The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) manages over 85,000 properties across Northern Ireland. After a long-term contract with an incumbent strategic partner came to an end, NIHE carried out a tender process to identify a new managed service provider for their existing Orchard Housing integration.
Orchard were appointed as the successful bidder, and in the year since Orchard took over managed service provision for NIHE, the team have seen reduced levels of downtime and benefitted from significantly increased levels of out-of-hours support.
Now, they’re planning to add new Orchard products to allow their teams to work in a more agile manner and deliver new digital services to their tenants.
NIHE’s Orchard Housing integration delivers services to over 1,000 concurrent users across over 50 offices, as well as to third party contractors. As a result, maintaining high levels of uptime is a critical priority for NIHE’s IT teams.
A key priority for NIHE when selecting a new managed service provider was the ability to provide out-of-hours support. NIHE offer a 24-hour emergency telephone service for tenants with urgent repair needs, so it was crucial that their systems were able to support this.
While their tender specified a need for support from 8am-8pm seven days per week, NIHE were delighted to find that Orchard’s Managed Service Provider offering exceeded these requirements, offering support from 7am-10pm on weekdays and 8am-8pm at weekends and on Bank Holidays.
Dominic Bogues, IT Manager at NIHE, said: “Out of hours support is vitally important to ensure that services are available to tenants round the clock. Orchard’s Managed Service Provider offering exceeded our requirements. There has been no downtime since we started working together.”
“I am effectively on call around the clock for the organisation, and I have the confidence that Orchard are there for me when I need them. If I get a call out of hours, I can ring the Orchard out of hours number – I’ve yet to not get a response, and issues are dealt with in a very timely and friendly fashion.”
As well as requiring high levels of system uptime to support 24-hour services to their tenants, NIHE needed support with out-of-hours batch processing of data. Through the week, tasks like the application of payments to accounts were batch processed overnight, while larger interface processing jobs, for example of housing benefit information, were scheduled for the weekends.
A key requirement of the tender was the ability to manage this batch processing and ensure that systems were up to date and ready to go when NIHE’s 2,000 users logged into Orchard every weekday morning.
Orchard’s Managed Services Contract with NIHE includes the full management of batch processing tasks, as well as ongoing monitoring to identify any potential issues and resolve them before they affect service delivery.
Dominic Bogues, IT Manager, said:
“We need to have a high level of confidence that batch jobs will be run – we can’t open on Monday if the weekend batch jobs are not complete. Orchard have worked with us to resolve previous problems and ensure these are ready on time, and there has been no downtime since we started working with Orchard Managed Service Provision. Orchard also carry out monitoring, and I occasionally get an email or call to alert me to the fact that there’s an issue with the system, but that Orchard are on it.”
Differences in housing legislation compared to other areas of the UK mean that NIHE’s Orchard Housing Management System is heavily customised to meet local requirements, and this can pose challenges when applying updates. As a result, NIHE needed a high level of expertise from their managed service providers to ensure that upgrades were applied successfully, and to provide personalised application support based on their bespoke configuration. Orchard’s product expertise was a key reason NIHE selected them as managed service provider.
Orchard work closely with NIHE on every aspect of their product integration, with an Orchard team member based on-site to provide hands-on support as well as regular telephone contact and meetings with the Orchard product team.
Ciaran Donaghy, Head of Income Collection and Business Systems, said: “We have an Orchard presence here in Belfast now, within the building, which means they can be more hands on to help with issues or configuration support. This helps us foster a good working relationship and we’ve seen a reduction in the number of faults we raise as a result.”
“I would be happy to recommend the Orchard Managed Service Provider to any other housing authority and that’s based on my experience over the last year where the level of service has been excellent – very high levels of up time, and Orchard have always been at the end of the phone day or night.”
As part of their ongoing strategic partnership with Orchard, NIHE are adding new Orchard products to their existing implementation to support their longer-term business objectives.
The team are currently investigating a new solution to allow housing officers to access Orchard Housing Management data from anywhere via a tablet. By allowing their team to work more flexibly and spend more time away from their desks working directly with tenants, NIHE hope to make significant progress towards their strategic goal of achieving more agile working.
The team are also collaborating on the planned rollout of Orchard Digital Self Service in 2020 to provide additional digital channels to tenants, which they believe could significantly reduce pressure on their call centres and radically transform their business.
Like many housing organisations, NIHE also have an objective to manage arrears more effectively, particularly for tenants affected by Universal Credit, and are exploring the potential of income maximisation products including Orchard’s Income Analytics in this regard.
Ciaran Donaghy, Head of Income Collection and Business Systems, said: “These are exciting times for us, and these new digital channels should radically change our business. Welfare reform and Universal Credit are having an adverse impact on arrears, so we need technology to help us address those issues. Strategically, I think we need to move towards more agile working, with patch managers working on site with tenants rather than stuck in an office behind a PC. We’re engaging closely with Orchard project managers on these challenges. Orchard give us a significant say in the development of products, and this close working relationship is a win-win situation.”
Orchard play a key part in making sure our service pack upgrades are applied, and in ongoing application support to ensure that the system is maintained and any new releases are installed in a timely manner. Orchard gives us confidence that when new releases are installed, the system will continue working as normal.