Home Group are determinedly pursuing their aspiration to be an outrageously brilliant organisation, seeking to help their customers and clients to ‘open doors to new opportunities and healthy lives.’ One of the main ways they are seeking to achieve this is by improving the quality of their housing stock and through the provision of reliable housing services; providing their tenants with a high quality home and a safe place to live.
Home Group work in close partnership with their maintenance contractors to respond to the needs of their customers; ensuring that responsive maintenance requests are serviced quickly and to a high quality, that necessary gas servicing is undertaken within the legal constraints and that proactive maintenance work is well planned and delivered.
Key to enabling this quality service is the ability to pass accurate information about the maintenance jobs back and forth between Home Group and their contractors; with a focus on enabling appointments to be made whilst the customer is on the phone and ensuring that updates to the job are visible to both parties. To help facilitate this real time data sharing, we worked with Home Group and their five maintenance contractors to deliver a technology solution to support this process.
First time appointments
One of the overriding emphases for the solution was to ensure that tenants were able to choose and agree an appointment when they first called to report the problem. To allow this to happen the solution had to allow real time communication of data between Home Group and the relevant maintenance contractor; with details of the problem being logged, available appointment slots for tradesmen being made visible, selected and confirmed. Following that initial contact, detailed updates about the progress of the job need to be passed back in real time so that at any point, should the customer contact Home Group directly, they had the latest view of the status of the job.
Working with Home Group and their contractors, we designed and delivered a solution to enable the real time nature of the data exchange using a middleware platform, Microsoft Biztalk, which provided the integration layer for the business to business interface. To allow Home Group’s customer service advisors to schedule, reschedule and cancel appointments with the contractors a new browser-based scheduling application was introduced, launched from within their core housing management system.
Leveraging the Microsoft BizTalk platform has allowed Home Group;
- To provide a generic interface which allows them to control the details of the messages passing back and forth between them and their contractors ensuring consistency.
- To greatly accelerate the rate in which contractors can be integrated into their core systems as adding new contractors into their system simply requires a new adapter adding to the platform.
- To ensure a highly available solution by using clustering at all levels of the hardware and software infrastructure.
- Greater flexibility to realise their business processes in a form that is easily adapted and extended as their business needs change.
- To establish a platform with features that can be exploited in the future to allow even more value to be realised.
Whilst the introduction of the middleware platform was relatively straightforward, the main challenges within the project were due to the number of different organisations involved in the end to end solution. Project managing and co-ordinating the different contractors and, in some cases, their third party software providers required careful orchestration and planning.
In addition to the project management complexities, the majority of our time spent on the project was in the end to end testing phase with each contractor. Significant time was spent ensuring that all scenarios were tested and that all components of the interface met the quality expectations set out at the beginning of the project. This provided different challenges due to the diverse nature of the technologies used by the different contractors, the age of their underlying systems and the commercial agreements in place with their software providers.
We made sure that throughout the project was viewed holistically as every component of the interface needed to work for the project to be successful and for Home Group and their contractors to achieve the outcomes they were looking for.
The work Waterstons has done is enabling us to deliver an enhanced customer experience. It is providing us with valuable insights which are, in turn, helping us to work with our maintenance partners in continually improving the services we deliver together. Waterstons were instrumental in the delivery of the project, working in partnership with us to co-ordinate efforts across all of our maintenance partners. They ensured the implementation of a quality solution, driving the project through to completion.David Redpath Director of IS