Robert Dent, CEO of mobile technology provider 1st Touch, has seen significant service improvements delivered to tenants following the adoption of mobile technology. Indeed, looking behind the hype he reviews the impact of the technology and looks forwards to 2010.
Having previously grown a UK software company over seven years into one of Europe’s leading compliance systems providers, when I joined 1st Touch I was surprised by the marketing spin of many of the technology suppliers in the social housing sector. I therefore want to look beneath the hype to establish what the impact of mobile technology has been last year and what this means for 2010.
In 2009, the use of mobile workforce technology continued to grow. Indeed, housing providers looking for the productivity benefits and cost reductions that mobile technology delivers have driven overall IT spend in the housing sector
Looking back, when I initially reviewed the market’s requirements, I was surprised by the lack of customer focus provided by many housing IT providers. Our initial customer research two years ago showed that housing providers wanted pre-built, best-practice systems that could be tailored quickly to their specific needs. However, it was surprising that there were so many mobile requirements, not just in property services but also across responsive repairs, voids management, gas safety checks CP12s & CP5s, and electrical certifications NIC/EIC. There were also tenancy services, estate management and ‘Supporting People’.
One of our greatest pleasures has been seeing the enthusiasm of customers sharing lessons learned from mobile technology with both us and other housing organisations. This means we can continually improve applications. Some customers have gone further, not just changing the applications that they already have but building entirely new ones. These include areas such as public buildings legionella testing, ensuring public area health and safety compliance, contractors’ scorecards, and caretaker management.
There are a number of other mobile technology deliverables. Housing providers provide better quality housing as mobile workforce technology helps them meet Decent Homes standards faster. Voids turn-around has reduced significantly where mobile devices manage pre-inspections; so jobs required can be quickly booked and materials ordered immediately online. In some cases, the reduction in the time taken for voids turn-arounds has been as high as 50 per cent.
Another area where tenants benefit is online self-service, where they log problems through the landlord’s website. The automated response is despatched immediately through the responsive repairs/emergency call systems to operatives’ PDAs. This proves particularly useful with gas leaks, for example.
In addition, there are green issues. Following Copenhagen 2009, there will be governmental pressures on those within the reach of state control to demonstrate green credentials. The significantly reduced travel and the related office and depot space reductions resulting from the use of mobile services helps here too. We have seen typical fuel usage reductions of 25 per cent as well as a large reduction in paper usage as paper job-tickets become redundant and stores ordered electronically.
Our most recent research shows that since our inception two years ago, we have achieved over £100 million of costed savings for clients deploying mobile technology. With emotive headlines in the papers about housing waiting-list times, it’s rewarding to know that some of these savings help to create new homes. We applaud every organisation that has invested in mobile technology, achieving savings that are converted into additional housing stock.
What really inspires me and explains the single market focus of 1st Touch is that the ultimate beneficiary of mobile technology isn’t technology providers but the tenants who have seen improvements in responsiveness, appointment keeping, cleaner streets and most importantly ‘right first-time’ delivery. Nothing is a greater validation of what anyone on the client or vendor side does. We have seen first-time fixes go from less than 20 per cent to more than 80 per cent following the introduction of mobile technology.
While this mix of motivations might have provided the fuel for mobile technology growth in 2009, serendipitously the future desire to invest will receive added impetus from the political climate. Regardless of which party is in power later this year, spending cuts are inevitable; as we all know, social housing wasn’t ‘ring fenced’ in the recent PBR.
Suddenly the motivations to invest in mobile technology for productivity, best-practice, better service and addressing environmental issues are thrown into sharp relief by the need to cut budgets. Mobile technology is at the forefront of this battleground, mitigating the budgetary pressures.
So can these savings continue? Well I believe so, as we are only at the beginning of the adoption curve. Much of the recent growth in mobile technology has been in property services. However, we are seeing strong growth around rent and arrears management. Other areas include site or communal area inspections, caretaker management and general estate management such as clearing fly-tipping, abandoned cars and graffiti. Our research shows that 90 per cent of housing providers who initially adopted mobile technology in one area are now deploying it in other business areas. If we look at additional mobile worker areas such as ‘Supporting People’, one sees further potential benefits.
It seems that the original social convictions that drove clients and the technology vendors are the very things that will serve tenants well by preventing loss of service when the budgetary axe falls. Hence social mobility in social housing is the way forward.
Robert Dent is CEO of 1st Touch.