Housing Technology recently interviewed Octavia Software Solutions’ director, Sue Lyons, on how housing providers, local authorities and voluntary organisations are using OSKA, the company’s software package for outcome-led services delivery and reporting.
What does Octavia do in the housing sector?
We supply a software solution called OSKA that is predominantly an outcome monitoring tool which provides up-to-the minute operational management information against people-based contracts. This is particularly relevant for the increasing number of organisations who engage with their tenants through intensive housing management and sustainable tenancy management. Using OSKA, you can build an entire episode of support for an individual that might include financial inclusion, sustaining accommodation or health and wellbeing. You can record all stages of the process from waiting list to outcome and it will generally include risk assessments, safeguarding and staff hours.
Achieving positive outcomes by monitoring performance against contract and having the data available to shape their business through capacity planning are some of the advantages that our customers get from using OSKA.
How does Octavia differ from its competitors?
We are a Microsoft Partner and our products are developed using the most up-to-date .Net technology. This also means we have full integration with other Microsoft products, such as Microsoft Office for emails, letters and calendar functions and Microsoft Dynamics for operational processing.
The level of flexibility that our software delivers is unique in the sector. We can supply a simple data-collection package or a complex security-driven solution, cloud-based or on-premise, stand-alone or integrated with other business applications. Our customers range from the largest providers of outcome-led services to the smallest domestic violence organisations, all achieved with the one solution configured to suit the individual needs of each customer.
Midland Heart is a great example of how the advanced security features can work. It needed to restrict access to records, functionality and data to suit the requirements of the teams that deliver specialist support and extra-care services across Birmingham. OSKA provides this across a set of input screens to remote and onsite staff, enabling each episode of support to be recorded as it’s delivered while ensuring that access is only permitted to those with the correct level of authorisation.
Over the years, we have worked with sector experts to build modules that deal with all aspects of outcome-based service delivery and the associated contract management. Our latest developments have, of course, involved mobile delivery options such as digital forms, cloud-based access and storage. These have enabled our customers to have all service-related data in one database, making data retrieval for reporting, creating digital templates or linking to data warehouses a very straightforward process.
A key aspect of the benefits that our products deliver is the ‘up to the minute’ operational and management reports which result in significant time and financial savings for our customers.
Can you explain Octavia’s main application areas?
Outcome-led service delivery is, without question, the most used area of our software. In summary, it provides all the tools needed to record a complete history of an individual’s service episode. The services our customers are providing vary, but they could include the delivery of supported housing to older people, care, support and general living assistance in the form of tenancy sustainment or intensive housing management to all tenants and workplace skills courses to young people.
OSKA captures the data required to evidence service delivery, quality and compliance, all of which are key factors in our customers winning new contracts and to Octavia’s continued success in the sector. In addition to the contract deliverables, the data recorded is often used for benchmarking across services and for staff performance reviews.
Our mobile options include a unique tablet solution that truly works offline, with no synchronisation required. Digital forms are designed to capture only the data needed for a particular type of visit, and they can include intelligent links to send instant alerts to other departments and pre-populated forms and drop-down lists reduce the input even further. Our customers are seeing considerable time savings and a marked improvement in data accuracy.
Another benefit is that staff and clients love using the tablet; it removes the barrier that laptops introduced and is giving staff more time to spend with clients.
What’s new at Octavia that housing providers should know about?
The release of OSKA+, our cloud solution; this has taken the tried-and-tested OSKA into the cloud, providing a web-based system available on any device. The real advantage of OSKA+ is its simplicity. The sign-up process can happen within hours of purchase, no installation is required, and user input screens are simple and uncluttered and accessed via an email address. Once logged in, all case note data is available to the user, security permitting.
OSKA+ fits very well with both long- and short-term contracts because very little time needs to be invested in the deployment of the solution. Reporting from the system is also very straightforward as all data resides in a SQL database. We also offer a report writing service to complete the solution.
Please describe a ‘typical’ Octavia customer
Octavia has two types of typical customer; housing providers, ranging in size from the largest housing organisations to the smallest YMCAs, and voluntary organisations such as women’s aid and domestic violence service providers.
Housing organisations typically use OSKA to manage services such as older people’s services, training and workplace skills or care and support. An interface to and from the organisation’s housing management system keeps the records synchronised and provides data for reporting across an entire case. An example would be BPHA for whom implementing OSKA has completely changed the way it delivers care and support services, helping it to survive in today’s lean housing sector. OSKA has enabled staff at BPHA to maximise the time they spend with clients, giving them the ability to manage their own diaries and minimise the administrative burden. Accurate and up-to-the-minute management reports are saving on operational management time.
Voluntary organisations use OSKA to manage their outcome-based services and would also use the CRM and charge modules. The time and cost savings that our digital forms solution deliver have made it a popular option for the voluntary sector.
Who are the key figures at Octavia?
I head up the company and my background is originally in software and process design for applications used within the National Health Service. In the mid-90s, I moved into the social housing sector to help housing providers with the selection and implementation of business systems, predominantly for housing management and finance. By 1999, I had designed a system to manage young people’s services and worked with a developer to create Octavia’s first product. It progressed quickly to address the Supporting People ‘movement’. In addition to leading the development and growth of Octavia, I have continued to work as a consultant within the sector. My continued involvement with IT projects such as system integrations for large mergers and in smaller projects to streamline processes and digitise departments has kept me up-to-date with the changing requirements of the sector and has been key to the on-going development of our product range. The key requirement is generally to save organisations time and money while producing accurate data.
Paul Gamble is our senior developer and has been developing software for Octavia since 2005 when he joined to lead our first .Net project. Liam Maggs leads on support and implementation, and he has many years’ experience of our products and helps our customers to get the most from the software.
We also have access to sector experts to call on for specialist projects and trusted consultants who we have worked with over the years.
Who are Octavia’s partners, and how do they fit into housing providers’ IT infrastructures?
Octavia is a Microsoft partner and this ensures that our development tools are up-to-date and provides a framework for our developers to keep their skills current. It also means we are a good fit for delivering applications to the housing sector as the Microsoft route seems to be the most popular.
Riverlite partners with Octavia to provide data-hosting services to ISO-27001 certification and Tier 3 security standards and because all of its data centres are based in the UK, it sits well within the housing sector’s policy of keeping data within the UK.
We partner with a number of the leading providers of housing management software to achieve a fully-integrated solution that gives a 360-degree view of an organisation’s properties and tenants.
Octavia uses the services of Manifest to interface OSKA to other sector solutions.
What are your future plans?
Our plan at Octavia is to make the sector more aware of our products and the benefits the software delivers; I think OSKA is one of the housing sector’s little-known gems!
In terms of our product development, we will continue to update and develop the software to meet the changing requirements of the sector. Our development plans include an archive solution that can sit behind any system. Our marketing attention will be firmly focused on promoting the release of OSKA+; its flexibility and ‘sign-up and go’ model delivers an affordable solution to today’s housing sector that demands instant access to quality data.