Housing Technology interviewed Sanctuary Group’s director of technology, Kevin Heslop, about the organisation’s massive change programme and the introduction of the SAP-based OneSanctuary system to standardise business processes across the group.
What were the drivers behind Sanctuary’s programme for change?
Sanctuary is a large and complex organisation. We have £5 billion of assets and a turnover of £669 million. We’ve grown generically and through mergers and acquisitions over the past 25 years and we’re ambitious to grow further. In order to do that, we needed technology that would work at scale and would be a driver to standardise processes across the group.
At first, we were considering a finance system, but it quickly became obvious that the biggest advantage would be if we also looked at our operations and front-line customer service. Enabling our workforce to be genuinely mobile was also a key driver for change.
Our SAP programme, OneSanctuary, enables us to standardise and consolidate business processes thereby streamlining and improving the way that we work in order to ensure excellent customer service and increased operational efficiency.
Can you describe the size and infrastructural complexity of the Group, and its impact on the programme?
Sanctuary manages around 100,000 homes across England and Scotland, and has over 11,000 employees. Our business streams range from general needs social housing to student accommodation, telecare, care homes and supported housing schemes. These business streams are separated into four operating divisions: housing, care, development and commercial, with a small staff working in central services. While these divisions operate separately, we recognise that there are shared processes where a standardised approach enables greater operational efficiency.
Our large development programme to build 30,000 homes by 2026 also requires us to work, quickly at scale, using reliable, well-organised data.
From an IT perspective, we support the group with systems which are mostly hosted in-house in our datacentre, based at our Worcester campus. We provision access to systems using Citrix. We have over 5,000 network users who use a combination of Microsoft, SAP and other technologies and do so through a combination of Wyse terminals, laptops, tablets and smart phones. It was essential to the success of the OneSanctuary programme that we understood its impact on how and where the system would be used as well as what its features were to be.
How did you go about designing OneSanctuary, including working with Sanctuary’s various business units?
The team involved in the implementation of OneSanctuary put a strong emphasis on the design phase of the project to ensure as much of the platform was as simple as possible. Prior to the roll-out of the system, the design element took a third of the project’s time; that might seem like an indulgent use of time but it was essential to the programme’s success.
We were involved in design workshops with all business areas represented in order to assess how SAP might be used for each. The opening question in each workshop was ‘why wouldn’t we use standard SAP here?’ and so, taking each business area into account, we had to look at ways we could standardise our processes using SAP, rather than using different operating models for different parts of the business.
For some areas there were differences, which are where we’ve done some enhancements, but predominantly it’s standard out-of-the-box SAP.
We were very well supported by our operations. We seconded many people from their day jobs onto OneSanctuary in order to get a team of business process owners, data owners, change managers and testers to ensure that the programme was business led, while the IT teams made sure aspects such as the infrastructure, non-functional requirements and technical deliverables were delivered. The combination of IT staff, secondees from the operations and part-time assistance from others (planning for training, communication, user acceptance, design, etc) resulted in over 200 members of staff from Sanctuary working on OneSanctuary at one time or another.
Why did you choose SAP instead of, say, software from the usual housing-specific IT suppliers?
We considered all options open to us and the usual housing IT suppliers as well as other big players such as Microsoft and Oracle. We wanted our enterprise platform to go beyond the usual housing systems out there. We wanted to achieve common processes across multiple business areas rather than business processes defined by best-of-breed systems used for each operation. We needed a platform that could cope with the diversity of its business needs and we believed that SAP fitted these requirements.
At the end of the systems assessment, it was clear that many systems could cope with the core requirements but when you considered staff mobility, customer self-service and management of our master data, it was SAP which provided the all-round best fit.
Can you describe the implementation and what’s been delivered so far?
Following the launch of the programme in 2013, Sanctuary took a phased approach implementing new releases over two years. Finance, procurement, HR, service charges, learning and development, and housing and assets are already live, with more releases to follow shortly. There are now 5,000 networked staff using OneSanctuary every day and we use our own support teams for any trouble-shooting.
We ran the programme through many releases from 2015 to the present, and for each release we went through a number of stages, such as planning, design, building and testing the system, implementation (cutover, communications, training) and post-implementation support. A key decision was that we held a single consolidated design stage which we felt important so that we could prove that ‘end to end’ processing was fully and properly considered. Following this, we deployed the systems with different releases for each business area.
What is the current status of OneSanctuary?
The plan is to launch OneSanctuary within the maintenance arm of the organisation before the end of January 2017. Most importantly, now that OneSanctuary is up and running, we’re really keen to share what we’ve learned throughout the process with other technology and housing professionals, as well as learn more from those also using SAP.
What have been the qualitative and quantitative benefits of OneSanctuary?
The benefits we are seeing fall into three areas – costs, removing barriers to growth and customer service.
There are cost savings over a period of time. Our benefits case has an eight-year return on investment, which includes more efficient and more effective ways of working.
We’ve removed the barrier to growth that technology could have been for us. We had to create a new platform to enable our ambition to grow further and we’ve done that.
From a customer point of view, we are continually analysing the outcomes, in order to achieve shorter, more effective calls that record more information, with clearer follow up actions.
Further benefits include the creation of a corporate shared service centre, which is very much enabled by SAP and common processing and a new tiered operating model for our housing business, enabled by SAP contact and case management features.
What have you learned from the programme’s planning, delivery and adoption?
We recognised early on that going live with every element at one time would compromise the success of the programme and potentially our customer service. We decided to break the programme down into manageable parts and go live over a two-year period. That, along with effective communications owned by the operations, rather than the IT directorate, has been the key learning point. Making sure that the programme was business-led and not seen simply as an IT project was a constant priority and helped the idea of keeping adoption and buy-in to the system as positive as possible.
What are Sanctuary’s next SAP-based plans?
The plan is to launch OneSanctuary for maintenance during January 2017 and then we will go into a period of optimisation, improving the system to ensure we’re getting maximum use from it.
This involves looking at areas for improvement, business cases for a greater number of uses for SAP in Sanctuary, moving onto challenges such as making SAP more mobile for front-line workers and being aware of the SAP roadmap and the new technologies available to us.
Most importantly, now that OneSanctuary is up and running, we’re really keen to share what we’ve learned throughout the process with other technology and housing professionals, as well as learn more from others.
Kevin Heslop is director of technology at Sanctuary Group. He will talking about OneSanctuary during the Housing Technology 2017 conference in March (see website for details).