Sunday, 19 September 2010

Texting for efficiency

Mobile technology is allowing housing associations to save money on their maintenance bills. Please read a recent interview it did for PSE magazine

As public bodies look to make significant efficiency savings, it has become clear that in some cases they are going to have to think well outside of the box. However, there are savings to be made by employing more straightforward ideas.

Recently housing associations have begun to increase efficiency in their front line maintenance services by ensuring that people are at home when their engineers call round. And they have done this simply by texting people the night before.

“It makes perfect sense when you think about it,” says Steve Reynolds, chairman of the Mobile Data Association.

“By simply sending residents a text the night before to remind them that a workman is calling the next day housing association are able to make substantial savings, by avoiding at least some of the wasted trips that would have normally been made. The system does not eradicate waste completely from the system, but it can significantly improve the situation.”

This reminder service has proved invaluable for some housing associations as the costs of sending out a maintenance team to an address soon add up, when fuel costs and time which could have been spent on other jobs is taken fully into account.

“Sending out workmen needlessly obviously creates waste and can potentially disrupt their broader working plans as new dates have to be arranged once a calling card has been left at the address.

“But by sending a text to someone in the household, outlining when the workmen are due to arrive, housing associations are giving residents the chance to let the association know not to call, thereby removing what could prove to be a rather costly, but ultimately wasted exercise.

“It is such a simple, but genius way of acting as an aid memoire and you are finding it being used more and more by the public sector. It is all about using the simplest, lowest common denominator of communication, because every kind of phone can now receive a text message. This maximises the inclusion as older residents do not even have to own a mobile phone to receive the message.

“When you consider the cost of implementing a system similar to this, it does not even compare with the savings which you will be making because of it.”

Apart from saving themselves money, housing associations can use text messaging services to streamline their services, making them more convenient for residents, too.
“Say a resident is at work which is 15 minutes away from their home. This means that instead of them having to take a day off work, they can simply ask the housing association to send them a text when the engineer is 15 minutes way from their home.”

By helping associations avoid wasteful behaviour, texting technology can also reap great benefits for the environment, helping local authorities work towards reducing their carbon output.

“Simply having to leave a calling card at a property can be a costly exercise. When you add up the cost of the paper and printing the calling cards, then the trees which have to be cut down to make them, along with the fossil fuels which are used up in travelling pointlessly to that property in the first place, all these cost soon adds up.

“So if you consider the situation from a holistic perspective, you can see that by implementing a simple solution, a housing association can reap significant rewards, both from a cost perspective and environmentally.”

As technology progresses and becomes more widely used by residents, housing associations will be able to make better use of that technology to save both money and carbon.

“Looking to the future, soon local authorities and housing associations will be to take advantage of all of the possibilities which devices such as smartphones can offer as more of the population becomes comfortable using them.

“Many public services are making more services available online but the problem is that not everybody has access to the internet at home. But as internet usage on mobile phones becomes more commonplace, it means that public organisations such as housing associations will be able to extend the services they offer to residents through their mobile phones, thus eliminating the potentially discriminatory nature of current internet services.”

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