John Sant, CEO of mobile working specialist Footprint Solutions, explains how housing providers can benefit from moving their processes online to drive efficiencies, cut costs and improve tenant relationships.
We are all using more services online; in the same way that you can read the newspaper or organise finances on the internet, tenants increasingly expect the same kind of service from their housing provider. While some tasks can be done online, there is still some way to go before all services, as well as key internal processes within the housing sector, are completely digitised.
What benefits will housing providers gain if they embrace the channel shift? A report by the Policy Exchange estimated that the public sector could save up to £70 billion by 2020 if services were available online rather than being paper-based. Despite this, and the overwhelming benefits of moving to digital, a startling number of housing providers continue to rely on paper-based processing, which is ineffective, time consuming and a drain on finances.
Stop chasing paper planes
Going paperless isn’t just about reducing the amount of money we spend on stationery. The problem with paper is that it perpetuates the creation of information silos. Because the information captured in paper documents does not lend itself to sharing, activities can often be duplicated.
Not only does paper create fragmented pools of information, it also requires an extraordinary amount of physical storage space which comes at a premium. Maintaining an ever-growing set of paper files and archives takes up time and valuable resources.
Housing providers need to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, and in particular its fifth principle concerning, ‘personal information is not to be kept for longer than is necessary for the purpose for which it is processed’. In many cases, this could mean documents are stored for up to six years, and if you consider the volume of paperwork that housing providers process every day, they would need a significant amount of space to store all that information.
Forward-thinking housing providers want to transform how they communicate with tenants to ensure they deliver the right services to the right individual across the right channel. It stands to reason that if a housing provider is 100 per cent digitally-enabled internally, they shouldn’t be sending paper forms to residents to complete.
Benefitting from the channel shift
There are a number of reasons why housing providers should embrace the inevitable shift from paper to digital. While some may consider moving services online as a laborious task, the outcome certainly outweighs the input, with the potential to improve efficiency, deliver cost savings and reduce the burden on already stretched resources.
Paperless processing enables more effective remote working by allowing staff to maximise their time in the community, using mobile applications to access back-office information on the frontline. By doing so, staff can engage with residents in their own homes, improving levels of engagement to reduce payment defaults and manage issues and needs more efficiently.
Digital services also create an open channel to share information across a housing provider’s different departments, limiting the need to circulate paperwork or encounter duplication. Crucially, online services present a money-saving opportunity; by simply reducing the amount of printing alone, housing providers could save up to £20,000 per year.
Learning from others: Golden Gates Housing Trust
In 2012, Golden Gates Housing Trust to conduct a thorough review of its services, driven by the need to achieve value for money and deal with the impact of the government’s welfare reforms. As part of this review, Golden Gates reorganised its frontline services to complement its ongoing work on digital inclusion and improve the quality of its face-to-face interactions with tenants.
GGHT wanted an IT system that would maximise the amount of time in the field and reduce paperwork. After recognising an opportunity to radically transform the way they do business on the frontline, Golden Gates implemented Footprint’s Housing Support Pro mobile working software.
Since implementing the software, the Golden Gates has improved service levels and response times and enabled better field-based working, including payment collections. Housing Support Pro has also reduced duplication of effort through intelligent data capture and simplified end users’ tasks.
In terms of financial benefits, Golden Gates realised £500,000 in capital savings through the reduced office space required by a mobile workforce and cut paperwork by 47 per cent. It has also improved productivity by 29 per cent, increased cash collections by six per cent and delivered £250,000 in efficiency savings.
And looking at those saving another way, if Golden Gates continues to realise the same cost savings over the next 30 years, it will be able to build 300 new homes.
Digital by default
Regardless of whether UK citizens are online or offline, housing providers cannot ignore the opportunities of going digital. A more intelligent approach to collecting, managing and sharing data, both within and between departments, will enable housing provider to create a much more efficient experience for residents and reduce costs.
The digital roadmap should be in the DNA of decision making and, in order to move the paperless society from concept to reality, housing providers need to embrace the revolution and stop chasing paper planes.
John Sant is the CEO of Footprint Solutions.