The managing director of software provider MIS AMS, Chris McLaughlin, talks about entry-level housing management systems and why laying the foundations for growth for smaller housing providers will help in the long term.
There are over 1,000 housing providers in England alone that have less than 1,000 properties in their portfolios. These organisations are relatively small but they’re growing. You might think that their size would preclude them from implementing the kind of large-scale housing management technologies that a provider with 50,000+ properties might have. And historically you’d be right, up to a point, but that’s changing with the availability of entry-level ‘lite’ systems. Regardless of the number of staff or the size of their portfolio, smaller housing providers can and are implementing technology to drive the efficiencies they need now to grow and that they know is needed in the future to sustain that growth.
These smaller housing providers typically work within their local area, have close relationships with their tenants and offer an above-average personalised service. It’s what their tenants want from them – the ability to interact personally face-to-face on the doorstep or in a nearby office where they can drop in, but also via email, text or a self-service portal. They typically have between one and 25 employees and their staff usually live in the same area, know their tenants personally and work in a number of different roles within the organisation. They know the local geography like the back of their hands, understand the issues they face and the drivers for change, as well as also having good connections with the relevant local authorities. However, from a digital point of view, it can be difficult to balance the cost of technology against the likely efficiencies to be gained.
Data and workflow
From a technology point of view, these smaller organisations have relatively little data in comparison to their larger peers. The data is often held in multiple spreadsheets or in applications that are unable to scale with their growth. They’re ‘making do’ on a daily basis, compromising and using the systems they have due to pressures of cost and fears of the unknown. The perception is often that a housing management system is expensive to implement, sustain and support. That it can only deal with complicated workflows and therefore, from their perspective, it’s rather a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. And from an implementation point of view, they think that it takes months of consultancy time to implement, which equates to more expense.
Not so! In reality, an entry-level system is affordable, is mostly out-of-the-box, can take as few as 11 days to implement (due to the much smaller amount of data and simpler workflows), and has the ability to scale-up to ‘sledgehammer’ status when needed. In many cases, smaller housing providers have no plans to scale to thousands of properties, but they do still want the efficiencies of a housing management system, including the facility for mobile working. The stripped-down version of enterprise software has predefined restrictions within it that are much better suited to smaller housing providers but with the functionality that a smaller organisation needs to run an efficient and compliant business and maintain their housing stock.
Spring Housing has around 500 units of accommodation in the West Midlands. In 2016, it installed the entry-level version, ActiveH Lite, of MIS AMS’s main enterprise housing management system and hasn’t looked back. As a relatively new charity working with people affected by homelessness, Spring Housing didn’t have masses of data to migrate to a new system, so the ‘lighter’ system can scale and grow with the organisation from the start. It has provided a hub of knowledge for its 25 employees as well as ensuring there is an audit trail to show that it’s operating within the terms of its contracted suppliers. Previously, it had been using spreadsheets to manage its properties, rents, repairs and tenant services but knew that spreadsheets weren’t a sustainable solution in the longer term.
As a growing organisation, Spring Housing needed a housing management system that could grow with it, although it has no plans to become enormous, so it didn’t feel that it needed the full functionality of some of the more expensive housing management systems. The entry-level system fits its requirements – it’s flexible, provides scalability and delivers a complete package encompassing CRM, rent accounting, reporting, repairs and in future, mobile working.
Efficiencies, not cost
For smaller housing providers looking for an entry-level system, the cost of the system is balanced against the efficiencies it creates. As any organisation grows, there are many more added complications that must be better managed. The turning point is usually when they realise that the daily compromises they are having to make from using tools such as spreadsheets are significantly compromising their operations. That’s when it’s time to think about implementing an entry-level housing management system to adjust the underlying workflows so that you can dynamically change what you need to do and how you do it.
Bringing together disparate systems across the organisation also provides a holistic view; no more cobbling together the data needed to better understand numbers or trends. The availability of real-time information not only delivers the data needed to better manage the organisation but also removes the administrative time and helps redeploy staff back to where they can add most value.
After all, with the right technology, the personalised service that smaller housing providers have always been able to deliver is even more personalised with the right information to hand.
Chris McLaughlin is managing director of MIS AMS.