Planned maintenance and asset management systems have been used by many of the largest housing providers in the UK for decades, but smaller providers have often been excluded due to the high cost of those systems.
Suited to your needs
Although cost has been the main barrier in the past for these smaller housing providers, we believe that the new reality of cloud-based systems will change this and allow any size of organisation to use the very latest technology on offer.
The future of the housing sector is 100 per cent digital, and the internet together with cloud technology, will reduce the dependency of IT departments to look after systems on their own servers. Maintenance and updates will be carried out instantly by their suppliers. And one of the main advantages to surveyors, housing officers, directors and board executives will be instant access to records of their housing stock; anywhere, on whichever device they prefer to use, whether in the field or in the board room.
Is your software driving you?
In the social housing sector, we have a reasonable number of software providers who offer various applications. And it is not uncommon for a housing or asset management system to be sold to an organisation for us to then witness the organisation adjusting its own processes and workflows to meet the paradigms set by that software package. This is the ‘tail wagging the dog’ approach and is ultimately the least efficient and effective way forward for housing providers.
When an organisation buys into a software provider’s ecosystem, they shouldn’t be subject to prescribed requirements set by the system. Vendors shouldn’t think of themselves as software companies, but instead as providers of software solutions. The organisation has the requirements, and the software should meet these, and with as little friction as possible.
While there will be common needs within a market sector (due to government legislation, for example), individual organisations will also always have their own ways of working, and it is a problem if those ways are impeded by the software tools themselves.
What are the signs that a software system is limiting in this way?
- Does the client need to change their internal terminology to use the system?
- Does the client need to rethink their concepts of asset hierarchy to make it ‘fit’ with the package?
- Does the client need to modify their team structure to fit with various permission limitations?
- Does the client need to modify the way they report on information, to match supplied formats?
How can asset management solution providers avoid these limitations?
- Allow clients to rename or create new terms in the system to match their existing nomenclature.
- Allow clients to configure the user structure themselves to follow their existing workflows.
- Design systems that can be used differently by different users ‘out-of-the-box’.
- Design systems that can respond to changing requirements without redeveloping fundamental areas.
This can be achieved in the real world by bringing user customisation to the forefront of the product. The client uses the term ‘asset ID’ instead of ‘UPRN’? Let them rename it themselves. They have an idiosyncratic way of categorising their stock? Let them design their own hierarchical structure for assets. Taking this kind of approach from the ground up means less work for the provider later and makes the users feel more like they have a tool at their disposal, rather than a new set of rules to follow.
Additionally, designing systems with a modular approach means that when, for example, the government comes up with a new requirement for clients, development can respond faster, without affecting other areas of the system. Clients can purchase the modules that are relevant to them, and aren’t weighed down with a bloated system full of options that are just taking up space for them.
‘One size fits all’ is not true in the world of software solutions; we should aim for ‘suited to your needs, whatever they may be’.
Vic Harrison is the managing director of Integrator Housing Solutions.