Over the last two years, we’ve been trying to fundamentally transform the way Silva Homes works and technology is at the heart of this change. We have launched a new website and digital platform and replaced and upgraded several core systems. We have also redesigned our IT team and introduced a dedicated transformation team including end-user and customer experience designers.
It’s fair to say that we’ve made significant progress but coronavirus has shone a spotlight on the scale, scope and speed of our plans. There are three key points of our digital transformation plans that this crisis has helped us to reconsider: our customers, staff and culture.
Virtual services for customers
Our primary responsibility is to protect our customers and staff. We have naturally been guided by the government’s advice relating to social distancing and working from home, but we still need to keep providing essential services for our customers, including health and safety, emergency repairs, financial advice and ASB support. The technology introduced under our digital transformation has provided a strong platform to build on during this crisis.
Wherever possible, face-to-face contact has been replaced with digital communications. Our customers could already pay their rent, schedule repairs, report hazards, change their details and end their tenancies by logging into My Silva, our online customer portal. However, in response to the pandemic, we have rapidly digitised a number of other processes and activities.
Our independent living teams now carry out welfare checks for elderly customers virtually and our tenancy team has introduced a new app, ReMOTE, to help customers report issues digitally. We have also redesigned our lettings process so that key workers and vulnerable customers can digitally complete the let of their new home. This has accelerated the already-planned development of a digital lettings portal, which seamlessly transfers applicants to My Silva.
We also know that coronavirus is having an impact on mental health. That’s why we have set up a new programme to encourage Silva staff to have regular calls with our elderly and vulnerable customers. This ‘phone pals’ scheme has helped to reduce isolation and it has enabled us to identify those customers who need additional support and can be referred to our new food delivery scheme.
Working from home
As part of our digital transformation, we have created an environment to enable everyone at Silva to operate remotely. Windows 10 laptops and Office 365 licences are issued as standard and DirectAccess is implemented to provide easy access to our network.
Our call centre, known as the customer hub, was originally restricted to office working because of some software requiring direct IPv4 access to a server on our network. This was an outstanding issue that had never been resolved, but with the likelihood of lockdown on the horizon, our IT team configured an additional VPN client on the hub team’s laptops so that they could start working remotely. This was installed just before the lockdown was introduced, which helped the hub team iron out any potential issues in advance.
In the last year, we have completely restructured the business so that over 50 per cent of our staff are new to the business. We have also established a new culture, underpinned by key beliefs and behaviours. Therefore, it is crucial that we do everything we can to keep our staff engaged throughout the lockdown.
We adopted GoToMeeting to supplement our existing Microsoft online meeting technology. This has helped our staff keep in touch and it has also given them the ability to organise virtual activities such as quizzes and competitions. Use of Microsoft Teams has increased significantly and our SharePoint intranet provides a source of up-to-date information on Covid-19 and wellbeing support for our staff and it’s also the channel for company-wide video briefings.
Surprisingly, this technology has also enabled us to keep recruiting, despite the pandemic. For example, we have recently recruited a new commercial manager to oversee our 3,500 garages. They are being inducted via Silva’s new learning management system and meeting and working with team members via video calls.
After the lockdown
This is an extremely challenging and difficult time for everyone, and our focus is on what we can do now to protect and support customers and our staff. However, I have no doubt that we will emerge stronger than before and any changes now will bring lasting benefits to our customers and staff alike.
Technology has a vital role to play in the way we deliver services during a crisis, but if there is one lesson we have learned, it’s to make sure that we create and retain a positive legacy for the times when we are not in crisis.
Rob Smyth is the executive director for people, digital and change at Silva Homes.