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 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.
“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 in whatever we decided to do in the future, to have something that could grow as we grow.”
Change of approach
Initially Moat looked at obtaining a new housing management system with a CRM element, aiming to find some extra benefits over the legacy systems. But after looking at the options it decided on a different approach, choosing Microsoft Dynamics as it provided a versatile toolbox for its existing and future needs.
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 development, enabling us to understand the high level business requirements, begin developing against those requirements and then show the business early on in the process, 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 before we went live.”
At its 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 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 allows 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 those managing rent arrears to access any relevant data and immediately make other CRM users aware of any updates at their end.
Deployment was completed in December 2015 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 Walter, development team leader, says they are too small to get the value of an ERP system, but that Dynamics can provide similar benefits.
“By integrating several systems and their relevant information into Dynamics, we are effectively ‘wrapping’ these systems for our users so that information is seamless and flows with our processes,” he says. “This is even though there are still multiple systems behind the scenes.
“This is essentially how we are using Dynamics here. 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. This can provide some big advantages, such as reducing the time taken for a repair and ensuring it is carried out correctly as all the information is in one place.”
Moat is also exploring the potential for integration with other systems – it already uses SharePoint and SQL Server within Dynamics – and plans to integrate it with additional third party systems in the coming months.
On a broader front, Walter 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. When you look at the entire process from end to end you can support far greater efficiencies and a better experience for the customer and the business.”
For example, it is possible to gather more information on the customer, provide the right services for individuals, and focus resources on the right areas.
“One of our strategies is to be brilliant at the basics and Dynamics helps us to achieve this,” he says.
“And if you’re only delivering half the capability of Dynamics, you’re going to struggle to achieve the full benefits for your organisation.”
For more on how Esuasive can support a successful implementation of Dynamics CRM, contact the company through here.
Hear a first hand view on the project from Moat here.