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How new technology is transforming the ways three housing organisations operate

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Article written in partnership with:

West Lancashire Borough Council

Support network

Homes managed: 6,040
Systems implemented: Aareon QL and 1st Touch
Key benefit: Networking support platform

West Lancashire Borough Council has been an Aareon customer since 1996. After a stock transfer vote in 2005 in which tenants opted to remain with the council, West Lancashire decided it needed a new, more modern housing management system.

It procured QL Housing from Aareon after a full tender exercise and the system went live in 2011. The council chose Aareon because of their long-standing existing relationship and the platform’s strong user base.

“We’ve got a product called Basecamp where [all QL users] can communicate and start a thread and ask others for guidance, and that’s worth thousands of pounds in free consultancy,” says Andy Bryan, performance and projects manager at West Lancashire Borough Council.

That user group is a major influencing factor on the development of Aareon’s product offering. When customer relationship management (CRM) systems were first being introduced, Aareon worked with user groups to define how information should be presented on the system.

“They’ll get a number of volunteers from different organisations and we’ll collaborate on designing the software,” he says. “So you end up with a product that’s come from the sector, rather than from the industry that’s supporting the sector.”

More recently, West Lancashire Borough Council has been taking steps to move towards its goal of ‘zero touch’ service delivery.

Aareon’s TaskCentre has been used to automate contact in several parts of the business. For example, if a contractor is registered with the council, they can query the database for any relevant further information just by texting using a mobile phone.

“They can give us the property address, just text it, and within a matter of seconds it comes back from TaskCentre,” Mr Bryan adds.

But the technology isn’t just being used to create efficiencies in age-old problem areas; it is also being used to tackle new challenges. Like most other landlords, Universal Credit will soon have a major impact on West Lancashire’s income streams. To solve this issue the council is utilising TaskCentre to employ nudge theory to ensure that its tenants pay their rent on time.

As soon as the council is notified that a tenant has applied for Universal Credit, the tenant’s customer profile is updated and TaskCentre sends them a text message or an email from the council to ask when their pay date will be if their application is successful.

“We’re nudging politely with texts and emails so we can get that rent before it gets spent. Universal Credit is going to have a big impact on us and we need fewer officers churning out arrears letters and following up customers and more of them on case management,” he concludes.


Together Housing Group

Integrated working

Homes managed: 39,000
Systems implemented: Aareon QL, Documotive, Kirona and 1st Touch
Key benefit: Consolidated housing management offering

When 39,000-home Together Housing was formed in 2011 through the amalgamation of a number of housing associations in the North of England, it presented a prime opportunity for the landlord to update its housing management system.

The coming together of associations meant there would be four housing management systems operating across the group. This presented a barrier to effective “joined-up working” in the business, says Robyn Payne, group business transformation manager at Together Housing.

Another issue for Together Housing was around the cost of maintaining four separate IT contracts.

“With four systems we were paying £244,000 a year, but when we went to a single system, that reduced to around £90,000,” says Ms Payne.

The association ran a procurement exercise to find a solution, with Aareon’s QL integrated housing management solution prevailing as the victor.

There were several reasons Aareon came out on top, according to Ms Payne. A major factor was the breadth of the offering available from the company.

Its partnering arrangements, such as with 1st Touch, a mobile workforce platform, meant that Together Housing was provided with a comprehensive suite of tools which Ms Payne says all “sat under one house”.

Another selling point was that Aareon QL wasn’t just an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution.

“We wanted to buy a tailored system we could build our own processes into,” Ms Payne explains.

“So once we knew who the supplier was going to be, we then carried out a nine to 12-month service review period with all our core service areas. We used what came out of the back of that to build QL into what we wanted it to be.”

After a year of careful phased-in implementation work, Aareon QL was rolled out fully in April 2013. It is being used across many parts of the business, including for arrears collection and repairs and maintenance.


Irwell Valley

Mobile solutions

Homes managed: 7,500
Systems implemented: Aareon QL and 1st Touch
Key benefit: Administration heavily reduced

Jill Clarke, IT managing director at Irwell Valley Housing Association, says that a commitment to deliver “an excellent customer repairs service” drove the 7,500-home landlord to buy itself out of its existing maintenance contract.

In 2012 it brought its repairs in-house with a newly formed company called Irwell Valley Adamas. This gave the association greater freedom over the service it could provide.

Its previous repairs contractor operated a mobile working solution, which the association recognised would be important to implement to ensure the smooth running of their direct labour organisation.

“From day one of going live we implemented the 1st Touch mobile solution for our operatives,” explains Ms Clarke. “We saw that as a key to being effective and efficient in order to deliver the best service to our residents.”

Ms Clarke adds that it was important for the association to have a solution in place which would keep administration to an absolute minimum for its small team.

Irwell Valley is innovating to keep the burden of administration low through a partnership with building materials distributor Wolseley. Material replenishment for Irwell Valley’s repairs team is managed through 1st Touch, which notifies Wolseley about stock levels in each of its vans.

“We order the van stock through 1st Touch as well, so that when they complete a job they record the material used,” Ms Clarke explains.

That information is then sent over to Wolseley and there’s an automatic replenishment process in place, meaning the repairs team is fully prepared for each job.

“Following the success of the 1st Touch repairs app and the benefits we have realised, we have rolled out a tenancy management app for our neighbourhood teams and are shortly to roll out a self-service app to all our customers,” she concludes.


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