Tenant expectations continue to put significant cost pressures on property maintenance and are forcing housing providers to reconsider how they control costs while delivering enhanced service levels. Andrew Moore, a property maintenance specialist at Causeway Technologies, explores how digital transformation provides an opportunity for housing providers to improve their operational efficiency in order to reduce costs.
In this article, he explains how creating and leveraging new connections between otherwise disparate functions, isolated data, and disconnected point solutions can help housing providers optimise property maintenance and tenant services for less.
Whether driven by government spending cuts, fluctuating incomes or changing service level agreements (SLAs), many of the sector’s adoptions of new technologies and innovative ways of working have been the result of survival instinct and cautious future-proofing.
Consider today’s connected environment. Constantly exposed to superior customer experiences delivered through social media, mobile apps, live chats, and a wide range of other digital channels, today’s tenants see no distinction between the standard of service they expect from the retail and entertainment sectors, and from their housing providers.
As a result, housing providers have increasingly adopted customer-centric models built around the empowerment of tenants. Whether it’s self-service portals, self-diagnostic maintenance capabilities, omni-channel communications or dedicated mobile apps for tenants, evolving expectations have been one of the critical triggers for transforming the way housing providers deliver their services.
But shrinking budgets and income pressures have always shaped how organisations operate and influenced how executives make decisions. What makes today so special is that the substantial pressures currently felt by housing providers present a unique opportunity for them to become ‘connected’, to deliver more value into every area of the organisation, and to ultimately transform the standard of tenant services, operational efficiency, and in-house property maintenance.
Joining the dots
Although it’s common for housing providers to use applications and other best-of-breed solutions to maximise performance in specific areas, these solutions often operate independently of each other, limiting their ability to scale and deliver holistic gains.
More precisely, this disaggregated approach can prevent housing providers from seizing opportunities to automate and standardise shared processes between functions, reduce administrative workloads, increase jobs per operative, and transform the standard and productivity of their maintenance services.
For example, when disparate data points and siloed functions such as procurement, payroll, and scheduling are connected, managing the timesheets and payroll for a mobile workforce can be largely automated and the managerial time taken to oversee and check the validity of claims significantly reduced. At the same time, this improves the working efficiency of the engineers themselves and also the company’s ability to spot fraudulent or erroneous time claims.
Similarly, in accounts, procurement and supplier management, administrative time is often spent on data entry, queries and invoice matching that could be completed in a paperless exchange community. This would give staff more time and resources to engage in more rewarding value-adding work. Just as electronic timesheets and mobile requisitions empower mobile engineers to spend more time focused on delivering quality maintenance and repair jobs, joining these dots improves the lives of back-office staff, allowing them to move away from mundane, repetitive tasks in favour of work that actively adds value and requires a human touch.
There are also significant benefits possible in job scheduling and management; when integrating business processes and connecting different data sources to dynamic scheduling and job management systems, housing providers can more effectively manage emergency call-outs, accidents and over-runs while optimising jobs per day and maximising first-time fixes. Automatically notifying tenants of appointments via email or SMS at the point of booking and when an engineer is on their way ensures that the customer is there when an engineer calls, greatly reducing the number of ‘no-access’ jobs.
Engineers carrying and assigning stock to jobs also ensures more first-time fixes, especially when stock can be profiled correctly. The ability for engineers to do trade-counter purchasing removes the need for an engineer to leave the job and wait for parts to be ordered from the office. A connected mobile workflow means he can raise a purchase order himself at the site of an approved supplier, and if engineers can be notified in advance about the ‘asset’ they are being called out to service, they can ensure they have any specialised tools and parts prior to arriving at the job; the possibilities are almost endless.
At the heart of any digital transformation project is joined-up data, and although this is clearly a critical factor in improving operational productivity, organisations don’t necessarily need to do wholesale replacements of existing systems with a single proprietary unified system and common data strategy. What makes now such an exciting time for future-facing housing providers is that they can continue to use the existing systems they trust while introducing new ways to join up existing applications without friction and without spending large sums with major ERP vendors or compromising business-as-usual.
I believe this shift away from wholesale integration offers housing providers the best of both worlds, enabling them to be more nimble with their roll-outs of improved services, more frugal with their budgets, and to offer their IT and business teams the chance to deploy services that match the way they work best. This modular approach allows them to reap the operational benefits of a connected system that is tailored to their exact needs and the nuances of the social housing sector, while maintaining the agility and cash-flow to respond to new challenges, pressures, and requirements.
The connected housing provider
The more we explore the value that connections can contribute to specific functions, and the wider we cast the net within housing providers themselves, the clearer it is that the connected approach can enhance every part of a housing provider’s operations, from supplier management and property maintenance through to the way data is presented to senior stakeholders. And as IoT and smart housing become increasingly viable routes to improved property maintenance and tenant services in the future, I’ve never been more confident that these connections are the next logical step in digital transformation.
This process of joining up all the different practices and delivering digital services to tenants is what Causeway calls the ‘connected housing association’, and although the pressure to reduce costs around property maintenance might be the initial trigger, this is an approach that looks to promise something much greater.
Andrew Moore is a property maintenance expert at Causeway Technologies.