Nick Hoareau from Siemens takes a look at an increasingly complex ICT environment and considers the business value of a move to managed services within the housing sector.
On March 25 2011, the Chancellor’s second Budget outlined his ‘jobs and growth’ vision for economic recovery. Promising radical reforms to the planning system and powerful financial incentives to make the right land available at the right price, Mr Osborne also committed to introducing a new presumption in favour of sustainable development, and the creation of a ‘pro-growth’ National Planning Policy Framework.
It didn’t stop there; new enterprise zones, a new £250 million shared-equity scheme for first-time buyers and stamp duty reforms were all announcements set to benefit the sector in the medium to long term.
But the big question is what happens today? The Budget was broadly welcomed yet there’s little doubt we remain a sector under pressure – needing to deliver more proactive services to tenants, assure greater mobility and productivity for front-line staff and deliver cost reductions across the board.
The technology problem
In many cases, such as workforce mobility and front-line service delivery, technology is the answer. Better-integrated housing management systems, unified communications between back-office and community-based staff, and new contact centre deployments certainly offer opportunities for improvement.
On the flip side, more technology can result in more administration, more integration, more resource, and ultimately more cost. Not an ideal scenario for any business, let alone for those wrestling with on-going issues of market consolidation and the financial implications of the Comprehensive Spending Review.
For me, this is the very heart of the problem. IT is no stranger to having to ‘do more with less’ but there’s a point at which this becomes unsustainable. According to the latest survey from Housing Technology, a single IT staffer enables around 1,000 properties to be managed. But are they innovating and delivering new business-building services and applications, or are they locked into legacy integration and assuring uptime? Experience tells me that it’s the latter.
So if keeping the lights on is a challenge, the ability of the IT department to add value to existing operations by designing new tenant portals, delivering new contact centre environments and rolling out mobile working initiatives (…the list goes on) is severely limited.
The managed solution
Housing providers are already successfully using shared services to deliver maintenance and repairs and a host of other services into the community. They are cutting costs, becoming more responsive to customers and devolving risk and responsibility to trusted partners. Extending this ‘one throat to choke’ model into the IT environment offers similar opportunities.
The headline (and irrefutable) statistic is that deploying a managed service for all voice and data communications can deliver savings in excess of 20-30 per cent. And that’s conservative; I have seen organisations reduce their operating costs by as much as half.
A managed service allows IT to start adding real value to the business by concentrating (now available) resources and (now available) budget on the aforementioned working practice and customer services initiatives. With the best providers, it means consistent service levels and transparent cost structures, while assuring a single point of contact for service requests, incident detection and resolution. Increasingly significant is the provider’s ability to deliver complete multi-vendor management, as environments become more complex and solutions more bespoke.
But one of the most significant opportunities offered by a good managed services provider comes in the ‘discovery’ phase of the project. By analysing the current IT and communications environment, it is possible to instantly highlight areas of cost saving, concern or opportunity – and develop a business case for improvement.
For example, Walsall Housing Group was able to slash the cost of its communications by moving to a SIP-based telephony system, eliminating internal call charges across its multiple-office network. A simple move, but one that’s enabled a revolution in working practices as well.
It’s this ability to align technology with business objectives – alongside the cost saving and support elements – that delivers the real strategic value of a managed services partnership. And that not only means your provider will help you maximise your own budget, but also help deliver the right infrastructure so you can take advantage of the opportunities in the Chancellor’s Budget.
Nick Hoareau is sales manager for Siemens Enterprise Communications.