Housing Technology interviewed Joanna Sedley-Burke, the managing director of Sovereign Business Integration Group, about the company’s focus on cost reductions and security for its social housing customers and its introduction of new ‘as a service’ options.
What is Sovereign’s involvement and experience in the social housing sector?
Sovereign is an independent technology company providing a broad range of services and solutions for over 15 years to the social housing sector. The services we offer range from management and technical consultancy through to managed IT services and hosting. We are passionate about delivering quality services to the sector and have a policy of employing our consultants from within the sector so that they are steeped in relevant knowledge and experience.
Sovereign is currently focusing on cost reduction and security strategies for housing providers – why these areas in particular?
In terms of cost reductions, government spending cuts and the loss of revenue from rental income has led to the sector identifying ways in which they can significantly reduce their cost base. As a result, we are working closely with many of our housing customers to support them in the more effective deployment of technology. Most organisations have made significant investment in technology but in many cases, they have not leveraged the maximum return on their investment.
It is pretty common for technology to have automated and streamlined back-office processes but engagement with the customer is generally very traditional and is either conducted over the phone or face-to-face. However, many routine transactions, such as paying rent, checking a rent balance, reporting a repair and arranging an appointment, can be automated fairly easily with the right technology. Likewise, field-based officers can be much more effective and efficient if they are provided with the right type of mobile technology. A robust and highly functional tenant portal can support channel shift and will see a massive reduction in costs per transaction and will lead to greater efficiency.
We are therefore helping several of our customers to identify how they could make better use of their existing business applications and whether in fact they should consider the implementation of complementary applications or the reconfiguration of existing systems. Our consultancy team has developed a digital toolkit to support our customers on their digital journey by providing a framework in which they can evaluate and measure the effectiveness of their digital initiatives.
Each customer’s requirements are different, but examples of the work we have been involved in has ranged from supporting the procurement and implementation of CRM, mobile working solutions and digital portals through to large-scale transformational programmes which have significantly changed the operating model and led to large-scale efficiency savings.
For example, we have recently been working with Tower Hamlets Community Housing on implementing new systems, particularly for purchase-order processing and document management. At the beginning of the project, a number of financial objectives were set out for cost savings and all of these were achieved and more. In addition all staff received security awareness training which has substantially reduced the risk to the business from cyber security breaches.
In terms of security, as well as our ‘as a service’ offerings (see below), we have developed a ten-point plan to improve an organisation’s approach to cyber security and have carried out this review with a number of customers over the past six months. The outputs have proven invaluable in not only identifying risks to the business, but also in helping to prioritise spending plans for IT projects over the coming years.
How important are shared IT services for the housing sector?
Shared services have been discussed for as long as Sovereign has worked in housing but we have seen a shift in the desire to commit to actually using the various offerings available.
In our experience, the benefits of shared services include moving to opex from capex to reduce the pressure on budgets, risk reductions, less need (and therefore associated costs) for very technical skills in-house, true economies of scale giving access to enterprise functionality, and responsibility for maintaining the technology moving to the shared-services supplier.
Sovereign is now offering a number of shared services to the housing sector. These include back-up as a service for greater efficiencies, DR as a service for faster recovery times, a next-generation firewall for ‘zero day’ protection, and infrastructure as a service to provide flexibility without the need for substantial capital investment.
What should housing providers be thinking about in terms of future IT and business developments?
One of the most important things to hit the sector will be the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) which come into force in 2018. Housing providers will need to evaluate the personal data they retain and fully understand the flow and ownership of this data throughout the organisation. GDPR focuses on understanding risk and therefore regular risk assessments will be needed in order to understand the degree of threat posed when processing data and recognise the impact of any loss, misuse, theft or any other compromises of customer data.
Joanna Sedley-Burke is managing director of Sovereign Business Integration Group.