Valleys to Coast Housing Association
Valleys to Coast Housing Association was able to improve customer service and make efficiency savings in its Housing Repair Service by introducing a more flexible approach
Valleys to Coast's (V2C) Housing Repairs Service introduced a more flexible working approach for several reasons:
- to modernise the Housing Repairs Service (HRS) and enhance its long term viability;
- to improve service delivery to customers through developing a more flexible, convenient and customer focused approach; and
- to bring about efficiencies through the use of technology.
Developing the approach
The initial idea of introducing mobile working developed from an independent report on an 'efficiency challenge for the HRS'. From this report a number of actions were agreed and driven by the Chief Executive in order to improve working practices and processes within the HRS.
This approach was closely linked to the increased usage of technology. A vehicle 'Tracking' system had already been fitted to the HRS vehicle fleet and the benefits were seen as:
- minimising the risks of lone working for staff;
- managers having the facility to analyse the amount of time spent on jobs and travel time and to allow manual job scheduling and therefore, assess and improve productivity; and
- independently verifying driving behaviour and road traffic incidents etc. for example accidents or instances of alleged speeding outside schools.
This use of technology was seen to have a positive impact on the delivery of the service. Therefore, the Association decided to explore if introducing other new technologies could make additional improvements.
Implementation of the approach
In order to assess the strengths and weaknesses of mobile working, a small number of HRS staff were selected to test out the approach and the use of the equipment. Through the use of the three fully integrated systems of Total Mobile (works management), Anite (housing management) and Opti-time (works scheduling) changes to working practices include:
- an automated appointment system so that appointments are provided at the point in time the tenant calls to raise a repair request;
- jobs are allocated to staff who are carrying PDAs;
- jobs can be prioritised and selected on geographical areas;
- reduced level of paperwork completed by staff which speeds up the process and makes savings on paper usage;
- imprest van stock allowing staff to travel directly from home to their first job and allows the majority of jobs to be completed 'right first time'; and
- managers can see at a glance the amount of work scheduled and completed and can quickly identify any operational difficulties.
Although mobile working is still being implemented, informal evaluation of the approach has resulted in the decision to extend mobile working to include all staff within the HRS. The informal evaluation also highlighted organisational, customer and environmental benefits including:
- repairs to properties are carried out quicker and therefore the number of completed job activities has increased;
- key Performance Indicators for repairs are improved;
- travel time is reduced resulting in reductions in costs, emissions and carbon footprint;
- customer satisfaction has improved due to clear scheduling through the use of the appointment system;
- abortive calls are decreased;
- reducing back office administration time means time can be reallocated to other, value added activities.
The informal evaluation has also highlighted practical problems:
- a lack of mobile reception in some valley areas results in some communication difficulties;
- the duration of the battery life of the PDA can limit the amount of time that people can use it. This difficulty has now been overcome through the provision of additional batteries and vehicle chargers; and
- some people still prefer to come into the main base at the beginning of the day rather than go straight to the place of their first job
Other lessons learned include:
- The importance of identifying what you want from the project at the outset so that the scope and outcomes of the development are clear from the beginning.
- A joint approach involving service managers, IT and external software providers is crucial so that developments are discussed throughout the project to ensure the project is on course to meet the required objectives.
- A fully resourced implementation team is vital to ensure dedicated focus to the project.
- The importance of building in sufficient lead-in time to the preparation stage of the project so that any potential hurdles are addressed, particularly on the use of technology.
- IT policies and procedures should be reviewed at the beginning of the project so that everyone is aware of their role through training and through complying with the IT procedures.
- PDAs are issued to staff as early as possible and they are encouraged to use them initially just as mobile phones - this reduces the 'fear of new technology'.