If you’re an asset manager operating in the Social Housing sector, like all of your colleagues you're probably consistently having to do more and with less. To build more houses with less funding, to maximise income and to make smaller budgets deliver.
This situation is further exasperated in the smaller Housing Association environment where every member of your team has to ‘wear a different hat’ every single day and juggle many different responsibilities. One minute a strategist, planner, administrator or customer service expert. The next surveyor, void inspector, stock condition data collector or contract manager. You simply don’t have the benefit of a team of specialist staff.
The most obvious solution – employing additional people – isn’t one that is always readily available! So the answer may be to bring in the right IT systems?
A best-of-breed Asset Management System has, perhaps, always been the preserve of the larger Housing Association, with many considering it unthinkable to manage the many thousands of housing and associated assets without one.
Not long ago, the challenge of finding an Asset Management System to meet the needs of the smaller Housing Association was remote with costs making them an unfeasible option. However, the picture is very different now with cloud-based or software-as-a-service (SaaS) products that mean that smaller Housing Associations can now start to emulate larger ones but at more appropriate costs!
And while an Asset Management System won’t, unfortunately, stop you juggling responsibilities, it will deliver plenty of benefits that make the investment potentially more worthwhile for the smaller Housing Association.
In the rest of this article Ruth Dent, our Asset Management Consultant, takes a look at the issues associated with smaller Housing Associations and the benefits offered by implementing an Asset Management System.
It is inevitable that staff leave and new people coming into the organisation will work differently. While still a headache for larger housing providers, turnover of staff in the smaller Housing Association is felt more acutely, with the loss of headcount and working knowledge impacting across multiple disciplines.
The one aspect that has to remain consistent and safeguarded is your data. Data is the only thing you can solidly depend on through operational change, and if looked after correctly can leave an incredibly positive legacy for your organisation. So don’t wait until your spreadsheet falls over, move it into a central, auditable and reliable Asset Management System so you can manage it properly and accurately. Investment in IT is vital to ensure seamless working between asset management and the rest of the business and where the core objective is sustainable assets and happy tenants then access to reliable information is of utmost importance.
Meet your Legislative and Regulatory duties
There has never been a greater emphasis on compliance, and a robust set of data is what will help you sleep at night. Asset managers working with a smaller stock will undoubtedly know their assets inside out. But can you demonstrate to the auditor or the regulator that this particular block doesn’t have a communal area, or these 50 assets don’t have a gas supply? Holding everything in a central Asset Management System improves the integrity of data and by reducing the reliance on spreadsheets decreases the chance of potential inaccuracies which can occur when the same document is edited by numerous people.
Doing more for less
Long term contracts aren’t just for the big Housing Associations! Nothing drives contractor pricing down like a full order book and an Asset Management System will enable you to effectively and accurately plan your investment for the next three to five years, so you can guarantee your contractor work. Longer term contracts can provide smaller organisations with cost certainty and a contractor commitment that can often be lacking on smaller works. Plus internally there should be less resource required to service contracts or manage repeat tendering, so your team can become more productive.
Ease of reporting
Every Housing Association is, and should be, scrutinised. The ability to produce accurate and reliable reports from a ‘single version of the truth’ with just a few mouse clicks is invaluable. System generated KPIs reduce the likelihood of examination and take less time to produce compared to spreadsheet or paper-based practices. The ability to accurately predict planned spend will give organisations the ability to deliver an accurate and reliable business plan, which can be stress tested and stand up to the most arduous examination. With the potential for league tables just around the corner, being able to demonstrate excellent performance is likely to be key, even in the smaller market.
Innovative working is a big part of the success of smaller Housing Associations and Asset Management Systems can often be extended far beyond the management of your property assets. For example, mobile devices can be integrated to capture and report on any survey so why not use them to record tenant satisfaction, safeguarding, operative risk assessments, snagging or works sign off?
There are many alternative applications for an Asset Management System that can automate cumbersome, time consuming and unrewarding paper-based tasks that will lead to greater staff productivity.
Asset Management Systems will enable you to store all your files against the appropriate asset and eradicate the prospect of someone accidentally moving or deleting important data or records. This data store makes everything clear and accessible to everyone across the organisation and ensures a visible and robust audit trail.
Document management discipline also enables Housing Associations to meet their regulatory obligations with regards to document and record retention. It also means that new staff only have to familiarise themselves with one, rather than multiple, systems or file structures.
There are huge efficiencies and advantages to collating data all in one place and in doing so an Asset Management System gives a clear 360-degree view of what is happening with your assets. This data can be accessed by anyone with the right privileges thus providing reassurance to your executives and board that records are accurate, up-to-date and will withstand the scrutiny of the regulator.
The housing sector is undoubtedly on a path of rapid change and we can only expect to provide further visibility over our asset management in the future. There are many benefits to implementing an Asset Management System, none more so that giving smaller Housing Associations a vital tool to be able to transparently demonstrate all the hard and excellent work they’re doing!
So now the question should be can you afford not to implement an Asset Management System to transform your organisation to manage future challenges?
Ruth Dent is Asset Management Consultant at PIMSS Data Systems and previously an Asset Manager with 10 years of experience working in the social housing sector. With a financial background, Ruth has specialist expertise in programmed renewal business planning, component accounting, stock assessments, NPV rationalisation and budget setting.