Housing Technology interviewed IT experts from Britannic Technologies, Castle Computer Services, Clearview, DXW and Utilita Energy on how housing providers can make cost savings and achieve value for money though technology, and aligning IT with their core business objectives.
Mapping IT services and their performance to key business objectives
Technology is obviously fundamental to almost all housing providers’ operations, but it can often be hard for IT departments to measure and demonstrate the value they provide to the wider organisation. With that in mind, how can you map IT services and their performance to a housing provider’s main business objectives?
Castle Computer Services’ director of technical sales, Andrew Cruickshank, said, “Most housing providers have a customer service focus within their objectives, to provide a high-quality, cost-effective and efficient service. IT teams should therefore provide the same level of cost effective service, whether accessed in the office or remotely.”
Mark Hobart, the managing director of business intelligence and performance management software supplier Clearview, added, “IT departments should review all business goals and identify how they can help the organisation achieve them, either by ‘business as usual’ activities or innovation and ideas to support the intended improvements. This may result in new project ideas or the closure of redundant projects, but it will ensure that IT strategy is aligned with the business.”
Harry Metcalfe, managing director of web services provider DXW, said, “Perhaps a better question to ask is how do you map IT services and their performance to the identified needs of tenants, and accordingly, to the needs of the staff serving those tenants? Performance should be measured by examining user satisfaction, though other more basic metrics like up-time and through-put are also clearly useful.”
Tracking operational and business performance metrics
However, different business users will have varying views of the business performance metrics they would like to see, alongside the IT department’s own traditional metrics. In order for IT departments to demonstrate their value, how should housing providers’ IT teams track operational metrics (e.g. system up-time, network utilisation, etc) vs. business performance metrics?
Cruickshank from Castle Computer Services said, “The operational metrics measured must be commensurate with the requirements of the business. The metrics also need to be relevant to the service offered. For example, to measure the business metrics of customer satisfaction, the operational metrics concerning incidents, system availability and SLA achievement would likely be a good starting point. Likewise, to measure the business metrics of employee satisfaction and productivity, the operational metrics of system performance would be one component indicator.”
Clearview’s Hobart explained, “I think the question that should be asked is whether the business is impacted by IT. Having servers up for 364 days for 24 hours a year is fine, but if those 24 hours of downtime occurred on 48 separate occasions for 30 minutes at 11am on key working days, the business is not going to be very happy. Anecdotal issues, such as the time lag to get information they need via a report or the printer not working when needed, are more likely to be mentioned than 100 per cent email server up-time.”
Metcalfe from DXW emphasised the blurring between these two related areas, and said, “I’m not sure that there’s much of a distinction between operational and business metrics. Technology is vital to all housing providers, except the very, very smallest. Technology holds data, defines workflows, facilitates all work that staff undertake, manages compliance, and is vital to a successful audit… at what point does it become the case that the technology is the business? We may not be there quite yet, but that is definitely the direction of travel, especially with residents’ contacts increasingly being mediated by technology, such as self-service portals.”
Reporting to the board
Continuing the theme of identifying the right things to measure and report on, what performance metrics should housing providers’ IT teams collect and report to the board/the business?
Cruickshank said, “The really important thing here is not just what metrics to collect and report on, but what to do with the data collected. Performance metrics should not just be viewed from a backward-looking perspective but should also be used to spot trends that can be analysed to build predictive indicators.”
Hobart added, “The board is generally only interested in the successful delivery of the organisation’s strategic plan. If IT is contributing to the achievement of a strategic goal, then the performance measures relative to that goal should be identified and tracked. There is no point in reporting measures to the board that do not relate to achievement of the organisation’s goals.”
Bill Bullen, managing director of Utilita Energy, said, “Housing providers should monitor the main metrics such as loads on the systems’ services, how many tickets were raised or closed, and how much time was spent on a project. The important thing to identify is where and how the service department is impacted and how long issues take to be resolved, as well as how much it costs the company in terms of staffing, customer confidence and reputation.”
Lowering operational costs
As well as being the fundamental enabler for housing providers’ core operations, IT departments also have the ability to lower operational costs throughout the organisation.
Ian Stewart, the account director for Britannic Technologies, said, “The areas that deliver tangible cost savings include new networking technologies to replace expensive legacy networks, SIP to replace ISDN, cloud and virtualisation to replace expensive distributed hardware, web services, and shifting tenants towards lower cost channels and self-service options.
“Also, in the case of the cost of monthly statements, repairs appointment letters and paper-based communication, correctly-deployed IT solutions can add real value for money. Furthermore, many services that are repetitive can be automated to reduce their transaction costs.”
Cruickshank said, “What we have seen over a number of years is that sophisticated IT buyers can now work out a cost per user per month, enabling them to look at key metrics to identify the highest costs and take steps to reduce them. For example, emerging technologies have helped to reduce electricity charges and other day-to-day operational costs. These projects have been self-funding over two or three years as the money saved paid for the project itself.”
Better business performance
Referring the ‘easy wins’ of mobile working, Cruickshank said, “One of the key measures of business performance is downtime. Traditional downtime for most housing staff is the travel time from the office to their properties and then back to the office to complete their tenant records. IT can help improve business performance on a day-to-day basis at a stroke by enabling a mobile workforce where housing officers can log into their main business applications from their tenants properties, provide automatic updates by entering reports directly into the system, answer any queries and undertake tasks in a live environment.”
Clearview’s Hobart said, “The opportunities to improve the performance of the business are really constrained only by the innovation culture within the organisation. Most IT projects’ perceived business benefits at the start seek to deliver on a performance improvement message. However, unless these are quantified and key targets put in place, they may get forgotten.”
Metcalfe added, “We need to spend our money more wisely. How much could you save on Microsoft Office if you switched to Office 365, and are you still managing commodity services such as email with on-premise services? Try this experiment: talk to some colleagues and try to get a sense of how many important business functions are carried out in spreadsheets. It’s going to be far too many. And some of those spreadsheets contain the same data as some of your systems, so staff are often maintaining the same data twice.”
Criteria for new IT projects
Britannic’s Stewart said, “One of the key criteria for new IT projects is establishing clear and measurable success criteria at the beginning that can be signed off by the relevant business ‘owners’ so that you not only have a point of reference throughout the project, but also at the end you can review the tangible benefits achieved.”
Cruickshank added, “Business agility is not necessarily about an employee being able to access their desktop using an iPad; it’s more about the ability to carry out a function that is relevant to their role, allowing them to achieve set goals and targets.”
DXW’s Metcalfe said, “The most important criteria for new projects are all human ones, such as user satisfaction, the percentage of first-time fixes and the percentage of calls dropped should be the primary metrics, but user satisfaction should rule above all.”
Measuring the VFM of technology
Utilita’s Bullen said, “The value of the end results should measure two things. First, the cost to serve the end-users, whether they create internal efficiencies to reduce costs and wastage or improve productivity. Secondly, it’s about how the project impacts the housing provider’s tenants, either through better service, shorter calls or, ultimately, price.”
Cruickshank concluded, “An increase in productivity, cost savings and enabling employees to have a better work-life balance are how you can measure the value for money of an IT project. It’s not always about tangible benefits, so employee morale plays a big part and by embracing mobile technologies, traditional dead time is reduced to a manageable level, resulting in increased productivity and efficiencies.”
Housing Technology would like to thank Ian Stewart (Britannic Technologies), Andrew Cruickshank (Castle Computer Services), Mark Hobart (Clearview), Harry Metcalfe (DXW) and Bill Bullen (Utilita Energy) for their editorial contributions to this article.