or LinkedIn here https://uk.linkedin.com/in/tonysmiththathousingitguy
I had a very interesting day last week at the Northgate user group in Edinburgh.
I have got to thank the good folks of Alliance Homes for keeping me fed and watered on Wednesday evening. They were excellent company. The business of the day was in City Chambers, just off the Royal Mile, you have to admit, a pretty iconic location. I do think suppliers miss a trick picking non descript locations in random identikit hotels parts of the Midlands. For example, the DRS (Optitime) conference often takes in museums or historic sailing ships, which leverages a big draw for attendees, particularly for something, often quite dry like a user group.
Buffets are clearly a big draw for me, clever not expensive tends to float my boat. It was good to chat to Sharon Jackson and Wendy Rafferty over lunch too. There was no lemon drizzle cake on at lunch, but we agreed on a few areas of housing & system change.
User Groups are essential to progress products and software applications, also to connect with end users. Account managers often only see ICT representatives at organisations, and user groups should attract a wider audience. It's a really essential part of relationship with a key supplier and if regular meetings are not organised/available, then at initial procurement, questions should be asked.
The user group should be used (in conjunction with account management meetings by RSLs), to hold suppliers to account. When I was MD at a prominent HMS supplier, I used to work until I was blue in the face, to encourage customers to take part. I managed over 70% attendance,which was pretty high, although there was no fee, apart from any food or hotel cost, to the event. The attraction was that the most popular amendments would be done for free. That was an additional draw into these events.
Occasionally, I have known clients who have 'ganged up' on suppliers at get their way. I sometimes advise organisations to take this tactic if needed. At the Northgate user group, a number of Special Interest Groups (SIG) are used to target improvements to specific areas of the system. Very sensible and as anyone in socialhousing, will know, that rent accounting is where most changes are happening currently. Pay to stay (P2S), Welfare Reform, Universal Credit, young tenant caps are the main problem areas these days.
Some other groups are experiencing less activity, such as repairs. One aspect that I saw was that it seemed very difficult to get users involved in the SIG's. as well as the general user groups. While clearly Northgate have been doing better than many, it is difficult to attract attendees to participate. Apart from lots of perseverance, there is no silver bullet here, but it is a major conduit to suppliers moulding systems to user needs.
Suppliers often active in tenders, also see the opportunity to improve to the best in their class. USP's are few & far between current suppliers, and a few gems could be the measure between win & lose, in an OJEU procurement. Some users are always keen to improve the application software and for my money, attendance to user groups are one major way, even if getting permission to get out of the office, is getting harder & harder.
As I made clear in my talk to the Northgate User Group, networking is an added bonus too. Making alliances with your peers, of similar size and complexity, is a good trick to pull off. This is essential for helping suppliers meet your needs better and share the risks when upgrading too.
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Related Post: Is it just me, or has the standard of training plummeted?
PS: I am at the CIH Manchester Wed June 29th 2016. If you are there, DM me, be great to meet up 8-)
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The Verve - A Northern Soul.
(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting www.acutanceconsulting.co.uk 07854-655009
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