1st August 2019

The future of housing management systems 

Contribution from: Mark Holdsworth, Director, Civica

What is the difference between today’s latest HMS compared with most housing providers’ existing HMS?
Previously, the biggest step change for housing management systems (HMS) was moving from ‘green screen’ to windows. Today, the change from Windows to fully web-based systems is just as revolutionary. Having a web-based system allows employees to access and work on their business systems just as they do with apps in their everyday lives; on any device, anywhere, anytime. It also includes all the modern capabilities that web-based apps deliver e.g. cameras, portals, mapping, e-forms, EDM meaning housing organisations no longer need costly separate applications.  It also allows easy deployment into the public cloud e.g. Microsoft Azure and AWS which can dramatically cut the cost of deploying and managing IT systems.

Do housing providers really need a dedicated HMS instead of, say, an ERP system or commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS) – yes/no/maybe and why?
Yes, there are many specialist and complicated areas across the social housing market that are difficult and costly to configure in ERPs.  Where ERP has been fully deployed, they still require specialist applications sitting behind them, such as Asset Management, Rent Accounting and Service Charges to deliver the right service.

Why can’t housing providers just keep their existing HMS and then add a web services/presentation layer around it?
They could – but this removes the modern tech opportunities that cloud-based software can deliver, such as creating a single view of data, integrating customer portals with Chabots or simply delivering services using mobile, which supports flexible working. Fully web based systems also allow business logic, such as .net web services being contained in the application to be deployed via the web and in integration with other software.  Old technology wrapped in a web layer does not allow this approach.  There is a purity of design in cloud-based software; the cost of ownership is reduced compared to those with a presentation layer, where multiple technologies need to be managed and lots of ‘bolt-ons’ maintained.

A new HMS is a significant risk, disruption and expense; what are key factors in the HMS selection/procurement process (beyond the usual software procurement tips)?
Fundamentally organisations are buying technology that will support their long term strategies to transform their businesses, be more efficient and make sure they are prepared for the future.  They should spend more time, and give a much greater weighting to technology factors in the procurement process. For example, when buying a luxury car, the big diesel off-roader might look great but it’s the sleek modern electric/hybrid car which is prepared for the future and will deliver longer term value.

What are the particular pitfalls to be aware of when deploying a new HMS (beyond the usual deployment tips)?
The biggest pitfall is organisations trying to just implement a newer version of their existing systems. They should take the time to fully explore all the new capabilities which a new HMS can bring. Modern systems also allow users to hold much greater and richer data, and the effort spent gathering this data (preferably before the implementation begins) will pay huge dividends later on.

To what extent does an HMS dictate the rest of a housing provider’s strategy/decisions regarding its other business applications?
As a system which is core for business operation and data, it has a big impact.  It will dictate what can be delivered within the software and what additional requirements are needed to integrate with.  For example if the HMS can be delivered from the cloud, and is inherently mobile, then this will be fundamental to its strategy for hosting and agile working.  Integration is also vital: if systems can readily integrate with Office 365 and SharePoint this can fundamentally change the way an organisation delivers productivity and document management capabilities.

What’s the next step for HMS in, say, three years’ time?
Cloud deployment will become the norm. Any housing organisation requires data insight e.g. mapping, media, graphical and the incorporation of proactive, real time data from the Internet of Things. This supports housing organisations to increase decision making, be more proactive in identifying trends or risks before they occur and deliver responsive services – because they will have access to a richer and more up-to-date data set.

Published in Housing Technology Publication – July 2019