This social housing provider used to outsource its property repair and maintenance to third parties – an expensive process with a dubious level of customer service. Neil Beckingham is bringing the service in-house with technology that enables customers to diagnose a fault and book an appointment for an operative visit, and automatically routes the appointment to the most appropriate operative’s mobile device while also monitoring van stock and online ordering. It is expected to reduce repair costs by £12m a year. Likewise, he is automating business  systems to improve the customer experience – and deliver financial savings approaching £7m a year.

Job title
CIO

Company name
Your Housing Group

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
The business is essentially a social housing provider currently with some 33,000 homes across the north west, north Midlands and Yorkshire. Government-enforced rent reduction in the sector threatens margin while benefits changes threaten revenue. It is therefore essential that the business not only becomes much more cost-effective, but also introduces new and incremental revenue streams at higher margins.

Products

To this end I have been working collaboratively with the business, supporting development of private rental and sales offers through new-build programmes. This has seen the creation of two new high-end products – one aimed at young aspiring professionals and the other at affluent over-55s.

Further, the business has just announced a joint venture with WeLink, called Live Verde, which brings in £2.5bn Chinese investment to build new homes using modular construction techniques. This will involve the creation of six strategically located factories to fabricate modules for delivery to sites, enabling faster construction and an extremely high level of energy efficiency. It is believed that this will make us the largest home builder in the UK.

Traditionally the business has contracted all repairs and maintenance of its property assets to third-party organisations. This model is expensive and incurs VAT, but worst of all it has failed to deliver a quality level of customer service. I have worked closely with senior leadership colleagues on building a business case to invest in developing this service in-house. This has been approved by the board and work on building the service has begun, including the identification of technology that enables the customer to diagnose a fault, book an appointment for an operative visit (with gold, silver and bronze choices offering earlier appointments and narrower time slots for a fee), and for this to be sent to the most appropriate operative’s mobile device while also monitoring use of van stock and online ordering of just-in-time deliveries of parts and components needed from trade sources.  This is expected to reduce our repairs costs by some £12m a year.

Customer experience

Customer experience had been very traditionally delivered and was consequently slow, reactive and intensely manual.

The business had persuaded itself of the need for a digital platform prior to me joining the business in April 2016. However, by presenting the art of the possible and persuading colleagues of a return on investment, I have greatly broadened their ambition to where the appetite now supports what we believe will be the most advanced and powerful in the sector.

First in achieving this was to win the debate on my proposal to engage a prominent user experience consultancy in ensuring that all aspects of process, language and page layouts were refined and tested with customer groups before cutting code. The functionality provides everything from property searching through viewing, credit clearing, tenancy agreement sign-up, rent and service charge payments, arranging utilities and insurance, booking repairs and accessing a range of new additional services. 

Contact centre staff are able to access the same views of information in case a customer gets stuck and calls for help. They are supported in this with a new telephony and contact centre as a service provision and CRM built on Dynamics 365.

Mobile staff can also get the same information through tablets, which are primarily focused on role types, but in the near future will also facilitate mobile card payments.

Services

Much focus has been placed on improvements to standard services, so key business processes have been re-engineered and optimised while supporting systems have been reworked to provide a good level of automation. This has improved customer experience, but also delivered financial savings approaching £7m a year.

New incremental services have been created that can be accessed ad hoc through the digital platform. These include concierge, cleaning, laundry, DIY, dog walking, etc. In some places we are delivering chargeable Wi-Fi to customers, and we will also be delivering all-inclusive telephony as a service to many customers’ homes. These give us an improved offer to attract and retain customers while also delivering incremental revenue and margin.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance

  1. Building an in-house repairs service provided improved customer service while saving some £12m annually over the previous contracted-out model.
  2. Improved processes and system automation delivered improved customer experience and saved some £7m annually.
  3. Sourcing new mobile network provision improved field force performance by delivering to every individual much greater signal coverage than possible from any one network, and also saved £240,000 annually over the previous provider cost.
  4. Introduced a CYOD policy that has eliminated user complaints while improving staff output. This is aligned to a new lifecycle management process.
  5. Moving from an old, highly unstable, badly performing and unreliable infrastructure running out of date and unsupported software on joining in April 2016 to a scalable, flexible, high-performing and high-reliability infrastructure has maximised use of the cloud where it is cost-effective and delivered a consistent user experience across all platforms with the latest software. It has also reduced opex by 12%.
  6. A new approach to business intelligence and reporting using Power BI through a new data warehouse platform that is moving to the cloud is for the first time delivering insightful information to business. It is also the platform for launching new tools that use 3D animated graphics to present information, including predictive analytics.

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?

Product innovation: I have worked collaboratively to introduce new housing products aimed at young aspirational professionals and retirement living. I have also worked on a new joint venture to build factory-produced modular homes with a £2.5bn Chinese investment. A new digital platform brings a host of new services as outlined above.

Business model innovation: I have worked collaboratively with other senior leadership team members to build a new target operating model which we are now putting into practice. This delivers a very lean operation that is highly reliant upon the success of technology to realise the benefits of moving from a traditional housing association to becoming a modern profitable landlord. Gross margin for 2017/18 is targeted at 45%.

Technology innovation: I have led the innovation of the customer digital product to become sector-leading rather than an also-ran. In addition to those features set out above, there are some new concepts in development which cannot be detailed due to commercial sensitivity but effectively create an online quantity surveyor combined with an online 3D building layout platform combined with a decor visualisation tool that allows customers to plan the size, layout and look of their new home within control parameters. This will interface to the new factory, which will manufacture the modular components from that data ready to ship just in time to site for construction. I have also led technology innovation in the new intranet which uses augmented reality to take people through the new business model and the working of new digital projects when delivered.

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
Within ICT I have driven out silo working by leading collaboration forums and giving verbal reward to the right behaviours. I have also driven change to become customer-focused by making people think about their own bad experiences, and have placed a great emphasis on relentless pursuit of customer delight by delivering above and beyond expectations. I have also driven a mind shift from the pursuit of low cost to the pursuit of high quality with the oft-repeated statement that nothing is more expensive than something cheap that doesn’t work well.

Across the organisation I have been a leader in changing the culture from that of a public service provider to that of a commercial business, moving from being a housing association to a landlord. Regular repetition of key themes at management meetings reminds people of the journey, as does acting as a behaviour exemplar. Again it has been necessary to drive the breakdown of silos with the encouragement of collaborative working and the provision of supporting collaboration services through Sharepoint 365.

How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
Fortunately the CEO is digitally literate and happily acts as a champion for the cause. Together we have brought the senior leadership team into digital literacy and briefed them to act as digital advocates with their own teams.

Meanwhile the CEO and I regularly visit the many locations of the business to engage with teams, spread the word and handle any questions (negative or otherwise). At the same time I have created an internal digital comms manager role and have led on the creation of a new intranet to reinforce advocacy of the business digital transformation while providing constant updates of progress on the key projects that make up the programme.

A learning management system has also been built on the new intranet to support the development of digital skills across the business from board to manual labourers.

How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
I have engaged at senior level with all suppliers to appraise them of the business strategy to be leading a new wave of housing providers and the supporting ICT strategy, taking care to explain the opportunities that are there for them to partake in success. Part of the strategy, however, has been to simplify the vendor landscape, and this has necessitated careful navigation to keep some suppliers on board until the point of their exit. I have also stressed my point that quality of product and service are the key drivers while price is much lower down the scale.

In this way I have secured commitment of chosen vendors to work together, to undertake certain product improvements to build new features, and to enhance interfacing between them.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
The team as inherited was predominantly white, male, middle class and middle-aged. Team members had received no professional or personal development over the preceding years. I have introduced professional and personal development and performance measurement as part of working towards a performance culture.

This has exposed several staff members with unrecognised capabilities as well as some who had been underrated – interestingly, all from what would be seen as minorities. This has enabled the justified promotion of a female team member while on maternity leave and another female from a minority race. At the same time two apprentices have contributed to reducing the average age.

I have grown the team by eight roles to introduce missing methodology components, and it appears that the prior action has encouraged a more diverse range of candidates, with the result that the diversity profile has improved in a short time.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
Since arriving in April 2016 I have completely restructured ICT to align to business strategy and operations while introducing previously missing methodology components. Operations are very broadly aligned to ITIL to ensure good service, but allow flexibility to meet the current maturity level of the business.

Specifically a head of each of the following functions reports to me:

  • ICT service delivery: This includes ICT business partners effectively embedded in the business and tasked with identifying business problems and local strategies while evangelising the art of the possible, calling on the wider ICT function to support business case development and solution delivery. Service desk manager and team are tasked with first-time fix and being the customer advocate within ICT to ensure incidents and requests are completed within SLA. The problem management team drives a declining rate of incidents per customer. ICT trainers develop and deliver primarily digital training of new systems and processes in addition to face-to-face induction of new starters.
  • ICT architecture strategy and governance: This includes data and enterprise architects to set what will be implemented. It also houses project management, change and configuration management, data warehouse, and information governance and security.
  • Infrastructure: This includes managing providers of cloud and on-premise infrastructure as well as MPLS, LAN and telephony and contact centre as a service.
  • Business applications: This includes application vendor management, running in-house application user groups, dev/ops and system/user testing.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
The main deals have been with:

  • Microsoft to upgrade to Office 365 with Active Directory, Exchange, Dynamics CRM, SharePoint, BizTalk and SQL Data Warehouse in the cloud, while utilising Azure to provide cloud infrastructure associated storage and DR for line of business applications where economically appropriate.
  • VMWare for the full suite of tools to manage infrastructure and software delivery and including AirWatch for mobile device management.
  • HP for all on-premise servers and storage as well as laptops and thin clients.
  • CDW to build and maintain all on-premise hardware according to architecture provided.
  • Gamma for UK roaming across all mobile networks as well as land connectivity in preparation for UC.
  • InterNETAlia for provision of in-house repairs service software for 250 operatives including workforce scheduling to mobile, van stock control and component procurement.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?

  • Further embed mobile working with a target of reducing office space cost by £2m a year.
  • Build the uptake of customer digital services to 40% penetration.
  • Support the building of the new Live Verde joint venture business in partnership with Chinese investors.
  • Migrate all back-office functions including finance, HR, payroll and P2P to a single software as a service platform to drive further operating efficiencies and cost reductions.
  • Support the business drive to reduce management costs to £500 per unit and to increase net present value per unit from £3,900 to £14,800.
  • Support the acquisitions strategy.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
Overall, Brexit is not expected to greatly impact the organisation as it does not trade outside the UK, and any reduction in net immigration will take quite some time to impact the chronic undersupply of UK housing stock. The business is not even a great consumer of energy in proportion to turnover.

We did anticipate increases in costs of Cisco and HP hardware and Microsoft software in particular and moved to secure pre-December 2016 pricing in all areas.

YOUR ROLE

When did you start your current role?
April 2016

What is your reporting line?
Executive director corporate services and CEO

Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Yes

Are you a member of the board of directors?
No

How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
Weekly

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
1,200

BUDGETS

What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
£13m

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
£7m opex, £6m capex.

CIO INFLUENCES

Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:

  1. CIO peers
  2. Analyst houses
  3. Media
  4. Industry bodies
  5. Consultants

IT SECURITY

Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
No

Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?
Yes

Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
Information security manager

RECRUITMENT

Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
No

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Yes

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
Yes

How many employees are there in your IT team?
42

Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Yes

TECHNOLOGY

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • ERP
  • CRM
  • IoT
  • security
  • AR/VR
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • networking/communications.

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • CRM
  • IoT
  • AR/VR
  • enterprise applications
  • social
  • wearables
  • 3D printing
  • networking/communications.

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
AI, VR, AR, IoT.

THE EU

Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
No

Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
No

Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?
No