From Tony Smith, an independent housing IT consultant at Acutance Consulting.
This is a slightly abridged version of a posting written by Tony Smith, an independent housing IT consultant at Acutance Consulting, on his ‘Tony Smith: That Housing IT Guy’ blog (details below) following last month’s Housing Technology 2014 conference.
It didn’t have a runway, but the Q Hotels’ Belfry hotel just outside Oxford was the ideal place to learn to fly. If you are involved with social housing that is. I was pleased to get down to the fifth Housing Technology 2014 conference at the end of February, put together by George Grant and Alastair Tweedie from this magazine.
As usual, the venue was a great choice (if a little bit of a labyrinth). Even my housing friends and customers from the South East found getting there an easier job than getting into central London. Maybe the NHF should (at last) take note and consider locating out of the capital and Olympia, for its annual November IT Manager events. All credit to Housing Technology, keep up the good work! They even fed the suppliers, something that does not always happen in the autumn in West London.
Many thanks too, to everyone who stopped me for a chat; it was great to hear how projects are going and some of the frustrations out there. Integration (or lack of it), the inflexibility of applications or suppliers, the limitations of project teams and staff, procurement hassles and some shrinking IT budgets, were the most common issues that housing IT people chatted with me about. As usual, feel free to contact me (details below) to bounce any idea off me.
It was good to see such a variety of presentations, although welfare reform was a recurrent theme. George Clarke, C4’s ‘Restoration Man’, was an inspired choice for opener. We certainly need more positive and refreshing voices like his. It also brought back some of my caravan nightmares from my youth. I still haven’t been back to Lowestoft to this day (honest!). So much to mention, I will try to focus on what I found most interesting and innovative.
Richard Scholes of The Hyde Group had some interesting points to make; one about the outcome of his competitive dialogue for a comms project struck a chord with me. Just getting down to a single supplier can have its benefits. Hyde managed to shave nearly a third from its previous costs. Maybe time spent on CD can always deliver some kind of payback. His internal staff assessment using a panel was also a clear and fair way of improving the quality of his ICT team. I was nodding and smiling too with his approach of embedding his ICT staff with users and business teams. The perfect way for everyone to interact and understand everyone’s pressures.
Jonathan Creaser of RHP gave a great overview with Tracey Elliott of their progress in supporting multi-channel ‘nudging’. Everywhere I go to do consultancy these days, they want to channel shift as well. RHP seem to really be on top of the game here, even being brave enough to persuade the ‘silver surfers’ to get online. Full marks to Tracey for answering my questions regarding that truthfully; digital exclusion is not something to be glossed over and, moreover, is an area we need to help and nudge our communities.
One of the most interesting sessions came from Accent Group and The Housing Contact Company on ‘How & why is customer satisfaction important in 2014’. In that presentation John Doyle of Housing Contact drew on his experience of gathering customer feedback across a number of industries to question the relevance of speaking to your customers in 2014. Through his unlikely comparison of social housing and the UK automotive retail market, he made the point that measuring customer satisfaction, whatever your sector, has probably never been as important a process for organisational improvement.
He noted that although most organisations understand how they go about measuring satisfaction, very few of them really understand why they do it. It had echoes of John Seddon and his ‘Vanguard’ method; understand how to measure the outcome, don’t just blindly play to the KPIs in use.
John’s philosophy is to try and speak to everyone to whom you have delivered a service as soon as possible after the event and then to use your dissatisfied customers to tell you what is wrong with your operations. This fairly radical approach was given weight by the testimonial provided by Andrew Kidds of the Accent Group, who has used the service for over two years and seen real satisfaction levels improve – i.e. based on around 33 per cent of customer responses taken on the same day or day after as opposed to less than 10 per cent response rates taken weeks later.
At the same time, the level of complaints have dropped significantly and last year alone Accent were able to identify and resolve dissatisfaction issues with over 1,500 of their tenants. This all ploughs back into an improved customer journey and overall lower numbers of wasted and avoidable calls.
The examples I have selected from just a few of the presentations show the quality of what we had here. Take some of these lessons and stories, learn to make your organisation fly. Fewer suppliers banging on about how brilliant their solutions are and more practical experiences from RSLs. Let’s have more of these, Housing Technology – keep them coming!