Using Technology to support your specific customer centric services

Posted: 25th June 2021 Phil Smith, Business Development Director

As the digital agenda continues at pace within the social housing sector, housing providers are continually assessing technologies that will support the modern, customer centric services expected in today’s digital world. It has been well documented that this drive for change has been accelerated by the pandemic, as organisations have needed to adapt to the conditions imposed by the situation. In some cases, this has exposed the inflexibility of their current systems. Many of which were not developed to operate in the world we live in today, where staff need the tools to provide a consistent service experience to tenants at a time and location to suit the customer. And the customer expects to have the tools to self-serve and digitally engage where staff intervention is not required.

The variety and range of options available to providers is broader and more extensive than it has ever been. There remains a range of established traditional providers who are rapidly developing cloud based integrated digital solutions to respond to customer demand, building upon their experience of many years operating in the sector. These are now increasingly joined by a range of low code and specialist system providers as well as non-sector platform solutions, such as Microsoft Dynamics, SAP and Salesforce.  While this offers unprecedented choice and opportunity; it also potentially adds complexity and challenge when setting the architectural direction of travel.

Microsoft Dynamics continues to be popular in the sector, but there are differing opinions about the viability of the platform. Many early adopters have experienced protracted implementation times and significant cost overruns – in part due to the limited ‘out of the box’ functionality and the reliance on external 3rd party resources required to develop it. However, lessons have been learnt and some of these gaps are gradually being addressed within the core Dynamics product suite.

Increasingly, however, the broad range of rich functionality that the Microsoft platform can provide, such as Azure Integration Services, Cognitive Services, Power Platform, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Azure Bot Services are becoming as appealing to providers as the core CRM and Finance and Operations functionality was previously. Together with the vast development resources that Microsoft has to ensure that it is at the forefront of advances in technology, this breadth of functionality and design options make the platform an increasingly attractive and viable choice for housing providers of all sizes – whether that be full D365 or hybrid alongside a traditional housing management system (HMS) and other complementary systems.

Some early systems integrators in the housing sector architected their solutions very differently to newer suppliers who are developing their solutions taking full advantage of further platform developments and increased experience in the sector. To some extent, this has begun to ‘productise’ the functionality so that much more can be delivered ‘out of the box’. These new approaches can have a significant impact in reducing the total cost of ownership for the solution.

Our recent work with housing providers has been focussed on considering the business case for D365, in isolation and/or alongside a traditional HMS and associated products portfolio; helping them to architect the right solution for their size and complexity to meet their business efficiency and customer service objectives. Challenges along the way can then be tackled by considering the business case to understand how best to proceed.

One size does not fit all.  The choice and competition in the provision of solutions for the sector. allows providers to demand higher qualities of both system and support in the future.  The different technologies in use, combined with the different approaches and scales of product available also help providers to align the design of their application stack to the specific needs, priorities, budgets, and capacity of their organisation.

In understanding the full depth and breadth of options available to support the design and delivery of systems to provide for our sector, we can help organisations to navigate the complexity and consider the optimal systems architecture for their business.

For more information please contact Phil Smith, Business Development Director: phil.smith@altairltd.co.uk

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