Industry voice: How a housing association is using CRM as an enterprise-wide platform to face up to a demanding future
Housing associations are facing a difficult future. As the Government reduces their grants and forces annual 1% rent reductions for the next four years they are still under pressure to fund new building developments. They have to develop new financial models, find new efficiencies and sharpen their commercial operations to attract private finance.
The only certainty housing associations can be sure about is that their business will continue to change over the coming years, and they need the skills and flexibility to respond to change - elements of which they simply cannot foresee. This is going to require a robust and flexible digital infrastructure to enable the changes in how they approach their business.
Moat, one of the leading housing associations for the south-east, has placed its faith in Microsoft Dynamics CRM as the foundation for that flexibility. It has already registered benefits for its customers and believes it can achieve plenty more by harnessing the platform’s capabilities.
The change began when Moat went to the market to replace its old housing management system.
Need for flexibility
“Part of it was around modernising systems in general, and part in seeing that our business model was changing and that we needed systems enabling flexibility and agility,” says Daniel Johnson, director of information systems at Moat. “We wanted the flexibility to develop a system that could support us whatever we decided to do in the future, to have something that could grow as we grow.”
Initially Moat looked at obtaining a new housing management system with a CRM element, aiming to find some extra benefits over the legacy systems. However, it shied away from this approach on realising that any major changes would require negotiations with the supplier and probably a heavy bill. Then it saw that the capabilities of Dynamics had increased, and that Dynamics could provide a versatile toolbox to develop new services.
Moat had already worked with Microsoft Gold Partner Esuasive on building a new data warehouse and reporting structure in SQL Server, and brought the company in to support deployment of Dynamics.
“Esuasive had experience of our business and were very collaborative in the installation process,” says Johnson. “We ran it as an agile project that enabled us to understand some of requirements, develop it, and start showing it back to the business early on, allowing them to shape the project. That worked really well.
“There were some challenges around how we organised the infrastructure, because of our requirements around mobile working in the future, but Esuasive were very supportive and helped us iron things out for the go live.”
At heart, the platform is highly configurable, enabling the team to begin developing new applications ‘out of the box’, without heavy customisation.
The system was rolled out across all areas of the business simultaneously, a brave move that paid off for Moat. A key focus was on enabling its contact centre team to resolve queries and problems at first point of contact, so giving them access via the CRM to all the information they needed to do this was essential.
Therefore, an important element of development was integration of Dynamics with the specialist systems for several of the organisation’s processes, such as repairs, arrears management, asset management and purchase ledger - all of which now have a two-way flow of information with the CRM. It required a degree of customisation, but Johnson says it was relatively straightforward to write the code that makes the information callable from the CRM.
This gives the contact centre staff to access and work with data from across the business without having to switch between different systems. It also enables teams such as that managing rent arrears to access any relevant data and immediately make other CRM users aware of any updates at their end.
Deployment was completed earlier this year and provided a quick win in reducing by 50% the proportion of calls to the contact centre that were abandoned – a core metric used by the organisation to measure performance.
Johnson predicts there should also be an increase in the percentage of issues resolved at first contact, and that there will be non-quantifiable benefits, such as being able to collect and process information on anti-social behaviour and provide an appropriate response more quickly.
One of the big advantages has been in using the CRM as a focal point for a group of systems used by a housing association. Michael Walters, development team leader, says they are too small to get the value of an ERP system, but that Dynamics can provide similar benefits.
“There is quite a lot of value in a wrapper around disparate systems, and that is essentially how we are using Dynamics here,” he says. “It will become pretty much the default system for most people.
“There will still be areas of specialism, but to wrap that with a front end, like the repairs process, from a user’s perspective they will never need to leave Dynamics to do it. There’s a big advantage to be had in using that approach.”
Moat is also looking at the potential for integration with other Microsoft systems. It is using SharePoint for document management and SQL Server for database management, and Johnson says there can be benefits in connecting both of these to Dynamics. He is planning to explore the possibilities over the coming months.
On a broader front, he says housing associations should be bold in how they use Dynamics.
“It’s a great system. We could have taken it out of the box, done some minimal work with Esuasive and had a better looking customer records management system.
“But the real benefit is to go beyond what the front end offers and do the integration into the back end. That’s the area where you can start to draw better efficiencies; when you look at the front end from the customer perspective and you have the back end to support it.
“If you’re only delivering half of what its capable of you’re not going to get the full benefit of it.”