Coastline Housing in Cornwall is using Microsoft SharePoint to combat the difficulties of very patchy mobile coverage across its rural properties.
Justin Floyd, mobile solutions architect, Coastline Housing, said, “Unreliable coverage in Cornwall has been our biggest barrier to mobile working to date. Coverage is patchy at best, even with the help of BT wi-fi spots. At the same time, Coastline needs to push forward with mobile working because, given our very rural spread, it has the potential to really change the way we work.”
Coastline’s initial foray into mobile working involved getting its responsive repairs workforce online with PDAs during 2010; this resulted in savings of around £8,000 per year and a change in its working culture.
The housing provider is now embedding mobile working across its front-line housing teams, with the roll-out of 40 Windows tablets with SharePoint installed on them, designed to give employees the same IT capabilities in the field as they would have at their desks.
Floyd said, “SharePoint Workspace allows us to complete forms and edit documents offline, which will automatically synchronise with the network once the device comes back into signal. In addition, we’re developing workflows so that works-order emails, customer letters and tasks can be automatically generated when front-line workers fill in relevant fields on a form at, for example, a void property inspection.
“We’re still finding our way and continuing to discover the potential of this software. Of course, part of the sticking point with mobile working comes down to the cultural change for staff. However, it’s starting to really gather pace as our front-line workers realise that they can save time and effort by updating information on their devices when they are at a customer’s property rather than having to return to the office to type up their notes.”
With more data being gathered electronically, Coastline’s analytical capabilities are increasing. Floyd said, “With paper forms, data is static or requires a lot of manual processing to make it useful. With electronic forms, we can now quickly do analysis, measure performance and even plot trends via GIS.”
Louise Beard, director of housing and care, Coastline Housing, said, “Over the next five years, we will be growing our stock by around 15 per cent thanks to an investment of £131 million to deliver one of the largest affordable housing programmes in Cornwall. However, we don’t want workloads for our staff to increase by that same percentage, so mobile working will be key to keeping pace with our expansion without losing that all important customer-service provided by our front-line teams.”