Housing Technology interviewed asset management software specialists from Esri UK, MIS Active Management Systems, Northgate Public Services, Orchard and PIMSS Data Systems about how housing providers should be choosing and using the latest generation of housing asset management software.
Do you really need a dedicated asset management system?
With many housing providers, particularly smaller ones, using either their housing management system or standalone spreadsheets to record and monitor their property assets, to what extent do housing providers need a dedicated asset management system?
Orchard’s head of assets, John Buckland, said, “Social housing providers do need specialist asset management tools, whether provided within their housing management system or through a separate, dedicated application. Our experience is that the depth and breadth of functionality and domain expertise required is still not there in the solutions offered as add-on modules to existing housing management systems, which is why there is a continued demand for dedicated systems.
“As for the argument around having a ‘single system for everything’, that is being effectively countered by those housing system suppliers who have acquired specialist asset management systems and devoted resources to getting the integration right.”
PIMSS Data Systems’ asset management consultant, Ruth Dent, said, “The RSH’s VfM standard clearly states that social housing providers must ‘ensure optimal benefit is derived from resources and assets’. To deliver that, there needs to be a robust understanding of assets and that is generally accurately delivered by a piece of dedicated software.
“Many housing management systems will hold component data, but will they allow you to overlay Decent Homes data, carry out ‘what if’ appraisals and identify if components are failing ahead of their expected lifecycles? Will they let you overlay compliance data to prevent you from servicing something you intend to replace?”
Recent software changes
Referring to recent developments with asset management software, MIS Active Management Systems’ managing director, Chris McLaughlin, said, “In the past, asset management systems were created to hold basic information about the property, such as the address, but over time there have been greater expectations that all aspects of the properties should be included, and due to some unfortunate incidents over the years, a greater emphasis on reporting and compliance has come about. This has driven organisations to think about how their data is used, what it is used for and whether or not they’ve been holding the right data.”
Trevor Hampton, director of housing solutions at Northgate Public Services, said, “Asset management systems are now more affordable, enabling housing providers to make better-informed decisions. For example, with building information modelling (BIM) technology, it’s much easier to see if a property has high energy consumption, poor insulation or limited ventilation. We can also use geographical information systems (GIS) technology to evaluate specific areas and locations. GIS is really useful for spotting trends; for example, is there one property where there are frequent call-out requests to mend the boiler or is there an area that suffers from above-average incidents of anti-social behaviour?”
Choosing the right system
Dent from PIMSS Data Systems said, “A user-friendly system is the key consideration to ensure user buy-in and widespread usage across the organisation. This is vital because asset management systems can often and should be extended far beyond just the direct management and monitoring of property assets.
“The flexibility of the system is also very important. The ‘out-of-the-box’ functionality is probably fine to start with, but every housing provider will need something slightly bespoke, so will your software provider work with you to ensure you’re meeting your desired outcomes? And don’t forget that all software has a limited shelf-life and as regulations and business priorities change, your provider needs to be agile enough to change with you. You don’t want a product that is going out-of-date and you need to know that the system will continue to be invested in.”
Northgate Public Services’ Hampton said, “A single solution should be at top of your list when selecting an asset management system. AM systems have been great at capturing information on compliance, condition, valuations and supporting planned and cyclical programme decisions, but this is often done in isolation. Bringing all the intelligence together in one place will make it easier to improve and predict the outcomes of decisions. Mobile working should also be on your wish-list to improve productivity and efficiency.”
Gaining the expected benefits
In terms of the expected benefits, McLaughlin from MIS AMS said, “A good asset management system should act as a portal that holds vast amounts of data about properties that is instantly accessible. It should also cater for repetition and be easily accessible from other products with data being driven asynchronously between different systems. If more information needs to be stored, this should be possible in a matter of clicks and be instantly available, and not be reliant on third parties to change an interface.”
Orchard’s Buckland said, “The main benefits should be time-savings in the automation of processes and the removal of the need for double keying. The asset management system’s integration with your existing housing, repairs and finance systems should make trusted data available to all, remove the need for reconciliation between applications, and make consistent and accurate reporting easier to achieve.”
Avoiding the pitfalls
Northgate Public Services’ Hampton said, “As with any software, the pitfalls are often linked to humans rather than technology. Without a clear set of procedures covering the maintenance, access and use of data, you run the risk of compromising the integrity of the information. For example, if your asset managers are making copies of data or extracting information into their own personal spreadsheets then you are back to square one, with pockets of information being stored in different places across the organisation.”
PIMSS Data Systems’ Dent said, “Like any system, an asset management system is only as good as the data. Some time and love need to be put into data inputting and then keeping it up-to-date.
“Don’t just tell your software provider what you want; make sure they understand what you need once the system is actually delivered. Many systems get set up in the way that the client has specified but often the supplier and client aren’t fully aware of each other’s needs, with the result that the outcomes are sometimes rather unexpected.”
Help with regulatory & legislative compliance
Orchard’s Buckland said, “Simply put, asset management systems should be able to deal with all areas of compliance including, of course, the specific calculations needed for Decent Homes, WHQS, SHQS, HHSRS, EESSH, asbestos risk scoring and so on, and these should be standard and supported by suppliers as regulations change. In addition, systems should be flexible enough to handle any requirement for periodic inspections or servicing and to manage no-access processes, gas and electrical certificates and repairs system integration.”
McLaughlin from MIS AMS said, “An asset management system has the ability to hold an infinite amount of information about a property; this information could be minimal or unlimited. If the right data is stored correctly, the asset management system will provide users with instant access to report-ready compliance and legislative data.
“Furthermore, there should be workflows underlying the asset management system that will not only help with the correct storage of asset data but also ensure that the data stays compliant, and notifying users of potential compliance breaches or alerts.”
Hampton from Northgate Public Services said, “While the challenges of integrating an asset management system are much the same as any other integration project, it’s very important to look for an open system that can easily plug in with your existing applications to give you the freedom to work how you want to and the flexibility to adapt in the future. Integration will always be limited by what information can be passed between the other systems and the availability of those systems during integration, so reducing the number of systems involved in the process must be a priority.”
PIMSS Data Systems’ Dent said, “Inter-application integration is a vital part of the puzzle and has more impact than housing providers often realise. Generally, there is a relationship where all applications use their respective strengths to create a robust, symbiotic and holistic offering.
“The asset management system should lead on asset components and health and safety data, then feed those into the housing management system for customer services and front-line teams. The stock-condition data will be vital to finance applications when looking at the business plan and stress-testing the organisation. No system will provide a complete solution in its own right, but together they can provide something outstanding and fit-for-purpose.”
The next generation of asset management software
McLaughlin from MIS AMS said, “We think that future asset management systems will offer a Google-type ability to bring information to the forefront. They’ll be driven by dashboards and automation, allowing all areas of the system to be seamlessly integrated, predicting decisions and providing AI assistance with data-driven tasks.”
Buckland from Orchard said, “In the future, I see more GIS functionality, integration with building information modelling, IoT-derived data, enhanced offline mobile working and more flexible workflow capabilities. Data science will start to deliver actionable insights and predictions, and all of these will be deliverable through public cloud-hosted solutions.”
Esri UK’s housing lead, Rob Nichols, said, “As a provider of geospatial technology, we have always felt that our customers needed an asset management system for that all-encompassing view of everything. However, in recent years, some of our GIS customers have begun to question whether they actually need a dedicated asset management system at all, and whether a geographic information system could be the alternative.
The GIS would act as their ‘system of record’ because all assets could be managed geographically. Using the tools that come with a geospatial platform, it could then form the basis of their ‘system of insight’ to gain new understandings and awareness of all their assets.
“Taking it a step further, the geospatial software would allow them to take advantage of the off-the-shelf applications and share the asset data with the rest of their organisation and even with tenants, thereby providing the ‘system of engagement’ that most housing providers are striving towards.”
Housing Technology would like to thank Rob Nichols (Esri UK), Chris McLaughlin (MIS Active Management Systems), Trevor Hampton (Northgate Public Services), John Buckland (Orchard) and Ruth Dent (PIMSS Data Systems) for contributing their views and comments to this article.