Riverside Group is a group of complementary businesses driven by a clear social purpose, with a charitable housing provider at its core. It’s critical that our income goes as far as it can; we need to deliver more and better services with the same money, so gaining value for money from our technology spending is key.
Like many in our sector, Riverside is strongly focused on improving services for customers, by simplifying interactions and limiting waste though the implementation of digital business, and becoming more agile, for the benefit of both our customers and our staff. Speaking at the recent Housing Technology 2021 conference in March, I outlined how my role as director of IT and digital business is about enabling all of us to ultimately achieve more for our customers using technology, both now and in the future.
Bringing order to chaos
I would describe the past few years at Riverside as ‘bringing order to chaos’ in terms of our IT. We ran an ‘IT foundations’ programme to upgrade our systems where needed and validate appropriate levels of resilience and ensure appropriate DR provision with our second datacentre. Some of the strategic decisions along the way included selecting Salesforce for our CRM, which we are rolling out as we optimise and improve our customer journeys across all areas, such as repairs and lettings. Strengthening our key IT management areas was also a priority, including security, architecture, risk, contract management and supplier relationships.
Digital business – our cloud journey
In the midst of the pandemic, we began our ‘digital business’ cloud journey to roll out Microsoft 365 and shape the rest of our strategy for the next few years.
We focused on customers and the availability of online services. We want to always be easy to do business with, looking to analytics to provide insights into what our customers value the most, what they really need from us and what Riverside needs to do more of. Most of us are online for many things (shopping, banking, etc), and for Riverside that means Salesforce to complement our other channels, with customers and colleagues using the same system to book repairs, pay rent, view balances, manage cases and much more.
We also concentrated on increasing our colleagues’ capabilities and productivity; from an IT perspective, that translates into ‘smart working’ with Microsoft 365, Oracle for People Services and Intune Mobile Device Management.
During the pandemic, our first step was to move the majority of our 3,000 colleagues from the office to working from home pretty much overnight with some cloud/SaaS collaboration tools. We provided remote call-centre capability, laptops for all and rapid, robust video-conferencing capabilities.
We immediately then started with a tactical deployment of BlueJeans and then fast-tracked the roll-out of Microsoft 365; after starting around March 2020, it only took a few months to complete our deployment of Yammer, Exchange Online and Teams, closely followed by SharePoint and OneDrive.
A single source of truth
We also looked at data, insights and analytics; timely, accurate and pertinent data to ensure our customers and colleagues have the right information at the right time and in the right format. To accelerate this, we’re rolling out an enhanced data warehouse underpinned by Snowflake to give us a ‘single source of truth’, with dashboard reporting via Tableau.
And finally, we focused on our technology. Technology changes constantly and we are sighted on agility, capability, scalability, efficient operations and lower TCO; for us, that means the cloud.
Not finished yet…
We will never be finished – 2021/22 will see a continuing focus on cloud as well as DevOps. For us, the latter is all about a culture of collaborative working, empowerment and accountability to facilitate process improvements.
Our ‘technology powering Riverside’ image encapsulates our journey and key priorities for the next 12+ months to what we’re calling ‘next-generation digital business’.
Focusing on the cloud, we started with SaaS products from Microsoft, Salesforce and Oracle, guided by the strategic principles of: cloud first, with new services deployed as SaaS/PaaS before IaaS; and software client access, to securely access applications at anytime, anywhere and on any device.
Our cloud discovery phase initially considered all of our 200+ applications as cloud candidates, indicating applications and platforms which were ‘cloud ready’ and others which would need more work (including their impacts on operating costs and risk), all while ensuring we do the right thing for the planet through sustainable IT, plus aiming to rationalise and/or decommission applications as we go to further simplify our IT estate. We’re also aiming to minimise the deployment of any new on-premise infrastructure.
So, a busy 12 months ahead and for the next few years, with more to come!
Alison Stock is the director of IT and digital business at Riverside Group.