Friday, 3 February 2012

Safety in numbers

If you do the Twitter thing, follow Anthony Smith at @hotpixUK

I spend ten days every month pulling these figures together, all I need is a really good reporting system in place, so I just need to press a button and my stats roll out!

I remember the day someone asked me this. My reply was “If that were possible, would your housing association really need you around to press that button chum?”. I have been dining out on that anecdote for yonks, but seriously, should we not all have a button (labelled ‘Stats’) by now, that should spit out the rascals?

You would think so, although so many organisations still spend significant time and energy ‘pulling statistics together’ and getting the numbers together, each month, quarter or annually. Quite often Excel is a major part in the jigsaw in the process. To me, Excel is up there with Winzip, microwave ovens and kebabs as one of the greatest introductions of the last 20 years, but it’s got to be said that probably only 2% of ‘space cadet’ users generally tap its true power. That category often are revered and create the templates containing VLookUps (still a mystery to most, other than finance staff), that generate those periodic stats.

Everyone relies on them and they become the ‘single version of the truth’. A great phrase that should be in every tender, looking to procure reporting and business intelligence. It’s certainly in most suppliers reporting offering literature. Don’t consider anyone’s who doesn’t offer one version of the truth and why would you not?

Excel encourages and provides flexibility. In my experience, that can enable the finance department to report a 6.4% arrear against GAD (Gross Annual Debit), while the housing team reports 5.9%. Obviously, the housing team will have excluded the car-ports, repair recharges and court costs that never really are capable of being collected. The finance team will obviously report what hits their ledgers. Both will find the need to revise both figures when they find that their ‘space cadet’ users had made a slight Excel formula error. Sadly, both figures could have been wrong for the last 16 months. I have seen this happen and luckily, everyone could laugh about it afterwards.

But seriously, how do we go forward in the 21st century with ‘one version of the truth’ reporting? How do we get there?

Well, for a start integration helps. Can you relate all your information together in a single system or database? Every one of my customers know about my passion for integration. Technology should not be an obstacle if record ID’s (doh, I mean reference numbers) can be cross-referenced between systems, in different databases. So if you are of a mind to mix an Orchard Rents module with a Capita OpenHousing repairs module and a Civica Contact Manager, providing ODBC drivers are available (doh, the ‘plumbing’ I mean), there is no reason all that information should not be aggregated.

If you have that, you have the ingredients of integrated reporting.

Some HMS (Housing Management Systems) have integrated reporting modules. Not everyone buys them, you should be very careful to be sure they fit your needs before you do. Don’t assume. As they say, that makes an ‘Ass out of U and me’. ‘Caveat emptor’Let the buyer beware.

For some housing organisations, an independent reporting solution might be a better bet. I know of a few cracking ones, and they are selling lots of them, as core HMS suppliers are obviously not supplying that need.

Still, one last thought to leave you with, customisation and flexibility. This is important to every single RSL or housing group using reporting packages. In my experience, every organisation is aiming to reach the same goals, but they are coming at it from a different place. We are all unique, as are your residents and customers. Ability to take the reporting in whatever direction needed is essential. That should not exclude smaller RSL’s with no traditional IT resource, often those serving the most vulnerable in our society, often asylum seekers or recent migrants.

To work out if you have got your reporting right or wrong, check what resource is needed each month or quarter to create your statistics. Person time, how much you spend on the application software you present it in, the way you deliver it. If your costs are excessive, review what you are doing. Ask your peers for an honest opinion of what they are doing, then find a way to do it better.

Read on to : Going green in housing

The Adverts, always knew the safety in (reliable) numbers.

(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting

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1 comment:

  1. Excel is an extremely powerful tool . . . which is another way of saying that it's a really powerful way of making dreadful mistakes if you don't know exactly what you're doing. Anyone who doubts this should type "spreadsheet risk horror stories" into Google and feast their eyes on the result.
    Now would you mind please if we have your operational reports verified by the professional we hired to do the job?