Technology is a key enabler in delivering efficiencies, says Ian Lockwood of Aareon
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With declining revenues due to rent reduction, an efficient operation has never been more important. Along with process improvement, new technology is often seen as a key pathway to realising efficiency improvements, yet it is a road littered with failed projects, unachieved benefits and underutilised systems. How can we avoid this and ensure that in future, we deliver real efficiency?
It is important to start by understanding the ‘as is’ position. Far too many technology-based projects designed to save money are started without clear knowledge of what current costs are. It is then very hard to quantify delivered savings.
One area where technology has produced real savings within social housing is in delivering ‘channel shift’. In the sector this typically means web portals and mobile phone apps that allow customers to view rent details and make payments, report repairs and manage other service requests such as logging complaints, requesting new payment cards, or reporting estate management issues.
Figures from landlords indicate that for a typical organisation, the cost of a housing officer visit may be in the region of £14, whereas if the customer contacts their provider by phone then the cost will be around £4 per transaction. If these interactions can be shifted to a web portal or a tenant app, then the cost can drop to around 90p.
It is clear from the above figures that sizeable savings are potentially available - transferring just 200,000 phones calls to digital interactions would save £620,000 per annum, for instance. These are, however, theoretical savings - and the mere presence of alternative channels will not produce the desired results.
The first challenge is, of course, to get your customers to use the new channels. This involves having a solution that is easily available across all popular devices. It will require a concerted awareness and marketing campaign to ensure service users are aware of the facility. The digital service must be intuitive and easy to use and, crucially, must provide the user with assurance that their request or enquiry is being dealt with.
Next is ensuring the savings are truly deliverable. If the digital platform simply reports the issue to your staff in the form of an email, then the savings are minimal as time will still be needed to manually type the content of the email into the core housing management system.
Get the technology right with a readily available digital platform which customers are happy to use and which interacts seamlessly with your back office systems, and true savings are within your grasp - but not yet achieved.
A significant element of the transactional costs mentioned above is that they take place in staff time. If that resource just becomes less busy, then the efficiencies will not come. You must also reduce staff numbers, or redeploy those staff to deliver higher value, such as reducing serious arrears cases, or actively marketing hard-to-let properties to reduce void loss.
Technology can therefore be seen as a key enabler in delivering efficiencies. It requires careful planning to ensure full integration with existing processes. Just as critical, however, is management of culture to ensure that the new efficient channels are promoted and used, and that a plan to reduce or redeploy saved human resource is in place.
Ian Lockwood, strategic business development manager, Aareon