MHS Homes’ head of ICT, Nick Hadley, reports on how the launch of the housing provider’s 2015-18 strategic plan highlights its ambitions to use process automation to enhance the tenant experience and make cost savings. Its key objective is to be financially fit and lean by implementing procurement practices that deliver better control and contribute to a target of £300,000 of cost savings.
The ICT team at MHS Homes is planning to implement a P2P (purchase-to-payment) system by the end of this financial year to reduce paper use and manual data entry. The P2P system will be able to automatically match purchase orders to invoices using OCR (optical character recognition) by reading the information contained in the invoice and inputting this into the payment software.
This will streamline the payment process to allow us to pay suppliers much faster, while reducing the risk of human error or fraud. This system will assign the invoice to the appropriate budget holder. This will save time when dealing with supplier enquiries as budget holders will be able to view the progress of their invoice in real time without contacting the finance team.
Streamlining ordering & invoicing
The finance team already automates some processes through certification. Repairs operatives can order materials for jobs when out of the office and we can raise a certificate for the total cost of all of the jobs, allowing the supplier to invoice us in one go, rather than processing one invoice for each order raised. This streamlines the entire order process and reduces the time taken to make the payment when compared with processing multiple invoices.
The move towards automated services will also benefit other front-line staff such as surveyors and housing officers. Commonly-used forms will be put onto tablets so the data can be input electronically outside the office, rather than printing the form and filling it out manually, before entering the data onto a PC when they return to the office.
Alongside cost savings, MHS Homes wants to enable tenants to self-serve 24/7. Recent improvements to the online tenant portal, introduced in June this year, make the portal fully optimised for smartphones and easier to navigate on all devices. In the near future, it will also allow tenants to not only report repairs online, but also book an appointment at a time that suits them. The portal shows all available appointments for the particular trade required in real time, and syncs with software used in the office to always show the latest data. This means that staff will no longer need to contact tenants to book in appointments, which will bring cost savings and allow tenants to book an appointment more quickly.
A key business objective for 2015-18 is to take a leading edge and innovative approach to service delivery, using new technology to deliver excellent customer service.
The customer service centre wants to enhance its existing contact management software, provided by Cisco, to bring all contact channels into one place and queue them for the customer service advisors to answer. This includes existing channels such as email and telephone, as well as new channels we plan to introduce later this year, such as live chat. The technology will also allow us to schedule outbound dialling, with calls automatically allocated to customer service advisors, and will automatically populate the CRM.
Forecasting for CRM
Additionally, the customer service centre plans to introduce a new workforce management system, provided by Injixo. This will forecast future contact volumes, allowing us to accurately predict how many staff we need to cover each contact channel. Injixo takes into account multiple factors, including past trends, scheduled campaigns and bank holidays, to configure the rotas for each day. This will allow us to manage the workforce more efficiently and give customer service advisors the ability to log into the system to check or change their shifts.
We have recently joined the Connected Home Consortium, which was set up by housing professionals interested in technology and innovation to explore how the Internet of Things can change the way we deliver our services. Membership of the consortium will give us access to advice about the best use of new technology, a way to share best practice and inclusion in pilot projects.
For the remainder of the strategic plan, our ICT team will monitor new trends in the Internet of Things and the positive impacts these could have on our service delivery. In the future, this technology could be used to automate processes even further to enhance tenants’ lives such as using sensors to allow us to conduct predictive repairs, measure condensation in the home, or using smart technology in adapted properties to allow tenants to control electrical appliances from their smartphones.
Nick Hadley is head of ICT at MHS Homes.