Housing Technology talks to David Todd, CEO of Xmbrace, about workforce scheduling, how Xmbrace has grown since its inception in 2001 and technology trends in social housing.
Xmbrace was established in 2001 as a specialist systems integrator selling the Opti-Time workforce scheduling system in the UK. Having found early success in social housing, the company decided to focus exclusively on this sector. David Todd, CEO of Xmbrace, said, “Over the eight years we have been implementing Opti-Time, it has evolved into a functionally-rich, standard application that can be implemented quickly and with as close to no technical risk as is possible with enterprise business systems.”
What is Opti-Time?
Xmbrace’s Opti-Time is a real-time resource scheduling system covering responsive repairs, appointment booking with ‘operative proximity indicators’, project-based work and complex repairs, gas servicing and KPI reporting. Opti-Time integrates as standard to all housing and contractor management systems and provides links with web, email and text/SMS services for customer communications and appointment booking.
Todd added, “Opti-Time is an essential part of a housing provider’s IT systems and is a key enabler for mobile working. We provide the missing link between the client and contractor functions, regardless of whether the contractor is in-house or external, and whether there is one contractor or many. Furthermore, an increasing number of our customers use Opti-Time as their generic appointment booking tool.”
Xmbrace’s 135 customers span the spectrum of UK social housing, including ALMOs, local authorities and contractors. Customer examples from Xmbrace’s user group committee include Birmingham City Council, Darlington Borough Council, Dudley MBC, Edinburgh City Council, HydeMartlet Homes, Ian Williams, Morrison, Scottish Borders Housing Association, Signpost Services and Wrekin Housing Trust.
Todd said, “The number and range of our housing customers is not just because the software is good; it is tangible evidence of our commitment to ensuring that our customers get the solution they want and that they get the support they need to continually improve that solution.”
Unlike many technology companies which tend to have business relationships with just a few partners of a particular type to fill a gap in their own services, Xmbrace has successfully partnered with most of the technology companies in the social housing sector. This is particularly true of almost all of the suppliers of housing management systems, so that despite the wider technology consolidation in this sector, Xmbrace expects demand for its scheduling software to continue to grow.
While other areas of technology for the social housing sector have many different suppliers, each with their own version of an application-specific product, Xmbrace’s exclusive focus on dynamic workforce scheduling has served it well. Todd explained, “We work with all of the housing management systems and all of the contractor systems used in this market, and will work with any chosen mobile solution – no one else can say that.”
Looking to the future
Todd said, “Our plans are to continue to do what we do well, which means staying focused on the needs of our customers while maintaining our reputation for innovation. In terms of technology, Opti-Time has been completely redeveloped as a web-based system, and this is now being delivered to new customers.” With this in mind, existing Xmbrace customers will be migrated to the Opti-Time web version from 2010 onwards.
“The latest initiative is our performance management service which will deliver a meaningful way for our customers to measure their performance in real time,” explained Todd.
Looking further ahead, Xmbrace believes that the ultimate mobile working and job scheduling system should encompass responsive repairs, gas, voids and planned works, each of which has very different scheduling requirements. Todd said, “We have 100 live customers working one job at a time and we believe we have an unparalleled understanding of the issues surrounding responsive repairs. To that end, we have spent over two years working with a group of six customers to develop the Opti-Time project planner, a module specifically designed to meet the needs of housing maintenance staff managing voids and other planned work.”
Technology trends – what’s next?
Xmbrace’s long-term presence in the social housing sector and variety of customers has given it a good view of technology trends in the sector, in particular the changing role of IT and how the web and mobile working are changing how housing providers operate.
Todd said, “Social housing is still lagging behind other industry sectors in terms of technology innovation but it is catching up very fast – you only have to look at the technology projects presented at our annual InMotion conference to see some great examples of IT innovation. Furthermore, we’re moving away from the situation a few years ago when the IT department didn’t see itself as a business enabler, to the point where IT teams are coming up with many of the ideas and projects that actually drive organisational change.”
The technology landscape is also changing, with Xmbrace highlighting two significant areas. The first is the provision of more web-enabled services, and in particular software as a service, which allows smaller housing providers to offer similar levels of customer service and technology innovation as larger organisations but without the infrastructure costs. And with an increase in mobile working and mobile services, the second area of technology change is the blurring and eventual disappearance of the historic distinction between fixed and mobile services.
Xmbrace in figures
Having been established in 2001, Xmbrace’s annual turnover for the year to 31 December 2009 is expected to be about £2.8 million, with year-on-year growth running at around 20 per cent. The company has 26 staff, half of which work in development and support and the remainder covering administration, sales and marketing and project management. Xmbrace said that it expects to have around 145 customers by the end of 2009, all from the social housing sector.