I would like to introduce this article by describing a common situation when we are demonstrating our software to housing associations. Imagine a group of people animatedly discussing how the software might help them, when one person, usually a senior director, asks in a knowledgeable tone, “ah, but is it web-enabled?”. When pressed to explain their understanding of ‘web-enabled’, it’s often vague, although they still want it.
Web-enabled can have a variety of meanings in the software world; while most software can communicate with other software, databases or services via the internet, true line-of-business web applications are few and far between.
The new breed of web applications has been dubbed ‘web 2.0’, which refers to the aim of making web content universally available across diverse platforms, operating systems and hardware devices. More importantly, it is the joining up of disparate silos of information on the web. For example, a tenant viewing properties on your web site might also see links to repairs and maintenance, finance, the local council and other services. However a web 2.0 site, using Microsoft Silverlight for example, would combine all this information and more into a single process, with the content updating in real-time to reflect the feedback and inputs from the tenant, providing a seamless desktop-like experience for the user.
XBAP (XAML Browser Application) is a ‘sandboxed’ application environment for .NET. In its most simple format, it could be used by RSLs to move paper forms online; if the tenant needs help while filling in the online form, a ‘help’ button would send the completed data so far to one of the association’s support staff who could then update the screen in real-time with helpful comments.
Housing associations can significantly improve their tenant communications by taking the first steps towards adopting web 2.0 technologies, while the same technologies also make it easier to deliver business information to staff wherever and whenever they need it. Finally, costs are kept to a minimum as web 2.0 services are based on existing industry standards, so reducing the need to provide extra training and education for IT staff.
Phil Shelton is a director of Shelton Development Services.