Having seen many social housing providers strive to place their tenants’ needs at the top of their priority list when investing in new systems such as mobile workforce technology, Robert Dent, CEO of 1st Touch, looks at the latest trend that places even more power in their tenants’ hands; the introduction of tenancy self-service technology and applications.
When I first joined 1st Touch in 2009, the use of mobile workforce technology in housing was primarily to control, manage and support the activities of responsive repairs operatives equipped with ruggedised PDAs or handheld devices such as smartphones. In those days, it was pushing the boundaries if the software’s use was extended to gas and electric operatives, as was the prospect of securing a deal with builders merchants for ordering van stock replenishment via the PDA. Back then, the focus of my own company was largely on developing tight integrations with the leading back-office housing management systems.
New mobile trends
Roll forwards to today and a revolution has taken place, with mobile and related technologies spreading throughout the enterprise, as a proof of the adage that ‘the real value of data lies in the evolution of its use over time’. Mobile workforce technology is now used for an increasingly broad range of applications, from asset management and stock surveying to estate management, legionnaires’ monitoring, social care and supporting the work of housing officers. By incorporating modules for all of these and more, we found that there were other new trends to take into account, such as BYOD and the need to operate across multiple platforms and devices, including iOS and Android. The recent welfare reforms have also seen the development of mobile payment systems for income officers.
Certainly, being able to offer a wide range of modules and device options as part of a single integrated range does seem to have appealed to housing IT managers, if only because it promises even greater efficiencies than supporting multiple technology vendors. It also ensures that senior management has a single view of KPIs across the enterprise.
However, probably the biggest single development in the evolution of social housing technology is happening right now. This is the introduction of tenancy apps such as tenancy self-service technology. This opens a whole world of customer service and development possibilities.
Previously, tenants wishing to access the services of their landlord have needed to contact their housing provider’s call centre during working hours. A good tenancy self-service system should therefore enable a housing provider’s tenants to submit routine requests online 24/7 for a wide range of services, at their own convenience. These can range from repairs and maintenance or estate management concerns, such as reporting graffiti and anti-social behaviour, through to arranging visits from housing officers or conducting rent account queries. Such a system should significantly reduce the pressure on the housing provider’s call centre staff, while enhancing positive engagement with tenants. It also allows call centre staff to spend more time with those who do call, especially those with the greatest need or more complex queries.
If one was to take our own system as an example, when a tenant reports a repair, the system will raise a request and ask the resident to describe their needs in detail and, if possible, to upload photos or videos. The tenant can then choose an appointment for a repairs operative to visit from three or four time slots. Once the appointment is selected, the system will then auto-schedule the repair and send the details through the mobile workforce management system to the maintenance operative’s mobile device when they are due to attend. Either texts or calls to the customers can then be scheduled; both to confirm the upcoming appointment and also to advise them that the operative is on their way. However, if a tenant reports an issue such as graffiti, the tenancy self-service system will raise the request with the appropriate operative or specialist contractor and inform the tenant of the date when the graffiti is due to be removed. It will also inform them by text once the job has been completed.
Shifting the costs online
The introduction of a tenancy self-service system not only boosts accessibility and tenant engagement, it also delivers significant value for money. Our latest research across a large number of housing providers found that each call to their call centre costs them between £5 and £10, and that each visit to a tenant costs around £20. As many of the issues handled by call centres and housing officers can be dealt with online, one can clearly see that the potential savings from the introduction of a tenancy self-service app are huge.
However, to get the real value out of a tenancy self-service app, it needs to be part of a tightly integrated, enterprise-wide system that includes an advanced scheduling application for appointment generation and a comprehensive mobile workforce management system to direct the operatives. This integration with scheduling and workforce management makes a huge difference.
When the request comes in online and the appointment is booked on the system, all the requests and actions generated, through the self-service facility, will then be automatically fed through to the housing provider’s housing management system. In our case, we have ensured that our tenancy self-service app also links seamlessly to our ServicePower-based scheduling system along with all other existing 1st Touch systems.
By delivering such tremendous customer and service delivery benefits, it’s clear to me that this whole area will grow rapidly and evolve much further. In time, there will no doubt be an even wider range of other services available online through systems such as this. Indeed, the creative potential for both software developers and housing providers is exceptional.
Growth in self-service
One can also clearly see the potential for growth in the range and breadth of self-service applications when one looks at the broader context of the public’s acceptance of technology and, in particular, mobile services. With a population that is getting ever-more confident about using web and mobile technology, and with many pundits predicting that m-commerce is set to explode, the chances are that tenants will more readily adopt online services.
If this is the case, then the tenant-generated demand for self-service tools will also rise and in turn drive even greater investment. If one looks back in another five years, I am confident that the balance may well have switched, so that the majority of routine tasks will be requested online by web-aware tenants through self-service systems.
Robert Dent is chief executive of 1st Touch.