Saturday, 16 February 2013

What a waste ....

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A conversation with a director at one of my housing customers started me off thinking about this post. The track by that great Rock and Roll artist and lyricist Ian Dury “What a waste” came to mind and by gold vinyl copy of ‘New boots and panties’ up in my loft. Also the definition of waste used by Vanguard and John Seddon. Waste was easier to see in my first role as a technician apprentice in an electrical engineering manufacturer. Pallets of miss-sized components, wrongly wired assemblies and vacuum circuit breakers dispatched back to Kyoto as defective. It was very visible and obvious. 

Outside of manufacturing it’s less obvious but taking the time to look, you will see it. All around you. Waste also has a habit of multiplying in the service sector rather than anyone working quickly to nip it in the bud. In housing we are all broadly doing the same things with the same flows, while trying our best to absorb variety, from residents and needs.

Response repairs is one great area of low hanging fruit that can bring savings as well as improve the experience of residents and cutting waste. How often have you contacted your bank, telephone or insurance provider with the same issue or variations to it? Think of your time that was wasted, the frustration you felt and how it shaped the impression of the organisation you dealt with.

Residents feel the same when very similar issues are being constantly logged, like electricals keep tripping or repeated heating issues. How often in these cases do we hear from residents, “Well this is the n’th time I have contacted you about this.... Three response repairs will cost anywhere from about £450 upwards and at the end the resident is still not happy. The means of flagging up this type of thing when repairs are being logged is not rocket surgery.

Simplistic housing management systems can generally flag up if the same SOR (Schedule of Rate) item is selected. This is useful, although not too practical as the repeated fault is rarely exactly the same, (as anyone working in repairs diagnosis or job entry will tell you). System checks on repeated faults within the same SOR section or within the same attribute/component are more useful at the front line. For example, more than 2 calls within 8 weeks or of total aggregate value of over £400 might trigger an inspection or housing officer contact. Intelligent use of workflow or scripting can make this automatic. Rules can be set per trade, scheme, tenure type etc. The outcome then can be more satisfactory from the resident and finance viewpoint.

Looking at the flow of work logically it makes sense to tackle issues and attempt to solve problems as early as possible in the process. To shine a torch on specific areas decent reporting coupled with some imagination is essential. Out of the box reports if supplied at all rarely bring much imaginative thinking with them. Also, never expect them to match the variety faced by yourselves as an RSL. I.E. If your stock is rural, student short lets, include aspects of care, asylum seekers or predominantly elderly, different issues will arise. Reporting needs to be moulded to these variations pinpointing exceptions, which can be used to modify flow.

Examples are where cumulative thresholds are being breeched or repairs being repeated when actually under (response repair or original builders) warranty. In some organisations this can amount to 5-8% of the total repair budget. Identify more of these at the front line and the resident need for repair can be satisfied at zero cost. A small RSL I work with estimated that they could save approaching £200K if every occurrence like this was caught when logged.

Technology particularly workflow is the enabler for these savings and should be given the IT resource needed to put these triggers in to enable these savings and service improvements.

What a waste.

(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting 07854-655009

PS If there are subjects you might like me to tackle on this blog, please get in touch and let me know!

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