Making the decision to switch to any new piece of tech usually involves a straightforward cost-benefit analysis. How much will it cost to switch to a new system and what will the benefits be? Do the financial and operational improvements delivered by the new system outweigh the costs of replacing the old one?
It’s not always easy and there can often be multiple factors to consider. Overcoming workforce opposition and “this is the way we’ve always done things” is often the biggest hurdle. But in one area, the push towards a new way of working appears almost unstoppable.
When it comes to the way housing associations manage IT workflows, file storage, collaboration and communications we are currently seeing a tectonic shift away from traditional “on premises” solutions. Providers are recognising that storing documents and emails on their own servers, with software manually and physically installed on all workstations, is an outdated and an inefficient way of working.
And for offices where the use of Microsoft Office software is ingrained and embedded - there is a new solution - which won’t require retraining or a radical new way of working. In some ways it’s about putting existing tools to (much) better use.
With Microsoft Office 365, providers can take advantage of all of Mr Gates’ world-leading Office software (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook) and much, much more. You can even use it to bring down the cost of your telephone bills! Put to its full potential, it can offer better safeguarding of data, improved team working and more efficient business operations.
This relatively new approach to how we buy and use software is certainly not limited to Microsoft. Adobe, for example, which creates software which is popular with the creative industries, has been working on a similar subscription basis for some time now.
So with Office 365 Enterprise packages, instead of installing Microsoft software on individual workstations, all software is accessed online via the cloud. All your data and files are also saved on remote, resilient servers in EU Data Centres. You will no longer need to have any significant disk storage space on local servers on premises. Instead of paying a one-off cost for software, you instead pay a monthly or annual subscription fee - with the price determined by the number of users you have.
This of course means you automatically get updates of each item of software - so you’ll always be running the most up to date versions. But Office 365 also gives you access to other tools which could transform the way you work.
For example, there’s an instant messaging app which allows staff to communicate across the organisation, within teams or between individuals. It can also be used to make voice or video calls, either within your organisation or externally. Virtual meetings or video conferences just got a whole lot easier. There’s also a ‘corporate social network’ called Yammer.
The Microsoft Teams element of Office 365 also creates new and better ways for your people to collaborate and share files. Gone are the days of sending emails round to people with attachments - and all the ‘version control’ complications which come with that approach.
Office 365 utilises the SharePoint document management system. Crucially, SharePoint also makes GDPR compliance a breeze - with the ability to automatically search all data within SharePoint from a GDPR compliance point of view.
Email is also enhanced with much larger mailboxes (100GB per person with the Office 365 E3 package), unlimited archiving and again no need to store messages on your own servers.
For housing associations, Office 365 also has the potential to help you raise your game on mobile working. Wherever your staff are, and whatever device they are using, (laptop, tablet or smartphone) they can access messages, emails and files and make and receive calls. It’s all about flexibility and agility. If you use Apple or Android tablets the software can still be installed on these.
Power Apps are another great tool within Office 365 which have the potential to deliver significant benefits to social housing providers. This is perhaps the most customisable and flexible element of the system, allowing you to create forms for the capture of any kind of data. For example, they could be used to capture data from customers about everything from new tenancy applications and rent payments to anti-social behaviour and repairs reporting. Augmented intelligence can even be used to capture this data, put it into all appropriate systems and even generate automatic work tasks and responses. Forms can also be designed and created which customers can use - further reducing the staff time required to complete tasks.
The flow tool element of Power Apps is what is used to “workflow” and automate the process involved. So, with the example of anti-social behaviour given above, the workflow would start with a customer filling in an online form; this is then automatically sent to the anti-social behaviour team and an appointment is generated for an officer to visit the customer at their home. It’s about reducing those costly ‘touch points’ and ultimately getting the issue dealt with more quickly and more effectively.
In summary, making the switch to a cloud and subscription-based software, communication and data storage system like Office 365 is something of a no brainer for housing associations. It offers the potential to work more effectively and efficiently, to the benefit of your workforce and your customers. More and more providers we talk to are being persuaded of the benefits. And that the costs, when all things are considered, are lower. Full utilisation of the benefits of a tool like Power Apps is taking longer to filter through - but we’re working on that!
From our point of view, persuading organisations of the benefits of Office 365 is in some ways the easy bit. It’s helping them to exploit its full potential which remains the most exciting challenge. It’s about explaining that there’s so much more you can do with it - beyond just more effective communication, data storage and document management.
If you’d like to explore the costs and benefits of switching to Microsoft Office 365 get in touch. We can help you to calculate exact savings over a specific period. For example, we recently put together an Office 365 proposal for one provider which estimated the potential to save almost £40,000 over five years, versus the installation of an “on premises” solution. You may also find that utilising the services of a systems implementer can help you to get the maximum value and benefit.
As you would expect, Microsoft want to get as many organisations onto Microsoft Office 365. But many organisations may not be aware that if you are licensing more than 150 licenses, they with provide Fastrack migration services and support. For organisations buying more than 500 licenses they will do all the planning, migration and support for you.