Headshot of Andrew Makinson

Blog: Winning gold at the housing technology awards

Andrew Makinson, Head of Delivery
Published on 22/05/2024

You’d be hard pushed to find a tougher operating environment than the one facing the housing sector. Against a backdrop of reduced rental income, a new regulatory environment, and increased labour costs, our capacity is squeezed, our resilience is being tested, and every penny is having to go further.

Embracing new ways of working is essential if we are to keep up with a changing landscape and be responsive to market conditions. We’ll only improve resident satisfaction if we change how we operate and challenge the status quo.

It’s this mindset which was integral to our recent success at the Housing Technology Awards in March of this year where L&Q’s BizApps Delivery team were honoured to be named IT Team of the Year.

Legacy practices prevent us from getting to grips with potential inefficiencies and keep us in the dark about unnecessary costs. That is why we have been transforming our systems and processes using IT projects as levers for change. In 2022 we launched a new team tasked with overhauling our approach to IT project management called ‘Bizapps’.

Since then, we have recruited over 100 people for new roles. By working across operations, processes, teams and technologies, we’re driving change through a range of improvement initiatives spanning across the business, from sustainability and arrears management to repairs and health and safety. 

For example, as a landlord responsible for 105,000 homes, we have a duty to maintain over 50,000 trees – as many as there are in Epping Forest. We previously recorded maintenance activities manually via spreadsheets - a time consuming exercise which was prone to human error.

We’ve now implemented an improved trees and grounds maintenance management application, and this has provided a step change in our ability to carry out this work.

Cost savings wise, this has equated to a £300,000 saving in failed maintenance visits per year, an efficiency saving of over £10,0000 per year, and a reduction in almost 500 reported health and safety incidents per year. 

We’ve also implemented new custom-made software to help us evolve a more efficient approach to debt and late payments. Built in-house, we are saving over £1.2m per year after moving away from an off-the-shelf system. Access and convenience are important: residents are less likely to make payments if barriers are in front of them.

Our new platform gives us full customisation capabilities, so that residents receive a personalised SMS or email with a link to a mobile-optimised, self-service environment. By enabling residents to make payments at any time and any place, we are collecting more funds and using less in-house resources.

This isn’t just about cost savings: it’s about understanding our residents more and providing better services to them. Empathetic and empowering communication is key – our new reminder method is more convenient for the resident and puts them in control. This is perhaps all the more important in today’s economic climate, in which so many people are struggling.

We’ve also delivered a new health and safety management system which digitises accident and incident management, risk assessments, inspections and audits, and issues permits to work. iSafe provides a one-stop shop for health and safety across L&Q and has led to a 50% time saving in completing incident reports and a 35% reduction in cases requiring escalation. 

To be able to provide reliable, repeatable and consistent services we need to make sure the right people have the right information at the right time. That means a seamless flow of reliable data across our entire data ecosystem and a single version of the truth.

The first steps of the journey towards that vision were made through our BizApps data management project.

As part of L&Q’s £45m transformation programme, we have developed new processes that have allowed us to check almost one hundred million pieces of data. We’ve found that about 6% contains errors (such as duplicate or incomplete records), which means around six million data errors.

We are starting to clean this information up and we’ve already reduced the 1.2 million addresses we previously held in historic systems to just 800k.

No matter what sector you work in, the way you handle information, and the systems you use to do so, are essential to operating effectively and delivering for your customers.

If frontline colleagues aren’t taking half a day to find information, they’ll be able to spend more time in front of residents. More face-to-face contact leads to improved communication with residents, and a faster resolution of any issues they’re experiencing.

One relatively simply but essential ingredient to BizApp’s success has been our work to define responsibilities and improve our relationships with the business.

For BizApps project managers, it’s not just about delivering technical outputs in a transactional environment. Recognising that project managers have a broader scope of responsibilities including end to end management and internal relationships has vastly improved client satisfaction.

When recruiting our Bizapps project managers, we looked for passionate problem solvers with the right qualifications and good communication skills.

Focusing on attitudes and behaviours as well as technical ability has helped us create a dynamic where people are encouraged to work together, challenge convention, and adopt a shared responsibility for a project’s success.

A recent example of those behaviours in practice was the implementation of our new repairs platform last year. Aiming to reduce a repairs backlog, our internal training team were forced to withdraw at short notice. BizApps stepped in to produce training materials and deliver classroom training to over 30 users at the last minute.

As a result, we were able to maintain project timescales and residents are now benefitting from an improved repairs experience.

We measure the impact we have on our residents but also the confidence our colleagues have in us as a delivery capability.

To do this we introduced net promoter scores to measure internal stakeholder satisfaction when BizApps was launched in 2022. At the time, our NPS score measured at 54%. By December 2023, it had exceeded industry benchmarks, and it has risen every quarter since to reach 71%.

We are delighted that the efforts of the BizApps team have been recognised by Housing Technology.

Our award shows what can be achieved in the social housing sector when we strive to work collaboratively, take responsibility for delivering lasting solutions and bring passionate, impact driven people together.