Housing Technology interviewed IT experts from 1st Touch, Civica Housing, Kykloud and Zonr on the latest asset management software and associated strategies for housing providers.
Most housing providers tend to have a separate asset management system to monitor and manage their property and associated asset portfolios, even if in many instances it only consists of a number of Excel spreadsheets.
Kykloud’s chief commercial officer, Simon Checkley, said, “Historically, there were two choices; opt for an all-encompassing system which was great in some areas but weaker in others, or run multiple systems across your organisation. Web-based technology has significantly changed this and means that there is no longer any need to compromise on quality and it allows operators to use a management system of their choice while bolting on additional best-in-class modules as and when they are needed.”
Jan Maes, the operations director for Civica Housing, said “At the moment, housing providers will benefit most from having separate asset management systems. This is mainly due to the fact that the IT suppliers have been focusing on separate housing management or asset management systems but haven’t provided functionalities to do both together.
Next-generation asset management
For housing providers with an asset management system that’s more than a couple of years old, they will discover that the latest asset management software offers much more integration throughout the asset management lifecycle, including automated remote data collection using internet of things (IoT) and mobile devices as well as better straight-through processing into other applications such as housing management, finance and CRM.
Zonr’s managing director, Robert Dent, said, “Where the new generation of asset management software encompasses a technology shift such as IoT meters and sensors, housing providers will benefit significantly from the accurate real-time data delivered by onsite asset monitoring. This enables auto responses, the scheduling of works and significantly improved response times. It can also extend the life of expensive assets such as boilers and related heating systems.”
Kykloud’s Checkley added, “The biggest change is undoubtedly mobile data collection. Not only is it far easier to collect and collate data via everyday mobile devices, the data is also automatically fed into to central asset databases to make planning and maintenance far easier and more accurate. And SaaS solutions are far more cost effective because their costs generally relate to the size of the asset base rather than paying per user. This allows housing providers to have unlimited users and ensures quality control and standardisation, both of which are really important when using the services of external surveyors, engineers and other contractors.”
Commenting on the use of ERP systems that are in widespread use in other market sectors, Civica’s Maes, said, “There has been a lot of hype recently about replacing traditional asset management systems with enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. In theory, this made sense but a lot of money has been spent on this with very few success stories coming out of it. Housing providers are realising that a generalised ERP approach doesn’t provide what they need. I think that asset management will continue along its current track but will have a greater emphasis on energy, modelling and forecasting indicators.”
In common with most other areas of housing providers’ operations, asset management is usually operated in a standalone silo with its own data formats and protocols, making it difficult and time-consuming to integrate that data with other core business applications.
Maes said, “Traditional integration between asset and housing management systems has mainly consisted of exchanging flat files such as spreadsheets. Housing providers have been using technology that has existed for 30 years or more without any true integration. These models are simple but the drawbacks are that information is held in different formats, often using different configurations, therefore meaning you need more complex mapping to get them talking to each other. The challenge is that IT suppliers are reluctant to open up their systems to allow the integration to take place with another supplier’s software; developing better collaboration is vital but it can only happen when organisations are ready to open up their systems and allow third-party integration to happen.”
Zonr’s Dent added, “Asset management software should integrate with other areas of operations such as the scheduling of work based on real-time data, which enables an increase in predictive and planned maintenance. The most common requirement is an open approach from all software vendors involved so that data can be safely shared, for the benefit of their customers. For example, the installation of IoT technology should provide an open platform for all vendors to use, rather than having an IoT platform for each type of IoT device or sensor.”
IoT and asset management
The internet of things is covered in more detail in the feature article on page eight, but it is particularly applicable to housing providers’ asset management strategies, with many housing providers already running pilot projects to assess how they can use IoT.
1st Touch’s CEO, Greg Johns, said, “IoT is a disruptive technology that will create entirely new opportunities for asset management. These include being able to identify the type of asset in a property, monitor whether any component of the asset is failing and automatically raise corrective measures, identify how the asset is performing and whether it’s compliant with SLAs and service/manufacturer guidelines, and benchmark assets so that housing providers can identify those assets that last longer, perform better and have lower maintenance costs.”
Dent added, “IoT will have a huge impact on the future of asset management because it offers the opportunity to capture important and relevant data in situ. Our vision is that every social housing property in the UK will be fitted with intelligent sensor-based technology over the coming years. Data about the property will automatically update the asset management system, helping to predict future potential costs based on stock condition or the likelihood of a need for boiler replacement, for example. However, real benefits will only be achieved by vendors of IoT solutions delivering low cost solutions that are platform neutral and simple to fit.”
Accurate & up-to-date data
Asset management is based on, arguably, the least accurate and most out-of-date data of most housing providers’ datasets, partly to do with the sheer variety of assets to be managed and partly to do with the difficultly and expense of getting access to those assets in the first place. The other problem is asset data being duplicated across multiple core business applications so that housing providers find it hard to work out which contains the correct data, to the extent that some housing providers don’t even know how many properties they own or manage. The problem can be solved by making asset data collection easier and cheaper and then ensuring that you have a ‘single version of the truth’ rather than duplicated asset data.
Civca’s Maes said, “It’s very important for housing providers to ensure their data is accurate and up-to-date. To do this they need to stop duplicating information. One fault of many housing providers is that they hold property information in a variety of systems and then they spend large amounts of time trying to manually keep things synchronised.”
Commenting on asset data collection strategies, Kykloud’s Checkley said, “Mobile surveying is definitely the key. By stripping back so much of the administrative processes, surveyors can spend far more time on site collecting real-time data which can then be fed into a central system which is easy to update, analyse and monitor.”
Continuing the same theme, 1st Touch’s Johns added, “Mobile working solutions already enable housing providers to capture asset data and for this to automatically update asset systems to improve accuracy. IoT sensors will enhance this further by providing feedback on asset reliability and economy.”
Measuring your success
The implementation of asset management software should deliver quantitative time and cost savings as qualitative benefits, both of which it’s vital to measure and monitor.
Checkley said, “Measuring RoI is often where difficulties can arise but there are two very simple and accurate ways to measure the success of your asset management system. Firstly, the time saved in the asset management process should be very visible and the cost savings should equate to at least four times the cost of the software. If you can’t demonstrate this, we’d say the software isn’t the right one for you. Secondly, although with a less immediate impact, better data should enable you to plan more effectively which will result in cost reductions in both planning and procurement.”
Housing Technology would like to thank Greg Johns (1st Touch), Jan Maes (Civica Housing), Simon Checkley (Kykloud) and Robert Dent ( Zonr) for their editorial contributions to this article.