Housing associations are looking at new ways of managing their business. One association has tied the balanced business scorecard approach into its new IT system to improve performance

Formed in 1994, through the large-scale voluntary transfer of 2,555 properties from Wychavon District Council. Spa Housing Association now manages over 2,700 properties and has a turnover of £9.7m a year.

Most of the properties managed by the association are general needs properties, let to families or single people, but the association also manages a number of sheltered schemes for elderly people and runs a residential home for elderly people in Worcester. A fairly typical general needs housing association, it has 50 staff in its central office in Droitwich Spa, plus a further 100 staff managing its sheltered schemes and the residential home.

Like other HAs, Spa Housing Association depends on its IT system to provide timely management information on which to base its management and financial decisions. But Spa has gone further than many other HAs and has developed a system to provide its managers and staff with a system tailored to their information needs.

In conjunction with public sector software specialist IBS, Spa has developed a system that provides a comprehensive range of performance information, based on the concept of the Balanced Business Scorecard. The system incorporates user-friendly traffic light performance indicators with the facility to drill-down from a top level scorecard, through a structured series of screens, down to individual transaction details.

The development of the system came about when Spa first looked at replacing the housing system it had taken over from the district douncil. "We became aware of two significant problems," explains Grant Shipley, Director of Resources at Spa. "We couldn't get good management information easily and there were a number of interfaces from the housing system into other software, such as cash receipting and financial systems, that were hard to manage and keep up-to-date."

As the HA began work on specifying and going out to tender for a new system, Shipley and his team took a long, hard look at the needs of the organisation and how they could best be met. "We felt we needed to buy a new system, but we didn't want to implement it quickly and then simply reproduce existing ways of working without looking at ways to improve and develop services, so we went through a business re-engineering process, looking at all our key processes and the best way to manage them," says Shipley.

Before making a final decision on the purchase of its core new housing IT system, Spa HA discussed its needs for a top-level management information system with both its shortlisted suppliers, one of which was housing software specialist IBS. "We discussed our management information needs with each of the suppliers, based on the idea of the balanced business scorecard, because this was something I'd been aware of for some time," says Shipley. "I knew major companies in the US and UK were using this approach to manage their businesses and I saw it as a powerful tool, so I was very keen to use it in the association."

Shipley wanted a balanced scorecard that would provide staff at all levels within Spa HA with performance indicators, not as a separate system, but closely integrated with its core IT applications. He found IBS highly responsive to this approach and IBS' Open Housing system, which was one of the final two on the HA's shortlist, came out significantly ahead of its rival. "For both reasons, we selected IBS," comments Shipley.

"As part of the implementation of the main system, we analysed the processes we had defined more carefully," says Shipley. "We asked our managers what information they really needed, not what they thought was realistic to be provided. They came up with the answers surprisingly quickly, everyone knew what they needed, but had never thought it was possible to achieve."

The result is a powerful tool that is being tailored not just for top managers at the HA, but also individual housing staff in all areas. "We will provide all our operational staff with a balanced scorecard," says Shipley. "The system provides information at every level of our organisation so that it can be used to link the association's corporate goals directly to the performance of individual managers, sections and front-line staff."

The Openvu system developed by IBS in collaboration with Spa Housing Association covers all major activities and key processes within housing organisations, including arrears management, responsive repairs, programmed maintenance, voids and lettings, services, and complaints.

Within each of these areas, the system covers four different perspectives:

The system draws all its information from the IBS Open Housing System into a structured format that can be tailored by housing organisations to meet their own requirements. Information is fed through automatically, with no need for manual input. Particularly useful is the ability to tailor scorecards for all members of staff, from housing officers to the chief executive. Also important is the fact that reports are built overnight, providing staff with the performance indicators they need first thing each day.

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