Orchard’s Chris Masey discusses why ‘Digital’ is a transformation journey for your business and how simple changes to your philosophy can support an effective channel shift strategy.

As Orchard’s Digital Product Champion, I have pretty much been living out of a suitcase for the last few months visiting many of our sites to engage in Digital conversations and the odd demonstration or two. It is fair to say we are on a journey as a business. From a digital solutions point of view, we are proud that we are now 100% UX (User Experience) focused and where possible the solutions we develop have a mobile first design. Our new Digital Platform is a prime example of this, but expect more.  Our vision is that future solutions will be just as easy and intuitive for the user to adopt.

However, we believe the most important change in our philosophy is recognising that our sector could benefit from more than a traditional software implementation. For many years we have effectively deployed and supported software solutions, including Digital front-ends, that are robust, secure and well integrated. Broadly speaking, what we have not done previously is to help our customers better understand the transformation journeys they are on and worked alongside them to support those journeys.  However, our eyes are now wide open to this, and Digital and effective channel shift are perfect examples of how we are uniquely positioned to help.

It’s all in the process…

We are proud to be dedicated to the Housing sector and work with a wide portfolio of interesting and diverse customers. That’s a rather large knowledge base and network of experiences to draw on. I could dwell on details of the tangible and intangible benefits that can be achieved from effective channel shift, the low cost of online transactions, etc. which we are all more than aware of.  Let’s be really honest though, there are still precious few case studies out there that suggest channel shift is easy. Until recently, most Housing businesses have experienced a low take up in Digital services and there are many reasons, all well documented, as to why that is the norm. Digital is not just a software project! There you go, I said it. If your IT department is the only one driving the implementation of a new self service portal, stop now and call us, it’s an emergency and we can help!

Digital is a transformation journey for your business and customers. It involves a programme of business projects, a major stakeholder engagement exercise (internal and external), and most importantly the desire from your business to put Digital at the heart of your company philosophy.

Measuring success

Before I visit a Housing business I always take the time to absorb the key themes of the annual residents report and (where available) the value for money self assessment.  I am often genuinely amazed by how little Digital is mentioned amongst the plethora of other important business based KPI’s that tell me how much was spent on the repairs service and the overall compliance level of gas safety certificates.

A group of Housing associations recently announced the intention to introduce a ‘Sector Scorecard’ that focused on efficiencies in the sector. ‘EBITDA’, ‘Headline social housing cost per unit’ and ‘overheads as a percentage of turnover’ were among the key factors being proposed for measurement. Now these things are undeniably very important to businesses, but why not also measure ‘percentage of service transactions online’, ‘percentage increase of tenants with access to the internet’ or even ‘ __% of customers engaged in Digital Inclusion initiatives’?

Digital is, and can be, a key enabler for driving efficiency. To help the broader business engage with it fully, Digital KPIs need (in my view) to be recognised alongside the classic KPI’s on which Housing businesses are measured. One great example of this that I saw recently involved a provider who proudly advertised a ‘Digital First’ strategy but then supported this statement by presenting metrics such as ‘98% of balance enquiries are now made digitally’ and ‘Satisfaction with online services runs at 95%’. Without this focus, you can find yourself with resource-zapping initiatives. To provide another example, I read an annual residents report which highlighted more direct dial phone lines had been introduced to reduce call waiting times that had been a frustration for their customers.

One of our customers, Yorkshire Housing, are a shining example of where a simple change in working philosophy can lead to positive outcomes for all parties. Yorkshire Housing has over 5,000 registered customers on its Digital Platform and one day I decided to be nosey and give them a call. As I was on hold the automated message said ‘Did you know you can check your rent account, make a payment, book a repair and send us a message online. Go to Yorkshire Housing.com to register for your online account’. Now this is a really simple change to make in any customer service centre and probably quite common, but this was just one small strand of a wider communications campaign that promoted digital services to their customers. Now around 80% of all their calls are answered within 20 seconds.

Changing philosophy

With the obvious market and sector challenges, I believe now is the time to place Digital at the heart of your company philosophy. I’m excited to say that over the last few months we have been working collaboratively with several Digital consultancies, some outside of the sector, to help us reshape our digital services. Alongside our own growing in-house team, we now have access to expertise that can help you define and deliver a Digital transformation strategy.  The core elements of that service can help power the philosophy change that may be required by your business and customers to truly benefit from Digital.

We are changing our philosophy. Are you?

Chris Masey, Digital Product Champion, Orchard


Want to know more? Contact Chris on 07970 186796 or chris.masey@orchard-systems.co.uk or check out our ‘Orchard Digital’ page, which includes blog pieces by our staff and customers on digital transformation and mobilising your workforce. You can also catch up with the Orchard team at CIH Housing 2017 in Manchester (27-29th June) on stand C10 and C14!