The company was created following the decision by Manchester Council to transfer its housing stock under the Housing Investment Options Strategy. One of MWL’s main customers is Northwards Housing Ltd.
Northwards Housing is an ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation) which took over responsibility for managing over 12,500 properties from Manchester City Council in December 2005. The housing stock, which stretches across northern Manchester, consists of a wide mixture of property types; from low rise houses to sheltered housing and high rise blocks.
The primary objective of Northwards Housing, a “three star excellence” organisation, which has won the government’s Customer Service Excellence and its predecessor Award three times, is to provide the highest levels of service to tenants. A key element of this is to ensure the best possible responsive repairs and maintenance operation is provided to its tenants. These services are provided by MWL under a direct contractual relationship with Northwards Housing; delivering a 24/7 service and employing around 350 mobile operatives.
The number of properties and mobile operatives involved in this contract meant it became essential that the right systems were put in place. With this in mind, it was decided to install new IT systems in 2007. MWL would maintain the systems from an administrator’s point of view and be responsible for ensuring that all work went to the right operative and for managing appointments with residents.
The new IT systems comprised a central Civica Housing management system, linked to ROCC’s Uniclass contractor management solution and Opti-Time appointment scheduling software.
However, it was always recognised that the real impact of this technology was dependent on the levels of service it supported and delivered at the sharp end; with the residents themselves. A handheld solution was deemed essential to link the new technology with the field-based workforce.
From day one, MWL felt that there were potentially huge benefits for the responsive repairs and maintenance operation if they could utilise mobile and handheld technologies to support, manage and control mobile operatives. This was a view which was very much shared by Northwards Housing.
The advent of the new system meant it was an ideal opportunity to introduce mobile working practices. However, it was essential for any mobile system to be an integral part of the new incoming IT system.
The challenge was to find a PDA based mobile technology solution that could meet the demanding requirements of a large mobile workforce in the field but one that would also integrate tightly with the new back office IT set up.
After a review of the market, 1st Touch mobile technology was chosen as it already offered tight integration with Civica, ROCC and Opti-Time. It also had a proven track record of success with many other social housing associations; including a number of those managed by Morrison.
As Danny Hussey, Database Group Leader at Manchester Working says, “When we went live, we needed to identify an effective mobile solution for Northwards Housing but it had to be something that sat well with the back-office systems. This requirement was met by 1st Touch, so we chose them to deliver this functionality.”
1st Touch’s mobile workforce solution is used extensively in the social housing and local government sectors and has received widespread acclaim for its ability to synchronize all field-based mobile PDA systems with related back-office applications across an organisation.
1st Touch Mobile uses low-airtime, “Smart Client” technology to automate the links between the field-based operative’s PDA and the housing organisation’s back-office systems. In marked contrast to other costly “always on” mobile solutions, 1st Touch Mobile Workforce can work with or without a signal, transmitting encrypted, secure data in periodic small bursts. This innovative approach, it is claimed, reduces typical communication costs by up to 75 %.
1st Touch Mobile Workforce supports adherence to the wide portfolio of best practice, compliance and legislative pressures currently faced by social housing organisations including: Decent Homes standards; Lone Worker Protection guidelines; Health and Safety directives and regulatory compliance.
The resilient but flexible system enables easy, programming-free, user-customisable solutions to be created; designed to simplify handheld form design and data capture applications. Any type of electronic form can be generated, replicating closely all current working practices without the need for Business Process Mapping.
With 1st Touch in place at MWL, job information could be sent from Opti-Time straight to appropriate operative’s PDA. However, as it was a major change to the way things were done previously, it was decided that 1st Touch should initially be rolled-out to a relatively small number of operatives and then to build usage up on a trade by trade basis. As the roll-out stages proved successful, handheld technology spread throughout all areas of MWL’s mobile responsive repairs and maintenance workforce.
Commenting on the roll-out, Des Morris, Managing Director of MWL says; “The roll out of the 1st Touch technology, was really well managed, which was important given the potentially high impact of implementing this technology on our client and their residents.
Hussey echoed this sentiment and felt that as the roll-out progressed it was the quality of the support that made a major difference noting, “We saw the potential of PDAs providing an improved service to residents and delivering operational efficiency at the coal face. So really, as it was rolled-out, mobile technology proved to be a great tool for both client and tenant alike.
“However, in terms of the software itself, I believe that one can only truly find out how good a software system is when you need support. 1st Touch’s reaction, when required, has been top notch. Any issues have been resolved quickly and their response is excellent. With software today, that is rare. This really made the roll-out process far easier from our point of view.”
As the roll-out took place, MWL’s mobile operatives too discovered the benefits of the technology. They rapidly found that the PDA based technology made life far easier for them. Job details were now sent to them electronically, so they did not have to go back to base every time they needed to start a new job. If they couldn’t do the job when they arrived, the software allowed them to order the right part online and to book a new appointment for when the part was due; whilst still with the tenant. Tenants were therefore aware of what was happening and felt involved in the process, which is important for customer satisfaction.
Indeed 1st Touch also plays a role in monitoring this aspect of feedback too as customer satisfaction reports can be sent directly from the PDA to the central customer satisfaction system for collation and subsequent reporting.
Commenting on the 1st Touch technology from Northwards Housing’s view point, Director of Property Services, Larry Patrick noted, “In general terms, 1st Touch has certainly helped us to drive forward service performance for our tenants. However, it has been really productive in quantifiable terms too. There are a number of performance indicators which had been static for quite some time and these have improved dramatically with 1st Touch Mobile technology in place. These include statistics for tenant satisfaction and the percentage of jobs completed first time.
“As a three star excellent organisation, this was really important to us as naturally our primary objective is to be an excellent service provider. It is also important as we are under scrutiny too. We have boards and tenant panels to whom you have to be able to report on performance. We also benchmark ourselves against other ALMOS and a group of other north-western housing providers; to make sure we are delivering the very best in service provision. With mobile technology in place we perform well against these criteria.”
As the 1st Touch Mobile technology has proved successful on the Northwards Housing contract; MWL is considering rolling it out to operatives working on other contracts. Potentially, the technology will also be used in the future in the management of the Voids operation for Northwards Housing.
Des Morris continued: “There is an increasing role for mobile technology in the delivery of an efficient and customer focused responsive repairs service.”
Larry Patrick can also see other future benefits, noting, “The software might also contribute to us achieving other productivity benefits too. When we move over to price per job, this increased efficiency could well be reflected in lowering costs and that would be very good news for Value for Money.”
As Robert Dent CEO of 1st Touch says, “Northwards Housing in unison with Manchester Working has taken a highly professional approach to choosing the right combination of technology systems to meet their needs and those of the tenants. This is a tribute to the quality of management involved in both organisations. However, it is impressive to see that they are not resting on their laurels. Rather they are looking to the future to explore how mobile technology can deliver benefits to other areas of their business.
“Clearly the full impact of 1st Touch systems is still evolving at MWL, promising even greater productivity gains and even more service improvements for its clients’ residents in the future; when it is used in other areas of the organisation. In short, it is a win win situation.”