The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has chosen Orchard Managed Service to ensure high levels of uptime and support for their highly customised integration of Orchard Housing.
Orchard was appointed a year ago after ousting NIHE’s incumbent managed services supplier; since then, NIHE has seen reduced levels of downtime and benefitted from increased levels of out-of-hours support. NIHE is now planning to add new Orchard products to allow their teams to work in a more agile manner and deliver new digital services to tenants.
NIHE’s Orchard Housing integration delivers services to over 1,000 concurrent users across over 50 offices as well as to third-party contractors. As a result, maintaining high levels of uptime is a critical priority for NIHE’s IT teams.
A key priority for NIHE when selecting a new managed service provider was the ability to provide out of hours support. NIHE offers a 24-hour emergency telephone service for tenants with urgent repair needs, so it was crucial that their systems could support this.
While their tender specified a need for support from 8am-8pm seven days per week, NIHE were pleased to find that the Orchard Managed Service offering exceeded these requirements, offering support from 7am-10pm on weekdays and 8am-8pm at weekends and on Bank Holidays.
Dominic Bogues, IT manager, NIHE, said, “The Orchard Managed Service offering exceeded our requirements and there has been no downtime since we started working together.
“I am effectively on call around the clock, and I have the confidence that Orchard is there for me when I need them. If I get a call, I can ring the Orchard out of hours number – I’ve yet to not get a response, and issues are dealt with in a very timely and friendly fashion.”
As well as requiring high levels of system uptime to support 24-hour services to its tenants, NIHE needed support with out of hours batch processing of data. Through the week, tasks such as the application of payments to accounts were batch processed overnight, while larger interface processing jobs, for example of housing benefit information, were scheduled for the weekends. A key requirement of the tender was the ability to manage this batch processing and ensure that systems were up to date and ready to go when NIHE’s 2,000 users logged into Orchard every weekday morning.
Orchard’s Managed Service contract with NIHE includes the full management of batch processing tasks as well as ongoing monitoring to identify any issues and resolve them before they affect service delivery.
Bogues said, “We need to have confidence that batch jobs will be run; we can’t open on Monday if the weekend’s batch jobs aren’t complete. Orchard worked with us to resolve previous problems and ensured that these were ready on time. Orchard also carries out monitoring and I occasionally receive an email or a call to alert me to the fact that there’s an issue with the system, but that Orchard are on it.”
Differences in housing legislation compared with other areas of the UK mean that NIHE’s Orchard housing management system is heavily customised to meet local requirements, and this can pose challenges when applying updates. As a result, NIHE needed a high level of expertise from their managed service providers to ensure that upgrades were applied successfully and to provide personalised application support based on their bespoke configuration. Orchard’s product expertise was a key reason it was chosen by NIHE as its managed service provider.
Sean Nolan, head of IT, NIHE, said, “Orchard plays a vital part in making sure our service pack upgrades are applied, and in ongoing application support to ensure that the system is maintained and any new releases are installed in a timely manner. Orchard gives us confidence that when new releases are installed, the system will continue working as normal.”
Orchard work closely with NIHE on every aspect of their product integration, with an Orchard team member based on site to provide hands-on support as well as regular telephone contact and meetings with the Orchard product team.
Ciaran Donaghy, head of income collection and business systems, NIHE, said, “We have an Orchard presence here in Belfast now, within the building, which means they can be more hands-on to help with issues or configuration support. This helps us foster a good working relationship and we’ve seen a reduction in the number of faults we raise as a result.
“I would be happy to recommend Orchard Managed Service to any other housing provider and that’s based on my experience over the last year where the level of service has been excellent and Orchard has always been at the end of the phone, day or night.”
As part of their ongoing partnership with Orchard, NIHE is adding new Orchard products to its existing implementation to support its longer-term business objectives.
The NIHE team is currently investigating a new solution to allow housing officers to access data from the Orchard HMS from anywhere via a tablet. By allowing their team to work more flexibly and spend more time away from their desks working directly with tenants, NIHE hope to make significant progress towards their strategic goal of achieving more agile working.
The team is also collaborating on rollout of Orchard Digital Self-Service later this year to provide additional digital channels to tenants, which they believe could significantly reduce pressure on their call centres and radically transform their business.
Like many housing organisations, NIHE has an objective to manage arrears more effectively, particularly for tenants affected by universal credit, and it is exploring the potential of ‘income maximisation’ products including Orchard’s Income Analytics.
Donaghy said, “These are exciting times for us, and these new digital channels should radically change our business. Welfare reform and universal credit are having an adverse impact on arrears, so we need technology to help us address those issues.
“Strategically, I think we need to move towards more agile working, with patch managers working on site with tenants rather than stuck in an office behind a PC. We’re engaging closely with Orchard project managers on these challenges. Orchard gives us a significant say in the development of products, and this close working relationship is a win-win situation for both organisations.”