Seren Group is a not-for-profit organisation which manages over 4,900 homes, employs over 900 people and has a turnover of £28 million.
Seren Group is a thriving organisation delivering support services to five other group members. In turn, these provide for the housing needs of the population in and around Newport, South Wales. Seren is a forward looking business with a disparate set of stakeholders. Delivering quality support services to these stakeholders and other consumers against a backdrop of limited budgets means that working effectively is a priority. There are currently over 5,000 customers using the group’s services.
”Seren Group was born in 2004 with six companies sharing common resources to optimise efficiencies and join up communications and services. Describing itself as “a group of social businesses”, Seren takes a people-first approach to “provide housing and support which makes a real difference to people’s lives.”
Seren provides not only support services, but also future thinking, innovation and strategies for future adoption. It was with this in mind that a long nurtured project came to fruition to improve document efficiency and service. However, it was the more prosaic expansion into more office space which acted as the final catalyst to kick-start the project
Other companies within the Seren Group are: Charter Housing, Pen Yr Enfys, Solas, Reach & Fairlake.
“We needed to choose the right solution for Seren & a vendor we felt we could trust to deliver. Failure on either count would have impacted the whole project.”
A simple initial target was identified – around 200 metres of shelving taken up by tenant and housing files needed to be freed up to accommodate staff following a major refurbishment project. The result would allow staff to move into a transformed, airy working space without the clutter of the paper files.
The decision to adopt a Document Management solution came once the commitment to the move was already made. This meant tight timescales.
Once the decision to procure a solution was made, the project team undertook a textbook selection process. It was important to establish an inclusive team of stakeholders. Although the initial focus was contained and modest, the Group’s ambition was to roll the project out across all companies in the Seren family. “Inclusion was our watch word from the very beginning”, says Mike Phillips, Head of ICT, Seren Group. The project team drew up a brief including target timescales, budget and a review list of candidate solutions. The long list was rapidly whittled down to a short list for more detailed consideration. User driven product selection ensured that all parts of the organisation were kept on board, an important factor in longer-term user ownership and acceptance.
A final beauty parade of three candidates followed up by vendor interviews. Against a weighted scoring profile and very positive end user feedback Invu was selected. Potential users enjoyed the relative ease of use whilst the proposed solution was within budget. Mike recalls the process: “We considered the workflow / eDM module available from our main housing system provider, but this did not provide us with the capability we needed and we didn’t feel it could grow with our needs. Invu provided a clear cut solution – we got clarity and a “can do” attitude and that gave us confidence to make the choice.”
Alongside the Invu deployment a wholesale back scanning process began. Roll out of the offering is a staged process. Charter Housing had the greatest volume of paperwork and so was first off the blocks with the initial deployment to approximately 100 staff. This increased as the HR department volunteered itself to take on the solution, impressed by the early benefits being seen by Charter. This was a surprise for Steve Thorn, ICT Manager as he oversaw the project roll out: “I can’t remember anyone ever volunteering to take on a new IT project before – that must be a first. The good news is that the HR team has been just as pleased with the impact it’s had on the way they work.”
“We considered the workflow / eDM module available from our main housing system provider, but this did not provide us with the capability we needed and we didn’t feel it could grow with our needs.”
When it came to rolling out the project to staff, the involvement of stakeholders from the beginning proved its worth. The project team was bolstered by “super users” from all the main groups, including those scheduled for future deployment. This inclusive approach enabled a peer level cascade of information to other operational staff. Practical information has also been made available via weekly email newsletters (for example covering how to handle queries whilst a file was away for scanning and not yet available via the document management system). Although some staff found the transition awkward and missed the familiarity of a physical file, the consensus appears to be that there’s been a culture change. The activities and reassurance of the super users have played an important part in a smooth acceptance path.
Integration between Invu Document Management and Seren’s other IT systems has been identified as a route to further performance improvement. The HR department’s HR Pro software links directly with Invu so all documents related to the staff record in use can be immediately retrieved. More widely, links with Civica’s Universal Housing system streamlines access to relevant documents from within the tenant or property screen in UH. To facilitate this a button has been added to these screens in UH - this allows the user to link directly from the tenant or property information in this screen to the electronic documents held in Invu. This has resulted in time being saved in allowing direct access without the need to carry out a separate search from within Invu. As other units adopt Invu then further integrations with products are likely to follow.
“Our Finance Department knows exactly where an invoice is in the chain and it’s now impossible for anyone to authorise an invoice above their limit.”
Peace of Mind
It’s easy to forget the vulnerability of paper files when putting together a disaster recovery programme. Mike was quick to recognise this as a hidden benefit of the document management investment, “In the event of a fire Charter couldn’t have run its business. Ongoing activity would have been lost and information would have to be reconstituted from base information. The accumulated, individual information that makes each case unique would be gone. We’d have no proof to support any court case. With an electronic format and good backup systems it’s a nightmare that we know we won’t have to face.”
On a day-to-day basis documents and files can also only ever be in use by one member of staff at a time. With Invu Document Management there’s a central repository and, subject to access permissions, there needs to be no delay in finding information which would previously have been sat on someone else’s desk or even misfiled. Added to this there is a security element – files can go astray, whereas Invu is a secure repository.
Prior to the Invu implementation the manual processes involved in obtaining a property or tenant file meant frequent delays – half a day, even up to two days would not be uncommon. The jump to give immediate accessibility to any document is one with a profound impact on the way that staff work. Tasks are no longer interrupted due to lack of information so not only are tasks more timely, they are less disjointed and completed quicker. Steve remembers how case workers would often be heard trying to track down the current owner of a tenancy file. “We simply don’t get those queries any more – any staff member with the right permissions can have any document in an instant. It’s not just having a whole file to hand either – because Invu searches on document content you can find all the information which was previously hidden in a file or even in the wrong file.”
“In the event of a fire Charter couldn’t have run its business. Ongoing activity would have been lost and information would have to be reconstituted from base information.”
The results of Invu’s implementation combined with the back scanning project are clear to see. A new, brightly branded reception area gives an inviting public face to Seren. Around the corner is a new hive of activity with around 50 members of staff working in a pleasant airy environment without the intrusion of the original paper filing and redundant space. It’s a lively, industrious environment with a palpable sense of industry.
An obvious consequence of better information retrieval is much better service to tenants and suppliers. The difference between immediate resolution to a query and a delay of up to two days represents a marked improvement visible to all. Invu pulls together all document types whether scanned, pdf, MS Office documents or emails. Mike comments on the impact: “I’m sure that this will make a difference to both our internal and external customers when compared to the time taken to retrieve information prior to Invu’s implementation.”
There are still a number of areas where Invu is to be rolled out, but Seren has already taken Invu Content Automation to supplement its Invu adoption. This enables any output to be automatically filed when generated. Mike commented, “We know we’re only scratching the surface with Content Automation but we are aware of its potential to save us time when producing outputs to send to tenants and other customers.”
Using Invu to deliver operational improvement with immediate data access together with security is a first stage. Using the solution for more pro-active means is appealing, notably in areas like the automatic extraction from invoices and process automation via Invu Workflow. Seren is also contemplating how to aggregate Invu data with a GIS offering.
“Any staff member with the right permissions can have any document in an instant...you can find all the information which was previously hidden in a file or even in the wrong file.”
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