New computer system
Housing New Zealand is rolling out the biggest change to our systems and process in decades. Chief Executive, Dr Lesley McTurk explains what this means for Housing New Zealand and the way we deliver services to our customers.
At two o’clock in the morning on Wednesday 1 August most of the 200-thousand people living in Housing New Zealand Corporation houses were, I imagine, sound asleep.
They would have been happily unaware that, in an office block in Wellington, something quite important was happening. A button on a computer console was pushed, starting the transfer of 83 million records from Housing New Zealand’s old core computer system to a brand new one.
As a gesture it may lack drama. But it marks the biggest change to Housing New Zealand in decades. Once the records have been transferred and verified, the new system will be switched on, and help us transform the way we go about our business.
But what we are doing is much more than a computer system upgrade: I’ve heard it described as a ‘heart and lung transplant’. The change is on a grand scale and will affect every one of our 1000 staff, every person we deal with, every process we carry out and system we operate. To give a single example, our staff have spent some 20-thousand hours training for the change.
We are moving to a business model which revolves around meeting tenants’ needs rather than simply around letting and maintaining properties.
But what does that mean for those 200-thousand people living in our houses?
Quite simply it means they can expect better service from us. We will have a single view of our housing stock, and our tenants, and be better able to match them together.
So, for example, instead of standing around a white board to allocate houses we’ll be able to accurately measure a tenant’s needs – number of bedrooms, proximity to schools, etc – against available properties. That means shorter vacancy periods, better matches between people and houses, and a nationally fair and consistent process.
When people ring us up we’ll be able to see all their details on screen: whether their rent is up to date, what’s happening with maintenance at their house, any previous contact they’ve had with us and so on. And instead of giving details time and time again to different people they’ll only have to tell us something once, and that information will be available to all our tenancy services staff.
Maintenance requests, which make up the bulk of our calls, will be handled immediately through our customer services centre, rather than when tenancy managers are able to clear their voicemail. Jobs under $500 will be processed on the spot, with work orders and invoices generated automatically. Less paperwork will mean faster service.
We’ll also be able to look after our housing stock better, and plan more effectively for the future. We own 69-thousand houses, worth $15bn. They are the Government’s second-biggest asset.
Our new systems and business models will give us the ability to better see our housing stock through its life-cycle: planning the right specifications for new houses, choosing where to put them, and then maintaining, upgrading, and perhaps disposing of them.
his new capability will be useful around the country, but especially so in Christchurch, where some 95 percent of our houses have sustained earthquake damage. It will help us prioritise and coordinate repairs, allocate properties to people with the greatest need, and build the right sorts of new houses in the right places.
Some of the early benefits of our change programme were seen in April, when we upgraded our customer services centre to deal with most tenant enquiries around the clock. Our customers no longer need to travel to our offices to receive service – they just have to pick up the phone.
This has freed up tenancy managers from answering phones to spend more time visiting properties. Tasks they used to do in the areas of debt, tenancy tribunals and income-related rents have been taken over by specialist teams. Our aim is to increase the time tenancy managers spend with tenants from 40% to 70% of their working day.
There were a few, well-publicised, wobbles at the Customer Service Centre: we underestimated demand, and call waiting times were too long for a period. The situation is now much improved, and for some weeks our call answer times have averaged less than three minutes.
Similarly, though we’ve run exhaustive training and testing and had three successful ‘dress rehearsals’ of turning on the new system, some service delays can be expected at first. Transformation of this size is never plain sailing. Technical hitches will probably crop up, and our staff will need to get used to a very different way of doing things.
I would like to ask all those who have dealings with Housing New Zealand to have patience with us as the changes bed in: I can assure you, they will be worth it, and will leave us with a better, fairer, more efficiently run state housing system.