Abstract image with coloured lines wound around nails on a board.

True Value through True Costs

The importance of Total Cost of Ownership in Social Housing Technology

Over the years, my team and I have carried out many procurement and software selection exercises of very expensive housing systems for landlords. One thing we have seen is that very often you will come across terms and questions such as ‘We would expect to see true Value for Money from your software’. Or ‘You must demonstrate how we would see VFM or cost savings’. What we don’t hear very often is ‘What is our Total Cost of Ownership for this particular system?’

The big problem here is that what value means for the organisation is rarely qualified and quantified in the procurement itself, or even afterwards as those implementing seek to find out what the total cost is and what return they will get to justify their (over)spend.

For as long as I can professionally remember, I had it drummed into me that, as an IT leader, Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is the most important thing you can get right in relation to cost and budget management. TCO is the total of ‘all’ costs related to and incurred through the use of software and is a critical part of ensuring you get Value for Money (VFM) and any reasonable Return on Investment (ROI). They are all kind of related.

But, and it’s a big but (and I cannot lie), the housing sector does not use TCO properly. In fact, I only see it used on very few occasions. This is a real shame, as technology costs a lot. The big question therefore is, if you want to consider the true potential value of a product, why does the sector not make more of an effort to work out he real costs?


How to start looking at your TCO in three simple steps

Step 1: Classify your software solutions

The first exercise you may consider is classification of your software solutions. At present, software you have will fall under one of three categories:

  1. Off-the-shelf software. Typically runs on-premises or a hosted data centre. Think of your current Housing Management System.
  2. Cloud, SaaS software you lease/subscribe to. Think 365, Salesforce or the likes.
  3. Bespoke/custom software developed by a third party, an internal team of developers or a partner organisation.

Step 2: Classify the types of costs associated with each of your software solutions

The second exercise is to consider the types of costs applied to the software types you have above.

Generally speaking, most people will break down these costs into three categories. These categories follow the life cycle of a system within the organisation:

  1. Commissioning costs
  2. Operational costs
  3. Retirement costs

Personally I would argue there is also a fourth, procurement, but I will leave that out of the overview right now, as otherwise I might as well write a book. As the plural of ‘costs’ probably gives away, each of these categories can also be broken down into various categories. This brings us to step 3.

Step 3: Classify and quantify the types of costs associated with each life cycle

The third and final step is to break down the activities and elements involved at any of these stages per sofware solution. This ranges from any hardware needed to run the solution to ongoing training needs for your staff and making sure your data are protected.

The list can be very long, and that might be scary. But, if you want to start to understand what value your systems are bringing to your organisation, you will also need to know what they are costing you; to the very last penny!


You can only see and talk about the value of things you are honest with yourself about Total Cost of Ownership

This has been one of those articles that was meant to be a quick overview of the importance of Total Cost of Ownership and the value of software. However, I got a bit carried away, and could have kept going.

It’s a subject DTL Creative know a lot about, and I feel it is one of those areas that, while it is  incredibly important, it is often underplayed in the sector.

Software is complicated in its entirety. It is complex in its architecture, maintenance and all the costs involved with that. However, it being complicated is not an excuse to glance over it or hold up a wet finger in the wind when setting budgets, writing procurement proposals and reporting on the value a system has brought to the organisation. Indeed, your IT set-up can and should be seen as one of the most important assets you have; so why would you not put in the effort and measure its total costs and the value it brings to not just you, but also your stakeholders.

In the end, IT is about serving customers. These customers are not always the systems users as some would expect. It is about the end customer and in the case of Social Housing, it’s the tenant that needs to see the benefit. It is the tenant that must benefit, to be safe, to be warm and to be confident that somewhere down the line the housing provider is using software to improve their lives.


Getting Started: Common costs you need to know to understand Total Cost of Ownership

The following sections discusses per category from step 2 the most common costs associated with each life-cycle. This list is, of course, not exhaustive. So, if you know there’s even more to it, add that to your spreadsheet as well!

Commissioning Costs

Costs in this category are all the costs incurred when implementing new software. These include initiation and start-up costs. I don’t like to teach folks to suck eggs, but it is worthwhile listing just some of the basics here.

Software.

Software such as housing management systems usually have an up-front software cost plus user licenses, based on assets, users, etcetera. But make sure you understand them fully.

Hardware.

As far as hardware is concerned,the cost of servers and applicable, dedicated, storage to run the software is obvious, but what about and other costs like backup and disaster recovery.

Integration.

These days, very few systems work in isolation. This means they require interfaces to other systems to reap the overall benefit. You will be very likely at some point have to pay to get one system to talk to another. This could be from a third party asking for development time or internal need to assign resource, contractor, or to buy some development tools. Everything is always possible here, but at a cost, and it’s not always straight-forward.

Training.

Sometimes forgotten, the cost of training users applies to all types of software, with varying degrees of need. The training may be internal costs if you haver built it yourself or external costs from suppliers.

Customisation.

Different landlords have specific ways of doing things, so account for this in any customisation you may need to off-the-shelf solutions. It may simply come down to a few small tweaks, but perhaps it is a larger more bespoke adaptation. Whatever it is, it should be calculated in the TCO.

Project & Implementation.

The cost of building and testing software is one thing, but remember the actual resource needs to be accounted for. You may backfill, employ specialist skills or consultancies. There are also costs of setting up things like backups, contingency plans, backups and so on.

Data migration.

Data is a big one. We know that a great deal of suppliers will only help you part of the way in data migration. The cost of moving data from the legacy system to the new system can soon add up and increase your Total Cost of Ownership.

Operational Costs.

Costs in this category are all the costs incurred in the day to day running, maintaining and using of any systems and applications you have, both hardware and software.

Software maintenance & support.

This obviously does not apply to cloud software. However, for software products you have bought off-the-shelf you will have signed up to support agreements that may or may not include patches, version releases and bug-fixes. The small print is the important aspect here. Know what you get and what you don’t get and cost accordingly in your TCO.

I won’t go into Escrow agreements here, but you should know if you have one or not. I’m personally not a fan in case you are remotely interested.

Licenses.

For off-the-shelf software, as the number of users grows in the company, new licenses must be purchased. If the number of users decreases, there are no refunds. For cloud software, licenses are typically priced per month, although they usually require an annual contract. Note that if the number of users increases, this cost increases. If the number of users decreases, this cost may decrease but often only when the contract is renewed.

Ongoing Support.

No matter how it is provided, helpdesks and administration is a must. You may have analysts and developers the system as well. One option here is to calculate costs based on user numbers, and factor in the costs of managing them either all-in or as department service costs.

Ongoing Training.

From time to time, you will have new users, new starts, or perhaps something bigger like a merger where hundreds of new users find themselves with new software at their fingertips. They will need trained, so where you can budget, where you can’t add it in during the years spend.

Adaptations and Enhancements.

Things change, it’s a matter of fact. Sometimes it can be regulatory things such as Decent Homes, it could be a new control such as GDPR or perhaps some company restructuring. Whatever it is, it will more than likely require some software changes.

Upgrades/Version releases.

Off-the-shelf software will have upgrades over its lifetime. They can be time-consuming, risky but also costly.

Disaster recovery & Business Continuity.

The provision and cost of a backup strategy is one thing but so are things like testing. Have you a strategy and cost plan in place?

Environment & Sustainability.

What about electricity/power, environment and sustainability? The costs of running the software in your server room like power, cooling and floor or rack space. You can add on security, alarms, suppression systems and so on here as well to calculate how the systems you use affect the environment.

Depreciation.

Your finance/accounting department will love that you do this. Writing off the capital cost of the software and the hardware it runs on is very important but often overlooked. You obviously can’t do this in cloud-based services.

Security.

The costs of keeping your systems secure is not just in the code and the permissions of users but also applies to how you manage cost apportionment to firewalls, anti-virus etc. What about penetration testing. Have you thought of that in your TCO model?

Retirement Costs.

From time to time, you will cease to use some software. A fancy word for this is retirement. There are costs incurred when retiring software that will add to the Total Cost of Ownership. However, as well as the costs in transitioning to a replacement, some companies do not take into consideration that retired systems can still incur ongoing costs.

Accessing and Storing Historical Data.

As mentioned, data is a specific area where you may find it expensive to migrate data out your old and into the new system. While you may have decided against migrating specific (often transactional data) directly into your new application to save costs, there are various reasons to keep those historical data available somewhere else, not in the least for legal and regulatory and compliance purposes, but also to ensure that any ongoing chased debts are not lost.

Whatever the reason, if you don’t migrate it, you may have to pay to access it. Like all the specific areas in this article, there are more details to consider, but as you will see it is a large and important area worth serious consideration. Because, well, let’s be honest, how often have you seen existing suppliers be helpful in such areas. You have just gone to their competitor, so why would they ensure the data from their old systems will remain available to you for free? So, decisions need to be made and some of these will cost money that should be included perhaps in the TCO model for the new software.

Parallel Running of Legacy System(s).

Another example is a situation where legacy software may have to run in parallel to the new system for a set period, which, while often forgotten about, must also be costed.


The Secret Sauce

The Secret Sauce: that special set of ingredients that is kept a secret for the sake of a competitive advantage. So, imagine if you knew the ingredients. Wouldn’t that be great. We’ll cover more of that later.

Keeping up with the general pace of change in technology can be a real challenging time for landlords. The rate of change is fast, very fast. The world of technology, whether it be IoT, Computing power, Cloud based systems, AI, ML, AR (Surely you know what they are by now without me spelling them out) is moving fast and are all here, and here to stay. Although this is great news, it’s not actually all about the technology.

The other rate of change we are seeing right now in the social housing sector is availability of different systems, the acquisitions of traditional suppliers by larger suppliers, the introduction of new suppliers that are challenging the status quo, and the advent of the sector starting to adopt things like Low Code as a viable option to such things as help desks, CRM systems and more. It can be a bit overwhelming when you bring it all together. So, what hope do you have when considering a project to improve your systems and you want to know what is out there, how to find out what systems are available, what technology is about?

Stagnation

On talking to a friend in the sector the other day, she agreed that, for the first time in a while, we have not seen this much movement, change and options as far as systems and technology are concerned. Innovation is also ripe, yet there is still one issue we see.

Many landlords are not seeing all the options open to them clearly. It is easy to go to a conference and see lots of suppliers talk about their system, and to talk about their new technology and how it makes a difference. The truth is their system probably does make a difference. It may make a difference to you, or it may not. It may make a difference to another landlord but again this may not work for you.

So, why is this the case? Why do some achieve success in finding and adopting new technology and some don’t? Well, it’s all about the way ‘you’ approach your change project. Believe it or not, the software or indeed the technology is not the answer to all your problems. The truth is ‘you’ are the biggest challenge. Yes, it’s people, organisational nuances, culture, experience, well you get the point. It is all about the way ‘you’ go about it! The software is key, but you and the way you implement it is even more critical. 

So, is there a ‘secret sauce’ in finding the right housing technology? 

You see, we are all guilty of being seduced by a demonstration, a pitch, a post or two that shows off the latest wonders in a new software application. It really does look good sometimes. But again, what works well for one and not another is a fine line. But what if there was an actual secret sauce?

What are the ingredients of this secret sauce?  We will pick three, but like most secret sauces we are not giving you all the component parts. That’s a secret!

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions

The first, not so secret ingredient is knowing how to successfully move from A to B. In the world of systems change and consultancy this is called ‘transformation’. It makes it sound clever, indeed almost untouchable in that only rocket scientists can carry out. It does take some real experience and knowledge to be able to carry out systems transformation projects, but it’s certainly not rocket science.

You should however not try it for the first time without seeking some level of advice, bringing some resource in, or asking/talking to others. In fact, you could do all of these. The point about transformation is in the early stages, the planning. Careful thought and due diligence are all early must’s but also important is the ongoing governance of a transformation project. Dot the I’s and cross those T’s when planning. Think what you need to do in detail and do it.

2. It’s all about the money…

The next ingredient, as Cuba Gooding Junior said in Jerry McGuire is ‘Show me the money’. It may sound obvious, but I see this all the time. A great deal of landlords do not adequately budget for change. Some do, but most don’t. It’s a fact. 

And when I talk about budgets, I don’t mean pie in the sky stuff. Like above, do some benchmarking, ask some who have done it before, ask suppliers in soft market exercises for ballpark figures. They will oblige. Whatever you do, do not guess, and do not go into a project without an idea as to what your spend + x is. By the way, x is your contingency pot. You may overspend. That’s another fact.

3. Respect the project

The third ingredient I’ll tell you about is programme resourcing.

When working with a landlord some years ago, we brought in a very experienced project manager that had delivered projects across the world, in many different sectors and industries. He spent a little time with us showing us the secrets to programme and project management, especially managing multiple projects at once.

One thing always stuck in my mind and to this day I try and get across to people I work with. It may sound obvious, but the tip is this:

All in all…

Do not try and do too much overall.

Instead of doing 10 projects, failing on 7 overspending on 5, never seeming to end 2 and finishing one on time, under budget and being seen as a success, do 3 Projects, and succeed on all 3, seeing rewards, seeing success and then able to move on and do the next set. 

It’s about picking your battles and being successful. You will get thanks for this instead of tying too much and failing on most.

So, there is so much going on within the world of technology in social housing. It need not be as complicated as it first seems. The secret sauce goes a long way to making change successful, but remember, it’s not actually that secret. It’s more common sense.

Want to find out how to cut through the noise and find your own secret sauce? We can help at DTL Creative.

Application strategy roadmaps plot your business journey

Application strategy: what #ukhousing leaders need to know

Application strategy: the most exciting #ukhousing topic? Maybe not, but it’s key to aligning your IT tools with business objectives and improved data intel.

Who needs an application strategy, anyway?

The case for an application strategy starts at executive level. Social housing professionals often ask how technology can help them achieve their business objectives. You might want to:

  • Better mitigate risk 
  • Expand your digital offer to customers
  • Be more proactive with reporting and governance
  • Improve value for money.

Many housing associations aspire to achieve an omnichannel service delivery model. This is where customers get consistent service, no matter which channel they use. Someone might apply on a website, then switch seamlessly to an app. But if a problem occurs, they can also phone the housing provider and speak to a person who can chat about their contact history.

These aspirations are not easy to achieve for many housing organisations. For example, if you previously procured a payments portal, then developed separate repairs web functionality later, the two systems may not talk to each other or share data. This can lead to a disjointed customer experience. The more standalone bolt-ons you implement to satisfy immediate needs, the harder it gets to create seamless services.

Clues to look for

Many housing providers have developed a sprawl of applications over time. That’s not surprising. When you’re running services day-to-day and fixing problems, it’s not easy to stick to a long-term plan; service delivery often takes top priority. Adding in the cultural challenge of trying to change systems that colleagues know (and even sometimes love!) can be tricky.

Sometimes you need an external trigger – perhaps a contract ending, or advance warning that software will not be supported in future, will prompt change. These events focus activity on selecting replacement options.

So what clues can help you spot possible challenges? The spreadsheet trail is a good place to start. It’s almost a ‘given’ when I start any review, that I’ll find teams who have lots of spreadsheets that supplement other systems (asbestos, gas certificates and anti-social behaviour are common).

Another clue involves understanding whether your data can help you achieve your long-term vision. One recent housing client wanted to remove barriers which were preventing their team delivering great services at first point of contact. They found that data conflicts between applications in their service centre, and staff having to jump between various applications, was causing bottlenecks.

In a time-limited, resource-constrained world, many housing professionals still work on a tactical basis. With reporting, monthly traffic light systems are good to track ongoing performance, but they don’t help with the bigger question of how services could be delivered more efficiently. And they don’t help you predict how doing X instead of Y might affect your business, or its customers. That’s where an application strategy can make a big difference.

Two key elements

There are two key elements you need to focus on to have an effective plan for your applications:

Application strategy

The process starts with your business plan and organisation values. It’s your ‘why’ and sets guiding principles to follow. Like any strategy, you need a clear vision and a clear picture of what a good result looks like. Think strengths, opportunities, aspirations and desired results.

By the end of this step, you’ve mapped all your current applications. We call this the ‘as is’ map. Now you can see where systems overlap or conflict and spot gaps to address. 

You might have aspirations to use predictive analytics and modelling. If 50 per cent of your customers pick up the phone, but you could encourage half of them to self-serve, how much could you reinvest in other services? Or, if you have data system and service silos, how can you change that and explore how cross-service links affect complaints?

Now it’s time to create a future state diagram; the ‘to be’ model. This should be more streamlined than the first example. It’s where you’ve removed overlaps, improved integrations, retired unnecessary applications and so on. It might also introduce new layers, such as customer relationship systems, a knowledge base or improved reporting functionality.

Application roadmap

Armed with a clear strategic direction, it’s time to look at your planned journey and build the roadmap. This builds a series of steps and a timeline, with costs to show how you’ll get from A to B.

Your choices will depend on past decisions, application availability and available resources. If you’ve recently implemented a new housing management system, you probably don’t want to rip it up and start again. But any systems due for replacement will be high on your list of priorities. The same goes for any systems that won’t be supported in future.

An application roadmap takes time to deliver. Two or three years is common for many housing organisations. The trick is to stay focused on your overall business objectives and keep track of progress. As each system comes up for replacement, you can then change things with your ultimate goal in mind. And if the unexpected happens (in other words, always!), you can adjust your strategy to reflect changing business and customer priorities.

Application strategy: in-house, or consultancy support?

Many housing associations and local authority housing teams already have their own IT specialists. You may wonder, do you really need external support for this task?

The answer is (drumroll…) it depends!

With a large technical team, you may have scope to reallocate resource away from day-to-day work – assigning dedicated IT professionals to conduct a market assessment and build the strategy and roadmap.

But few housing providers have this luxury, and that’s typically when people turn to housing technology consultants like DTL Creative. Consultancy support can bring in much-needed market knowledge. And that’s critical if you want to understand:

  • What is considered best practice in the housing sector
  • Which applications the leading IT providers are working on
  • What emerging technologies are on the horizon, but not yet implemented
  • How other providers with similar challenges are facing application challenges. 

Bringing consultancy experts in can ‘extend your workbench’. This complements in-house skills and provides more hands on deck.

Final thoughts

Building an application strategy is not about technology in isolation. It’s about how IT supports your business plan and business objectives. Like any strategy, a big part of this process involves consulting with service managers, to make sure people are on board and clear about future direction.

It’s also a great catalyst to explore what value systems are bringing to your organisation. For example, if you’re only using 10 per cent of a system but paying for 100 per cent, does this suggest an opportunity to get better value for money? And what potential is there to use emerging technologies to improve customer service?

Mapping this route takes time, but it’s worth the investment if you want to bring about lasting change in your business.

Fancy a chat?

If you’d like to know more about application strategy support, please contact our consultancy team for an informal conversation.

Further reading

Management consultancy services

Recent case studies

A story of data and perseverance

Let me tell you a story about data. Why? 

Well, I (and many others) believe that story telling is important in business as it gives a real-life insight into how things come about, uses less business jargon, and can bring to life a specific journey without the need for a presentation or anything other than a story. Of course, the story must be true.

A long, long time ago…

This story begins 4 years ago late in the evening in a hotel bar in Aberdeen. I was with my rugby club’s mini’s youth tour. I was a coach and a so-called responsible adult. Hmmm. Our kids were running about causing havoc in the hotel when some of us parents were sipping an orange juice.

There were two other parents that I had not met before and I got talking to, and as luck would have it, we had hit upon the specific topic of data after we got to that moment when someone says: ‘What do you do?’. 

‘I have worked in IT and Systems for the last 3 decades’ I told them, and now own a business delivering consultancy in the social housing sector.

They both owned a data science company that had grown considerably and was delivering great projects for a wide range of companies worldwide, all in the private sector of retail, banking etc. 

Some great customers there I said and jokingly (those who know me, will know I can just blurt things out in the moment) asked if they have ever done work on data in the public or third sector. 

They hadn’t, but there in lay the challenge.

‘Why not?’ I asked.

Our first steps in #ukhousing

This was four years ago, give or take a few months, so those reading this from a social housing track will know that although some were looking at data analysis, reporting (yuk), even a dashboard or two, it wasn’t by any means top of the social landlord’s agenda. 

‘It never hit our radar’ they said, and ‘nobody has ever asked from that sector’ they supplemented. 

I know I used to be a lot more critical back then. I was after all still a young pup in my forties, albeit my late forties, but I did say that one of the issues with the social housing sector, and still is to a degree, is that they are very insular and don’t look for solutions or best practice from the outside. 

So, was there a way we could join forces to look at data solutions for the sector by using my consultancies knowledge of the sector and their specific expertise in data science and engineering?

You bet there was. 

We designed some services that brought data analytics and Power BI dashboards to several landlords, and it worked well. However, in business some things throw you off-piste. In this case, they were acquired by a large American company and were taken in some different directions that meant our dream of saving the social housing worlds data-based problems through data science, engineering and problem solving was off the table.

And that was that.

Let’s try again!

Until that is the founders of that business, the two I bumped into that night recently brought up the subject of trying again. They now had a new business full of talented data scientists, engineers, analysts, and problem solvers.

And so, we did try again. This time it’s even better, and it’s now a service that is about to make some serious in roads to helping landlords with their data-based problems. 

We both love that joining of forces where we can bring some of the UK’s leading minds in data, working alongside my own company that is so determined to make a difference and create change in the sector, this time with one of your most valuable assets, and you could argue, perhaps over that late night orange juice, your most important asset. Data!

Find out more and get in touch about our brand new Data Improvement Services.

How can technology help #ukhousing fight domestic abuse?

Even though England lost, it will have come home for too many people suffering from domestic abuse – what can tech do about it?

England lost last night’s Euro 2020 final to Italy. Even though I’m Dutch and of course a bit sour about ‘my team’ exiting stage left that quickly, I truly wanted the team to do well. Not as much for the country as for the individuals that make up the team, and for those who suffer from domestic abuse.

This team is something else, and regardless of what one makes of the behaviour of a part of the spectators (won’t call them fans) and the media, I personally think it is brilliant to see these young lads stand up (and kneel) for what they believe in; a fairer world where nobody is left behind regardless of the colour of their skin, place of birth, who they love and how they know themselves.

In this light, I also want them to do well because, as is being highlighted more and more over the last few years, there is a very significant relationship between England’s national football team losing and an increase in alcohol-related male-to-female domestic abuse.

As you can read in this brave and sad blog written by a member of staff at a housing provider who for very obvious reasons wants to remain anonymous, football and the emotions and habits that are associated with it (and accepted as such) cannot just be done away with as ‘just a game’; it becomes a sometimes life threatening ordeal of survival. If yesterday’s scenes in London are anything to go by, last night, for too many people like this anonymous author, the only thing that came home was violence and abuse.

Technology isn’t always the saviour

Doing a quick search on ‘technology and domestic abuse’ to see what kind of technology is out there to help victims and survivors of domestic abuse isn’t the great and inspirational read that you may think it is. Indeed, while having access to online sources to search and ask for help, if anything, a lot of these communication technologies that have made their way into our daily habits and lives, such as phones, tablets, laptops and PCs are also the most-used ways to monitor, stalk and harass victims.

Being reachable every time of day already has its downsides, but for those in abusive relationships, a potential constant stream of messages, calls and ‘checking in’ is just the tip of the iceberg. In many abusive relationships, there is no hiding, no locking devices, no passwords, nothing that can keep the abuser from gaining access to what you might be telling your friends and family.

It’s also not just the inherently bad things. Where my partner and I use an app called ‘Life360’ to see whether someone’s on their way home and whether we can start the cooking and the like (and to curb my own anxiety of something happening during the motorcycle commute), others use apps like this to keep track of their victim’s every movement, and refusing or switching it off isn’t an option either, as that will only lead to more (severe) forms of abuse. And let’s not think about hidden ‘nanny cams’ in combination with Wi-Fi…!

Tech for Good: is it possible?

At DTL one of our core mottos is to use Tech for Good. As we have just seen in the previous section, that’s not an easy feat, even the things that we thought we’d design ‘for good’. The government’s encouragement then to ‘design technology products in a way that minimises the opportunities for abuse may help address this issue’ isn’t as straightforward as they make it out to be.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and keep thinking about how we could use technology in ways that make it at least VERY difficult for malice intent to be invited in. As I say all the time, ‘there’s *rseh*l*s everywhere’. One way or another they will find ways to harm people even using tools and tech that were supposed to be helping people, but we have to keep trying, not just by then trying something completely new, but if tech suppliers and designers can acknowledge that their products might be used in ways they didn’t intend, and actively look out for them so they can work their best to close those doors and iteratively learn and improve, we might help at least some people.

Housing providers, domestic abuse and technology

Housing providers, who are tasked with doing the best they can to provide safe and warm homes for the people who live in the homes they manage, have the opportunity and, dare I say, responsibility, to play a part in trying to make things better. I am not alone in this conviction.  

Alison Inman’s CIH Presidential Make a Stand campaign, working with Women’s Aid and Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) recognised this better than anything else, and has urged housing providers of any size and sort to sign up to their pledge to do their utmost to own that responsibility.

Signing up to the pledge and getting DAHA Accreditation would mean committing to implementing practices and procedures, both in relation to their outward going services and, for example, the way tenancies are set up (legally), but also internally in honing their own housing management systems’ and data capabilities, to prevent, to spot (early) signs of domestic abuse, to seek professional support with how to approach these suspicions in the best and safest possible ways, and how to be part of the solution.

Outward services: what you can do?

1. Appoint (a) dedicated member(s) of staff trained to

  • continuously scrutinise and advise on internal domestic abuse procedures and policies.
  • to function as a first point of contact for ALL staff for advice.
  • to ensure ALL members of staff are aware of the procedures and policies, not just staff who go out and meet tenants.
  • ensure staff going out to tenants, have access to and understanding of devices they use and how they can enable them to report and input domestic abuse-related information on the go. We might often think that this means ‘neighbourhood officers’, but actually, it’s repairs and maintenance staff that actually enter peoples’ homes most often. There are specific training opportunities for repairs and maintenance staff to spot the signs and report to the right person within the organisation as efficiently using technology probably already available in your organisation!

2. Quick Escape/Exit Buttons

Websites that contain information on domestic violence or sexual abuse (should) have a ‘quick exit’ button on every (sub)page that allows people who are afraid their abuser or anyone else might walk into the room and see what they are looking into to close the website in a single click, then opening an often-used random page, such as Google’s front page. The most important thing for me here is to have this button ‘floating’, so people can scroll without losing sight of the button, and perhaps even scroll using the arrows on the keyboard and hover with the mouse over the button to increase reaction time.

3. Shielded Websites

Where Quick Escape buttons mainly help with the initial hiding of activity, they do not automatically erase your browser history and other data. The ‘Shielded Website’ initiative by Women’s Refuge New Zealand is a tool that allows people to search for and ask for help online without fear of it showing up in their browser’s history. It is, as they say, a simple icon which can sit on any website and “launch a powerful resource to help end domestic violence”.

Internal Technical Opportunities

1. Ensure you have an excellent Data Culture to start with

Before I go on to tell what you can do with the data you store in your systems to spot signs of and prevent domestic violence from happening, the most important thing is that everyone understands their responsibility towards data. Data isn’t just an administrative pain; It is the bread and butter of any role. It already was before we switched to computers, because data aren’t ‘digital’ per se. The ledgers and tenancy agreements stored in roller archives are and contain data too. In order to provide great services and providing opportunities to help tenants in danger, it is pertinent that data is correct.

2. Put in place the right security measures in your systems to detect and prevent domestic abuse

Whether it is a customer service operative on the phone for a repair, a neighbourhood officer having a chat about ASB or a rent collection officer asking about arrears, ensure that they have clear security protocols in place in the system, asking the right questions to confirm the identity of the person they are speaking to.

3. Spend time with data scientists and analysts to build tailored reports and alerts that can help you spot (potential) signs of domestic abuse early

Section 5 of the SaveLives.org ‘Safe at Home Report’ shows that regular repairs requests for interior doors, holes in walls, as well as break-ins for exterior doors can be a sign of domestic violence, as well as out of hours repairs. Having reporting in place that can identify these potential cases is key in spotting signs of domestic violence and saving lives. Of course, these are not the only signs. There might be hidden messages and hints in phone calls or emails that clever AI tools and machine learning can help you pick up on; the way we speak and write about things can reveal a lot about our situations, if only we learn how to listen.

The examples above are by no means exhaustive and just some of the things you could/should do and consider. We would LOVE to hear from you if you have any other great best practice procedures and tools that can help others to do what they can to spot and offer relief and support for people living with Domestic Violence as early as possible, whether they have to do with technology or not. We have to keep making a stand, day in day out, not just call attention to it when there’s a big football tournament on.


Housing Management Systems: 5 lessons from experience

“Why did we ever buy this @^&@ system?”

You’ve bought a new, shiny, all encompassing, truly amazing best of all housing management systems. Or at least that is what the supplier said at the conference. It can do this and that, it can change your life forever, it can transform the way you do things for the better. However, can it?

First up, of course it can. The above is not necessarily a dig at the suppliers. We believe ‘most’ of the housing management systems out there are very good systems, and ‘can’ potentially deliver some improvements in your operations, improve your customer satisfaction, and give you more insight into your data, your performance, your service delivery. 

We say ‘can’. There is that word again. Can.

We are saying that it ‘can’ do a good job, but only if it is implemented well. And that is the hard part, implementing well.

I have been involved in many housing management systems implementations and I could write a book on the subject (now there’s an idea). We have been doing it for a while now, and although systems have evolved, and are technically more advanced, the same old issues of systems transformation rear their very ugly head again and again.

As a consultancy, we find ourselves in the main getting involved in two lines of work with housing systems.

1.     We get involved from the start.

2.     We are brought in to rescue a failing project.

The second is usually needed after some or all of the areas below have occurred.

5 Lessons to avoid classic procurement mistakes

So, we have, hoping some will take heed, set out five lessons in avoiding the classic mistake of ‘forgetting why you bought it in the first place’. 

1. The Need

There has to be a need. Someone somewhere in your organisation has stood up and said we ‘need’ a new system because of, well, something.

We don’t want to focus on specific needs, but what we do want to say is that it never surprises us that landlords seem to lose sight of these as the project goes on.

They should be omni-present, and they should be agreed, documented, reported on, all staff/users made aware of, communicated to the supplier, communicated to a consultancy, third parties and so on.

Develop a reporting mechanism in your project that says, ‘Hey, we are implementing this system because……and we are going to make sure we deliver to this’.

2. Training

Training is one area that surprises us. Why on earth do some of the suppliers carry out classroom training or train the trainer before the system is ready for it. They do it way too early in the project. It’s fine to train those involved as part of the project team, and its fine to give an initial system overview, but please do not attempt to carry out anything more than this until the very later stages of the project, and only do it on the actual final data set. It is then, and only then that it makes sense to the many who will use the system/s.

Finally, people forget. So, leave the training to as late as possible.

3. Teamwork and Roles

Our experience has shown us a few classic traits in systems projects relating to team working. They are:

·     Landlords under staff their projects. Too often, there is not enough involvement from a project management perspective. IT, operational departments, and yes, you! the senior folks, the sponsors. Resource your project responsibly with the due care and attention something of this scale requires.

·     Landlords lump it all on one person. Don’t fall under the trap of saying, “Pete, you can do it, right? You once used a ZX Spectrum, so you know about these things”.

·     There is no liaison. Make sure someone is available to be the main conduit to the supplier and that they talk to them. This should really be your PM. Make sure this person controls the communication and is the main conduit. Avoid multi-channel chat between the supplier and all your different staff as there needs to be control, otherwise it will all go haywire.

·     Understand the roles. Don’t just rely on the supplier to create the project governance. Write your own PID, and get the Roles and Responsibilities detailed out. It will make a big difference.

4. Architecture

Systems architecture is the key to making the system shine. Any housing management system out there really only comes to life when it works well with your other systems. You’ll hear about things such as the finance system integration/interface and so on. You will hear about magical technologies such as web services. You will hear about flat file methods of getting data across, or real time interfaces. 

Ignore all of that! Until it is time. Start off thinking about how you work, and what information you need to pass or be visible between different departments, then you can rely on the technical architects to make it happen.

Draw your intentions in a diagram and include it in the project documentation.  It will make a difference when consultants and staff want to understand what is in scope, what will work what, and what the intentions of particular interfaces are. As a minimum we would want to see a solution design document that encompasses the details. 

5. What did we buy again?

Some of you reading this will know what we are talking about here. 

You would think that between the supplier and the buyer it is known what was purchased. But we have seen countless times where it is not clear. 

Most systems out there are based around modules such as repairs, rents, ASB, CRM and so on. Make sure you have these referenced back to the contract/agreement you had following your tender.

The same goes for areas such as consultancy days, expenses, and so on. 

Simply put, the flow of Tender >  Contract > Delivery is critical, and someone needs to know and own the overall commercial and contractual delivery and how this relates to your project delivery. When you said you wanted ‘this and that’ in your tender and then supplier X won, based on those requirements, it ends up in a contract cementing these requirements. There is now a commitment to deliver. Then, comes the part of making it happen, and ensuring what you bought and what is being delivered is one and the same.

Project Control is Key

We have seen a real disconnect in some projects where the direction the project was taking was nothing like what was contracted to be delivered. This is where the project control is so important. And if you go back my first point about the ‘need’, it may just all start to make more sense. 

There is an old saying, “It does exactly what it says on the tin”. It’s also true in systems transformation projects.

If you need some help with getting it right, we have loads of experience with most housing management systems; get in touch!