Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Lets Work Together

If you do the Twitter thing, follow me at @hotpixUK

Wow, workflow. A module always certainly specified by right thinking housing and computer consultants. Have you got workflow? Did you implement it? Does it just sit at the bottom right of your users screens, teasing you (if so I think I can guess what HMS you are using)?
Well, I asked you more questions than answers there people didn’t I?

Workflow means many things to all types of people. The top and bottom of it should be that intelligent workflow is that piece of glue that makes your housing system mould around your individual processes. An extra piece of flexibility and programmability that enhances basic module integration. The better ones are close to common languages like VBA, almost like a macro in nature. Its a bonus having it embedded right into the whole system too, rather than it being a little fragmented.

A minimum should be work tray management. iWorld users will know what I mean. The generation of tasks that might be directed at say a HO (Housing Officer) to call or visit a resident or a customer, as output from processes, are an ideal example of workflow. The system progressing tasks to follow your organisation processes.

Other places where workflow scores is when an exceptional circumstance occurs and different actions are needed. Rather than staff noticing that the resident logging an urgent repair is an elderly double stick user, in order to qualify for it to be upgraded to an emergency priority, the system could do it for them. They don’t even have to know, or you could remind them with a message if it has occurred. The programmer in you may recognise this workflow snippet:

If (Contact.Vulnerability = “DSTICK” or Contact.Vulnerability = “BLIND”) and Contact.Age >= “60” and WO.Default.Priority = “Urgent” then
       WO.Default.Priority = “Emergency”
       MSGbox(“Be aware, Default priority escalated to Emergency on this order as resident old and vulnerable. This follows our customer care policy”)

The emergence of workflow should reduce the need to run out and change your housing management system every five years as your organisation changes. Also, it is worth having some of your IT team or key module champions aware of, or able to write some workflow to add flexibility inside your organisation. The alternative is to spend costly days with your systems supplier and often wait many weeks or up to 18 months in some cases (people tell me) for work to be completed.

So, does your housing system fit your organisation processes or not? If it doesn’t and you are already trying to use your workflow facilities to the max, you have a problem. Maybe you have no workflow, you should be looking perhaps for some more modern HMS solutions in that eventuality.

As mentioned, some Housing Management Systems (HMS) have workflow built in by design. Others use workflow as a bolt-on. In some cases, testing automation (or manual scripting) software  such as ‘Testcomplete’ can be used to achieve certain actions. This can have variable results, but is prone to major upgrades with application software, causing problems.

Do you think your organisation is being best served by workflow? Here’s a no-brainer tick list, see how well your workflow is performing:

  • Arrears process (assisting in allowing totally flexible processes, emailing and texting where appropriate, generating outlook or mobile appointments for your staff setting up visits and appointments)
  • Void process (alerting other teams as soon as notice provided, organising/scheduling a void inspection, communicating with lettings or asset team, updating your web pages, if this would be a CBL advertisement, automatically passing to the local CHR is you use one)
  • Satisfaction Survey (automatically linking with external services you might use, like Voluntas, generating outgoing calls automatically if using one of the emerging caller systems (more on that in a later blogpost methinks), creating follow up tasks for CRM or P&Q (Performance and Quality) staff to investigate demand failure)
  • Repairs (take into account resident profile like vulnerabilities, religious beliefs, age etc in prioritising and appointmenting repair, automatic awareness of defect periods and neighbourhood factors, like notification of asbestos in the scheme etc to contractors, links with text, email and mobile modules, automatic determination of financial codes)

As the above shows, the logic of workflow can prevent the need for ‘everyday’ decisions to be taken by staff, meaning that residents and customers see a consistent approach. E.G. if they are a double stick user and aged 62, their urgent repairs always well get upgraded to a 24 hour emergency, who ever or however a works order is initiated.    

In the current environment, how is your system workflow performing to make your organisation more efficient? If it isn’t, prepare to ask some questions or find someone who can!

Canned Heat, they might have needed a decent short-back-and-sides, but now they knew a thing about working together.

(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting

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