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Asset management systems: social housing

They are here to help

22 January 2014

John Buckland gives an overview of the functionality available in social housing asset management systems


With large numbers of properties under management, it is not surprising that local authorities and housing associations were among early adopters of asset management (AM) software systems.

Since the late 1980s, the software has been used primarily to store and report on data collected during stock condition surveys. Part of the impetus came from the desire (still high on requirements lists) to collect data electronically using the devices that were starting to become available at that time. Once established, systems quickly expanded their functionality to enable energy data and ratings calculations. As with all areas of regulation, the systems have had to keep up with many changes in requirements. The current Standard Assessment Procedure 9.91 standard has only been with us for a year or so and changes are already planned.


AM systems are critical to maintain asset values and ensure these perform financially

Social housing organisations typically use housing management software systems to manage rents and benefits, for example. These systems have never adequately dealt with the detailed day-to-day requirements of property asset management. It is not surprising, therefore, that as separate AM systems were adopted, demand rose for more functionality to cover the wide range of AM and maintenance tasks. Servicing, especially for gas appliances where landlords have to comply with the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, came first.

Requirements then spread to expanding the data manipulation and reporting tools available and now functionality covers all areas of housing asset management. The leading AM systems are all now available as browser-based applications, meaning they can easily be deployed to homeworkers and third parties such as contractors.

The balance sheet of any housing organisation is built from its housing assets and AM systems are critical in maintaining asset values and ensuring they perform financially. Equally, on a day-to-day basis, they are in constant use to manage the detailed tasks and compliance requirements needed to ensure organisations, some with many thousands of properties in management, are properly run.

Functionality

Continuous development has provided great depth of functionality, including:

  • Stock condition surveys: these provide multiple survey designs, batch updating facilities and cloning and data extrapolation to allow for unsurveyed stock. Stratified sampling can be used to ensure sample surveys collect data on representative samples and errors are minimised. Survey programming includes workflow elements and links to office diaries. Work programming enables detailed programmes of work to be created from the survey data.
  • Scenario modelling: including what-if options for work substitution and for component lives and renewal rates and smoothing work to fit annual budgets (see figure 1).

fig 1

Figure 1: Scenario modelling – smoothing images

  • Decent homes, Scottish and Welsh housing quality standards: calculations and reporting on these is typically set up in a way in which any variation on required standards compliance can be managed and reported upon, including tenant refusals.
  • Fixed assets/component accounting: imagine an organisation with 50,000 properties and up to 10 separately depreciating components in each. You can appreciate the volumes of data and transactions to be handled. Systems also handle valuations, acquisitions, disposals, shared ownership staircasing, grants, loans/mortgages, easements, sublettings, incorporating a full property terrier (a register of all property and land owned or managed, storing information, for example, on tenure, occupancy, type, construction, dates built).
  • Options appraisal: managers have been encouraged to consider future options for elements of their stock that are not performing well. Simply managing programmes of component replacement is no longer sufficient; consideration has to be given to such issues as disposals, conversion to market rent, demolition and reconstruction. Systems now calculate the net present value of alternative scenarios for future treatment of groups of properties as well as enabling social impact points scoring for non-financial factors.
  • Housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS): social housing organisations have to ensure their properties are safe and HHSRS is used as a national system for this in England and Wales only.
  • Energy: functionality now extends far beyond simple ratings calculations to the ability to lodge and retrieve Energy Performance Certificates and to model alternative scenarios for energy improvements to groups of properties to establish which is the most cost-effective and beneficial (see figure 2).

fig 2

Figure 2: Energy – SAP profile

  • Asbestos: the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 have imposed a huge burden on social housing organisations. AM systems help them perform their task.
  • Service contract management: functionality now encompasses all areas of regular servicing and inspection.
  • Project management: given the volume of work, the ability to put together projects, manage the work on site and ensure that survey, energy, asbestos, appliance and HHSRS data is updated on completion is crucial. Project management functionality gives surveyors a tool that includes full contract administration, construction design and management compliance, handling of contractor and consultant orders and invoices and comprehensive reporting. In addition to planned component renewals/repairs, the functionality can be used for managing development projects for newbuild.
  • Mapping: online mapping services now mean that AM systems can plot any selection of properties onto maps and use geographical data presented in a variety of formats (such as density maps) to view their stock, routes and clusters.
  • Sustainability/EcoHomes XB: although this is not a current legislative requirement, some systems have incorporated this method of measuring the green credentials of properties.
  • Reactive maintenance: repair requests from residents are efficiently converted into orders for contractors and direct labour organisations. Work-scheduling systems ensure the most efficient use of resources, automatically tasking individual operatives with jobs based on, for example, their geographical location, the time they will finish their current job and their skill set.
  • Leasehold management: since Right to Buy legislation, many social housing residents have bought their homes from their landlords. In addition, many social housing landlords have developed properties for sale and shared ownership. Groups of properties require planned component replacement, cleaning, servicing, landscape management, and other similar services. These costs are passed on to residents through service charges. AM systems calculate and issue charges along with any required sinking fund contributions to allow for future major expenditure.
  • Mobile working: this has always been a key part of AM functionality and technological advances have brought new challenges. Until recently, AM mobile working applications were available only on personal digital assistants and mobile phones running the Windows Mobile operating system. With the increasing popularity of tablet devices including those using the Android and iOS operating systems, AM system suppliers have had to widen their offering. Latest innovations include applications that are operating system and connection-independent, meaning they will run even when there is no signal using a local database.
  • Interfaces: despite the huge range of inbuilt functionality, AM systems are still required to receive and pass information to other systems including housing management, finance, electronic document management, contractor management and customer relationship management.

The future

Within social housing, closer integration between housing management and AM systems will become more important, aiming at a seamless user experience. Hitherto, partnerships between suppliers have assisted this process, but suppliers are starting to add AM functionality to their housing management systems. They are, however, still a long way behind.

AM system suppliers are realising that much of the functionality developed for the social housing market is equally applicable to the private rented sector. The systems are now available in browser formats and some as hosted subscription services based on the number of properties in management, which makes them more financially attractive. Recent years have also seen an expansion of market rented and affordable rented properties, as well as shared ownership within social housing and AM systems can cope with this.

The next logical step is to expand services to the central and local government non-housing market where many of the facilities currently provided within housing AM systems are applicable; the different regulatory framework will undoubtedly require some system development but suppliers have successfully risen to such challenges in the past and there is no reason to believe they cannot do so in the future.

Andrew Savage, Executive Director of Broadland Housing Association, says:

'Building information modelling (BIM) is becoming adopted by housing associations through the newbuild development route. This process is focused on residential property directly commissioned projects where high-density development is planned. For example, Norwich-based Broadland Housing Association is in detailed design of a 250-dwelling high-density scheme where BIM software is being used by all consultants. BIM modelling will inform the design and build process and allow the asset management functions of Broadland to have in-depth knowledge and drawings once the scheme is constructed.'

John Buckland FRICS is a Director at in4systems, an Orchard company

Further information