single system that provides them with all of the information they need at their fingertips will mean their productivity goes up. The technology is absolutely enabling the merger.
Porter: It’s a better user experience overall and we are delivering consistency across the business; it’s important that everybody is on the same system. By using the applications that we’ve developed and the processes that we have, it means everything is consistent at the front end which helps us collect and maintain good data. So the user experience is really good and residents see the benefits as everybody across the business has the information they need to do the job well and deliver a great service.
What role will IT have in your plans to build the 1500 new homes every year?
Porter: We already have capacity to build those, it’s about how we build more and how we deliver efficiency, and IT is a big part of that because it helps us improve productivity, streamline processes and deliver services right first time. And technology, whether that’s CRM, the apps, our digital platforms or our iPads out in the field, helps us deliver that service. Our customer satisfaction is extraordinarily high and that’s because we have what we need to deliver the service.
How is the relationship between business and IT?
Porter: It’s fantastic. One of the things that helped us get to where we are is that we had a technology steering group and the new business has something similar, that’s not chaired by technology but by somebody in the business. That makes a big difference because it makes sure that technology is integral in the business.
Housing Technology would like to thank Optivo’s Jeanette Alfano (director of technology) and Jane Porter (chief operating officer) for taking part in this interview.