Digital services have become extremely important in the modern commercial world. By using digital innovation, companies can improve their employee and asset productivity; providing increased customer satisfaction. It’s true for every sector that businesses who fail to adapt to the digital landscape risk being left behind by their competitors. Alternatively, a new market disrupter, such as Uber, could launch and change the entire landscape of the industry. On the other hand, digital can be used to solve asset management challenges in difficult circumstances, and this is particularly relevant for the housing sector in repairs and maintenance.
It’s clear that the housing sector is being tested by a tough financial climate. Following the last general election, the housing sector and social landlords are being faced with significant funding cuts in the next four years. The introduction of universal credit will also present income challenges, as housing associations will need to seek income directly from their tenants rather than through local authorities. But with a viable digital asset management system, reactive repairs in housing have the opportunity to improve first-time fixes and improve inventory control.
One new concept which could improve property servicing is the ‘connected van’. The internet-enabled van is beginning to gain traction in the utilities space, where for many years leading companies have grappled with the challenge of the first-time fix. Frequently engineers are sent to a repair request, only to find that they don’t have the correct equipment or skills to fix the problem. For our biggest utilities customers, a significant proportion of house calls are second- or third-time visits, which can add up to thousands of visits per day. The waste of time and resources is staggering, in addition to the negative impact that multiple visits have on customer relationships.
The connected van can address this issue in many ways, beginning with the lack of necessary equipment. Using RFID, every piece of equipment on board can be tracked; whenever an item is taken out, an alert can be shared with both logistics and procurement. This effectively turns the van into mobile warehouses and links the supply chain together. By providing central knowledge of vehicles’ stock levels, this approach delivers enhanced and more efficient stock control, improving stocks and ordering processes.
Connected vans also provide information on teams’ locations, to improve the speed with which they can respond to calls. Operators can despatch repair teams based on their locations, as well as their equipment and the skills of the engineers on board. Ultimately, this will increase the rate of first-time fixes, improve efficiency and give customers a better experience. A connected van would also provide wi-fi access for those in the field, enabling them to update their records directly through the device of choice. This form of mobile working would deliver reduced paperwork and increased productivity.
Digital will offer further opportunities for the housing sector in the future, particularly through the internet of things (IoT). IoT can create an environment where objects in tenants’ houses are able to speak with servicing directly. Rather than deploying someone to assess whether a device is working, that device will be able to send a message about the problem, how serious it is and whether it can be repaired remotely. Fixing items remotely is far cheaper and quicker; alternatively, connectivity would ensure that the resources needed to fix an issue are identified before a team is despatched.
Many long-standing companies have developed infrastructures and practices gradually, sometimes over 50 or 60 years. But failing to innovate with digital tools can leave more traditional companies vulnerable to market disrupters, who can quickly start afresh and establish new, more effective supply chains and ways of working. To improve their offering, businesses in the housing sector should aim to make gradual improvements. Connected vans offer this sort of opportunity. Digital can give companies in the housing sector many advantages to help them flourish in these particularly challenging times.
David Rosewell is head of digital offerings for Fujitsu UK & Ireland.