When lockdown hit, it immobilized the entire industry; staff had to transition to working from home, tenants and clients could only be supported online or over the phone and all repairs and maintenance work was brought to a sharp halt.
Fast forward to now, after months of moving operations online and trying to digitize processes, several industry challenges have been put under the magnifying glass. Straight away, many organizations realized that having remote teams presents collaboration and information sharing challenges. Manual processes put compliance and customer experience at risk and a backlog of compliance checks and repairs could not be avoided.
Repairs and maintenance teams experienced reduced access to properties due to people shielding or self-isolating causing this backlog. A survey from the Regulator of Social Housing revealed that: “The number of properties with an expired gas safety check has generally increased and likely to continue to rise.”
With the recent easing of restrictions, how can Housing and Real Estate providers ensure they are meeting compliance while managing the accumulation of safety checks and maintenance work?
Getting Organized by Connecting your Content
When 93% of staff are unable to find documents because they are badly named or tagged when filed, it poses a great risk to resident safety. With a backlog of safety checks and maintenance, the paperwork and risk become even greater. Sharing information and collaborating efficiently is going to be key as teams work towards managing the backlog, but unless files and information are processed accurately it will be a much bigger hurdle.
Some housing providers have seen the benefits of combing optical character recognition (OCR) and information management’s metadata technology to empower teams with the tools to manage safety checks and documents intelligently, ensuring everyone has the right access to that information instantly. Key information is picked up from documents automatically through OCR which then populates the metadata tags. This information not only determines how it is stored, managed and who has access to it, but also ensures it is tagged to the relevant property and tenant.
The time savings and level of visibility of information has taken the sector’s efficiencies to the next level while minimizing the risks of information being misplaced, lost or requests being overlooked.
Automate and Track Compliance
Once the burden of processing paperwork manually has been lifted and your information is organized, easily searchable and managed correctly you can take it one step further and automate complex processes such as compliance.
Let’s take handling the backlog of gas safety checks as an example. You will need to prioritize safety checks and assign the work out. With the information from metadata tags you will be able to create views based on criteria you set to aid prioritization. This could be based on expiry date, address or location, status of tenant, etc. Once the most urgent properties are identified, automated workflows can create assignments to request the safety check to your maintenance teams and field agents can record any necessary information during visits in real time. In this case, the safety check carried out is a pass so the relevant information will be updated against the property and tenant record. Reminders are then automatically set to notify the right team of the next check for that property to ensure it meets the twelve-month obligation.
Automating standardized processes such as safety checks saves your teams time and gives them a full overview of your properties’ compliance statuses. Alerting the right teams when safety checks are raised or needed, assigning tasks to relevant people, and having one place with all the required documentation are essential should a tenant, client or regulatory body request this information.
Ensure Transparency with Clients, Tenants and Regulatory Bodies
Tenants and clients have higher digital expectations and are more informed than ever. They now expect the same digital experience they are accustomed to in their daily lives — like in retail or banking. Additionally, the housing sector is subject to heavy regulatory obligations that are constantly evolving. As already mentioned, it is key to have a full audit trail of information relating to a tenant or property and even more so when it comes to safety checks, maintenance or repairs. Maintaining accurate, up-to-date information is the first step to achieving transparency. It enables you to respond to tenant queries quicker with correct documentation and information and you can quickly evidence compliance, for example, for a disrepair claim or a GDPR subject matter request.
The next step that many housing providers are taking is a more “digital consumer” approach with how they share information. One way they are achieving this is using a platform that clients or tenants can access 24/7, is personalized, secure and allows two-way communication. A client portal, for example, can be used to automatically share documents that need signing, documents that have been finalized, important updates on repairs or maintenance, active safety certificates, important contact information, tenancy agreements, the possibilities are endless.
And this does not mean extra work if you integrate your information management platform with a client portal and automate what information needs to be visible in the portal and when. Get information to clients or tenants quicker and exceed their expectations.
Lockdown has brought about many challenges for the sector, but sometimes difficult times drive the best innovations. We have seen it drive digital thinking in the industry, improved processes and have realized that a lot can be achieved remotely. Compliance will forever need to be addressed by housing providers and letting technology help with the manual and mundane can be truly transformative.