Performance management and reporting outputs in social housing have traditionally focused on controlling and delivering executive strategic objectives and generating regulatory returns – the gathering of summarised information to support goal fulfilment and ensuring compliance for the regulator. It has been industry regulation and the nature of social housing funding that has driven this application of performance management, and consequently technology suppliers’ offerings to the sector have been focused solely on fulfilling these needs.
However, regulatory compliance has moved significantly away from statistical returns and enforced objectives (i.e. KLOEs) and towards more traditional business measures of performance (i.e. value for money). Coupled with this, the changing funding reality that housing providers now face is causing them to reinvigorate their reporting capabilities. Chief among these financial pressures are:
- Reduced funding from central government;
- Increased borrowing costs, primarily in the form of bond rates;
- Greater responsibility for ensuring rental income collection resulting from welfare reform;
- Decreased tenant incomes and the increasing cost of consumer goods.
These challenges create long-term financing and more immediate cash-flow difficulties for housing providers. In mitigating these risks and maximising the efficiency and return of operational spend, more capable solutions for delivering greater visibility of performance across all areas of the organisation are being demanded. Reporting capabilities aligned to and supporting the executive strategy need to be cascaded down through the organisation to drive greater efficiency.
So how are housing providers evolving performance management to tackle these issues, and what are the new capabilities they want from suppliers to deliver great efficiency?
Collaboration and alignment
As mentioned above, performance management has largely been the preserve of the executive team to manage goal fulfilment while operational reporting has relied on manual processes for data extraction, integration and distribution. These processes are not only both costly and error prone but, more crucially, they also fail to support the executive strategy because what’s being measured at an operational level is not aligned to the direction of the executive team.
Performance management needs to play a greater role in ensuring operational reporting processes and their KPIs support goal fulfilment. A crude example: if an executive goal is to ‘enhance tenant satisfaction through responsive repairs services’, the head of repairs and his department need to continually measure satisfaction with repair jobs carried out by categories such priority, geography, tenancy type and property type, and over time to analyse trends and discover challenges, sharing their results with other users across the operation and with key suppliers.
They also need known and agreed business definitions (what constitutes an ‘arrear’ or a ‘good’ satisfaction score?) and to share a single trusted source, typically a data warehouse, for automated data delivery to the executive so that all users generate the same results for the same query.
Information for all – inclusive, not exclusive
Perhaps obvious, but the demand for information to support informed decision making is growing exponentially. All users at all levels are now requesting information and its provision is essential to enhancing operational efficiency.
Driving best-practice reporting capabilities down into operational processes, such as responsive repairs, arrears and incomes, developments, voids and allocations, and tailoring the granularity of that information to user roles will enable operational staff to support the executive’s vision.
A best-of-breed toolset, such as SAP BusinessObjects, IBM Cognos or Oracle, capable of delivering information and reporting capabilities aligned to each user’s needs is fundamental, covering:
- Executive – a holistic view comprising balanced scorecards and objective management;
- Department heads – a departmental view of summarised dashboards;
- Senior management – an operational view, with operational dashboards and detailed reports;
- Operational staff – a detailed view comprising exception reporting and ad-hoc query tools;
- Analysts – an exception view, with data query and modelling capabilities.
Flexibility and scalability
At the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, Linford Christie won a gold medal with a time of 9.96 seconds. That same time at the London Olympics would have seen him finish seventh and barely even scrape through to the final in the first instance.
What defines performance excellence and the measures of success will change as both the sector grows, and a housing provider’s business model evolves. Investing in a performance management toolset that cannot flex, grow and scale accordingly will dramatically reduce long-term return on investment and introduce a significant business risk. At some point, the following capabilities will be requested:
- Introduction of new executive goals and objectives;
- Amendment of KPIs and the measures that support strategy;
- Change to business definitions, such as the definition of an arrear;
- Introduction of new reporting lines, such as the creation of a commercial development function;
- Integration of new data feeds into the data warehouse;
- The addition of new users;
- Enhancement of reporting functionality, such as mobile device report distribution.
Data integration and quality
Expanding the reach of information to a wider user community with more detailed information analysis requirements, typically the level of detail they need to drill down to, necessitates a more robust and complete data platform to meet that demand.
A data warehouse, which is the single aggregated store of all reporting data for all purposes, and the information therein is automatically updated from all required operational systems, is an essential component to deliver organisation-wide information. The key reasons for this are to:
- Integrate data from all operational data stores, including repairs, tenancies, finance, tenant satisfaction and job scheduling;
- Retain historical data to enable time- and trend-based analysis;
- Reduce the burden on IT by allowing business users to self-service their own reporting;
- Alleviate the burden on transactional systems and infrastructure;
- Protect against changing business requirements by streamlining the introduction of new data sources for analysis, and thereby simplifying the creation of new reporting views.
A single data warehouse storing and supplying information to all users ensures that ‘one version of the truth’ is shared by all. The processes for data integration ensure that accurate, unambiguous and quality information can automatically be delivered to all users in real-time.
These demands are the most pertinent, but merely a few of those that housing providers are placing on performance management suppliers as they seek to enhance reporting capabilities and deliver greater efficiency from their operations.
What they really amount to is the need to: achieve greater control through holistic insight into the organisation’s performance from the bottom to the top, supported by trusted information and based on a technology capable of supporting the operation as it evolves.
Tom Hughes is responsible for business development and partnerships at Visualmetrics.