Vantage’s operations director, Rob Bryan, reports on the company’s recent strategic repairs and maintenance directors’ forum covering artificial intelligence and robotic process automation, hosted by David Bolton, director of property services at Yorkshire Housing.
Housing providers are increasingly looking at artificial intelligence to streamline processes and reduce costs, with robotic process automation evolving as the new ‘go-to’ tool to improve customer experience and unlock staff time.
What is robotic process automation?
Robotic process automation (RPA) is where you automate business tasks using software ‘robots’ that imitate the operations and processes traditionally performed by people. It’s particularly suited to high-volume activities that don’t require human decision-making or qualitative appraisal-thinking. The robots mimic the tasks completed by humans using existing systems and applications in your organisation. They have the ability to interpret, trigger responses and communicate with systems.
RPA in housing
The group heard how RPA is ideally suited to the housing sector, particularly in areas such as asset management, finance, HR and contact centres. The advice was to start by identifying well-defined, simple, high-volume, repeatable processes for automation. For example, accounts reconciliation, payroll and accounts payable are all tasks that easily lend themselves to RPA.
The robot can take an invoice that is emailed to you, open the email, open the attachment, scan the invoice document for key information, add that to your finance system, cross reference it with purchase-order numbers and process it for payment. Similarly, within asset management, the possibilities for RPA include data entry, reporting and management information, and inventory management.
Russell Thompson, executive director of property services, Thirteen Group, said, “Like many housing providers, Thirteen is constantly looking at ways of improving customer experience, value for money and our customer offer. The use of AI and RPA will provide a new approach that can provide efficiency and savings in everyday tasks, freeing up our staff to concentrate on the overall customer experience.
“We are already considering the use of RPA within our property management functions, such as asset management, facilities management, repairs, servicing and maintenance. The associated benefits are efficiency and consistency of our approach, realigning our staff resources to improving our customer experience, data analytics and trends to help predict breakdowns and repair cycles, and therefore moving to a proactive approach.”
The benefits of RPA
As you would expect, automation offers many benefits, but it’s not just about operational efficiency. It also helps contribute to a happier workforce that is focused on higher value tasks that are not only more satisfying but also add more value to your organisation.
The benefits of an RPA strategy include improved accuracy, reduced data-entry and process errors and much shorter processing times. The automation process can run 24/7 and contribute to improved staff motivation because there is less time spent on boring, repetitive tasks.
David Bolton, property services director, Yorkshire Housing, said, “As the housing sector continues on its journey of transformation and innovation, technologies such as AI and RPA will become even more central to how we operate as businesses and provide services to our customers.”
Preparing for RPA
As with any business change, it is vital to prepare and review your existing processes before introducing new technology; many digital projects fail to reap their intended benefits due to poor planning.
Housing providers must have the right implementation strategy in order to see the benefits of RPA. As with any important project, the key to success lies in aligning your transformation plan with your business goals, linking up to your strategic plan and getting the buy-in from the teams involved.
With some clear thinking and redesigning of your processes where they have become overcomplicated, RPA is a great opportunity to improve your organisation’s ways of working.
Rob Bryan is the operations director at Vantage.