Accent Group’s head of ICT, Stuart Duthie, discusses the recent modernisation of the housing provider’s complete IT infrastructure.
Accent Group has recently modernised its entire ICT environment, replacing seven legacy systems in three housing associations with a single group-wide system supplied by MIS Active Management Systems. Rather than just replacing the systems, Accent took the more challenging route of consolidating its working practices and modelling them in the new system using automated workflow tools. This was an ambitious task as the key concepts and features of the system, which include CRM, 360-degree views of residents, workflow and task lists, were completely new to staff, and because the go-live approach was a ‘big-bang’ within each housing association.
Why this approach?
Replacing an IT system provides a unique catalyst for change, opening people’s minds to be more receptive to new ways of doing things. Although a simple system replacement would have been quicker, we would still have needed a design, build, test and train process and, on completion, the temptation would have been to move on to other things, rather than develop what was there. Performing process re-engineering alongside the system’s implementation gives us the justification, impetus and relevance for the process review work, rather than a detached business review which risks being overtaken by more urgent work.
Consolidating our processes also resulted in a single configuration across the three housing associations, meaning a simpler system to support, with greater agility for future changes.
What happened and how long did it take?
We identified 47 business processes in our three housing associations and consolidated them into 35 common processes, examples of which included property lettings and reporting repairs. Planning workshops started in March 2010 and, less than two years later, we went live with an automated, standardised workflow system for 31 of these processes. We could have gone live earlier, but we would not have reached this position in the same time, as we would have been supporting the system at the same time as building it, and therefore risking losing our focus.
What have been the key challenges?
We overcame one of the biggest challenges very early on by winning ‘hearts and minds’ on the concept of ‘case management’ for all our services. This was a strategic route-finding piece of work, and has influenced our projects since. Building the capability to deliver this internally within the ICT team and in the business has been critical to delivering the project’s dual reliance on systems and ways of working. Within IT, we have created a project delivery and process re-engineering practice, ensuring that we have a clear approach within a single team.
Understanding our supplier MIS-AMS’s strengths and culture, and finding a way of working that suited us both have been important to our success. We own the design and implementation of the solution, with MIS providing the technical and system expertise. We have found that it pays dividends in the overall quality and success of the solution – and MIS have been great to work with, perfectly complementing this approach.
What benefits have you seen so far?
It’s too early to confidently state all the benefits we will get, but we have a clear view of all our interactions with our residents, what stage they are at and whom they are assigned to. This is great when we are talking to residents as we can provide a much better service and we have the chance of a different way to view and manage our workload and our customers’ satisfaction.
Bringing staff together from our housing associations to consider how they work and map out our processes has significantly improved relationships across the business. What we are experiencing is a coordinated desire to further improve our processes, and build on the good experience we have had. It is great to see such a major cultural change; even this alone will greatly benefit the organisation.
Comments from Accent’s subsidiaries
Andrew Williams, managing director, Accent Nene, said, “Being first meant we would be first in the group to experience the challenges. We invested significant time in preparing our staff for the new system and this paid off with a very smooth go-live, with any problems resolved very quickly. Three months down the line, we have already seen benefits for our residents and are confident that the new system will help us drive significant service improvement combined with greater operational efficiency.”
Claire Stone, managing director, Accent Foundation, said, “The fact the system has gone in so smoothly is a testament to the hard work and expertise of the TriStar team, the involvement of staff from across the business and the close working relationship with MIS.”
We identified the areas that we want to focus on again to see if we can further streamline the way we work so we expect to be doing some lean process re-engineering and introducing new technical features as we go. Having a single workflow-driven system across the group gives us the opportunity to innovate, and we have the tools in place to deploy new solutions faster than we would have done before and with a better integration into the way we work. Coming soon, we expect to see secure mobile working, where we can pass work to and from field-based staff, and a new residents’ portal integrated to our CRM system.
Stuart Duthie is head of ICT at Accent Group.