Work is certainly varied for Jenny Shorter, a senior consultant at IT services firm Sovereign Business Integration Group, who revisits a typical week at work.
I’ve seen a great deal of change in the housing sector. Mostly, it now requires a far more commercially-minded approach than it did when I first joined the sector in the 1990s. I know that I have to be far more timely in my pitches to clients and in responding to their requests for support and always mindful of the return to be gained and how quickly this will be realised.
Overseeing two main housing client accounts as well as a range of other business-critical implementations means that much of my time is spent client-side or working with suppliers on the client’s behalf, and while mobile working can mean being on the go a lot of the time, I really like the opportunity to be hands-on.
Tower Hamlets Community Housing and East End Homes, two of my on-going client accounts, are both well-established London-based housing providers that have longstanding relationships with Sovereign, where we manage their IT provision including support for their housing management systems.
I recently visited Orchard’s offices in Newcastle, immersing myself in their products and meeting new and existing contacts to deepen my understanding of their products and who to go to in order to troubleshoot or fact-find for my clients.
Managing suppliers for housing clients
It makes sense to have a close relationship with the suppliers to our market in order to broaden my understanding of their vision, product pipeline and so on; it’s a great way for us to help our clients to get the very most out of the relationship with the supplier as well as benchmark their products against the competition. It can also help with any troubleshooting issues, playing the role of the ‘honest broker’ to help to move things along and keep lines of communication open on both sides.
My job is to step in with technology suppliers wherever I’m needed, either on behalf of our client or the Sovereign implementation team (some of whom are wholly client-side), either negotiating the sale, arranging product demonstrations or project managing the implementation itself (for example, just last week I was working on a new Promaster asset management software implementation for a client).
The project management role is full on and typically involves setting up meetings to agree the way forward or fine-tune the client roadmap, procuring the product, booking implementation resources, training staff who will use the product, and then chasing any issues that need to be escalated.
I’ve just finished a four-hour session with Golding Homes after running a requirements gathering exercise with the customer services team there. The switch from an inner London housing provider to a Kent-based one resulted in very different requirements, no doubt due to the different demographic groups each serves, but they each had interesting suggestions about things that they currently do manually that could be automated.
It’s great to work with an organisation that recognises that there is work to do with the culture within the organisation as part of a digital transformation project. Any organisation can buy new software and implement it, but if your people don’t have the right mindset or aren’t supported to have the right mindset, the service won’t improve and no return on investment will be achieved.
Consultant with a housing background
Working with housing providers, in common with any other industry, it’s a great help to have directly relevant industry experience. Some people will embrace change, while for others, there’s a vested interest in being wary.
I’m not a standard IT consultant but instead someone who has worked in the housing sector for more than 14 years. It puts me in a strong position because clients are assured that I know their world, their challenges and speak their language. It can really help to get over some of the hurdles that are often faced when implementing change.
As well as keeping an eye on our clients’ progress, I am also keen to ensure that Sovereign is hitting the mark. I’ve been working on a project recently that involves reviewing a client’s IT lifecycle. It has provided me with enormous insight into our processes and procedures and how we can continue to improve these.
Working in the housing sector
As I look back over 20 years of working in the housing sector, there are two key ‘takeaways’ for me:
Firstly, the social housing sector is so much more budget-driven than it ever was, but I always make sure my clients are aware that cheap can be more expensive in the long run. It’s great that we’ve moved away from a ‘cost-focused’ decision model, but I always like to make sure my clients make the right decision considering the whole of their organisational needs and plan for future investment. What you think looks good on paper today could turn out to be more expensive to implement in the long run. If for some reason, it doesn’t go according to plan, you are likely to spend a great deal more putting it right.
Secondly, the upside is that customers are really driving the impetus for so much change in the housing sector, especially when it comes to technology. If you can’t communicate with your customers effectively, or be responsive when they need repairs, maintenance and so on, this just costs the organisation, in the long run. Housing providers have woken up to the fact that there is more choice for tenants and so, if there’s a better service to be had, some tenants could potentially go elsewhere. They don’t always have to take what’s on their doorstep.
Jenny Shorter is a senior consultant for housing IT services at Sovereign Business Integration Group.