Spotlight on services

Spotlight on the Housing Repairs Team's mobile working

SIC Electrical Foreman, Derek Duncan

By Louise Shearer (11 May 2021)

When I recently spoke to our Executive Manager – Housing, Anita Jamieson, she mentioned that mobile working had been rolled out to all the service’s repairs team last year, which had greatly improved the efficiency and the effectiveness of the service being delivered to customers.

When she also added that it was one of the last bits of the service to be digitalised, I was keen to find out more.  Keith Lobban (Senior Administration and System Officer) and Ronnie Calderwood (Repairs Coordinator) were on hand to tell me about the project.

Ronnie – can you tell me more about how things worked before?

Yes – we used to have a paper-based system so jobs were logged and a paper ticket printed and picked up by the operative.  The person would complete the job and then return the ticket to the office for processing – a lot of work was involved in data input, which takes up a lot of time.

We had a large wall planner in the office, which is how we scheduled jobs.  But we were only able to plan work two weeks in advance so it was limiting.

The new system we’ve recently implemented has a digital scheduler and so we can now plan and schedule work on our housing management system.  The planner can be accessed in the office and at home and it’s made such a difference to the way we operate.

We’ve 27 people in the team and I can see at a glance what each person’s scheduled and allocated jobs are and how they are progressing.  There’s a click and drag function for quickly allocating tasks – it’s absolutely fantastic!

The team all have smart phones so when I click and drag a job onto the calendar they can pick it up through an app rather than having to come into the office.

We can see when a job has been started and finished and everything is completed on the phone.

Keith adds…

How long a job is meant to take is automatically set on the system and so when you allocate a job, it populates the correct amount of time on the calendar.

All the relevant information about the job is attached, including information about the property, safety checks and COVID-19 protocols.  It’s all online.

Keith – what prompted you to move towards an automated system?

It’s a project that we’ve been working on for a little while now with the scheduler part of the system introduced about 18 months ago, before the pandemic.  We needed to get that bit in place before we moved on to introducing handheld devices.

We piloted the use of scheduler and got most of the testing done before the first lockdown last March.

We always had plans to move towards a more paperless way of working, embracing technology and all the efficiencies that come with that.

Ronnie continued:

The first devices were given to a small team of operatives during last January – February.

For the first three months of lockdown, we were only doing emergency repairs so we only rolled out the next ten plus devices during May/June and then to the rest of the team in September.

Having this system already up and running before the lockdown was hugely beneficial – when we couldn’t have people in offices, having a system in place that meant we could easily work in a different way and without the need to pick up paper tickets was a definite bonus.

How did you find it trying to implement the new system during the pandemic – did you have to find any workarounds?

Keith – training was a slight issue in that we weren’t able to do face-to-face sessions with operatives.  There are always teething problems with any system and we did have some issues with the devices and network but we got it all sorted.  

Ronnie – all the operatives have been quite positive about embracing the change – having a new technology-based system is a culture change but I’m really pleased at the way the team have taken it all on board.

Are there any issues with 'not-spots' when operatives are out and about?

Keith – the system works in such a way that once the information is loaded onto the device it’s there.  If a job is completed in a ‘not-spot' then as soon as the team member gets into signal the information will be passed on.

Ronnie – you mentioned that you’d asked the team for feedback at the end of last year, can you tell me a bit more about that?

We sent out a questionnaire to all staff working with the system to get their opinions on how it was working for them and any improvements they thought would be helpful. It was generally quite positive feedback and we used much of that information to help plan the next phase of the development of the system.

Derek Duncan, Electrical Foreman:

“Scheduler is great for planning ahead. The new system has really streamlined how we work and cut down on paperwork.”

How has the system streamlined other processes Keith?

It’s streamlined the process for inputting data into the back-end system.  Completion dates and times are all automatically updated when the job is finished and the information is fed in to the housing management system straight away with no human keying in needed. 

Ronnie adds…

Before, with people working all over Shetland, trying to collate information was really time consuming and now that it’s done with much more immediacy it means that things like the time needed to re-let a property should be quicker.  Now we can see instantly when properties are ready for a new tenant.

What about feedback from customers Ronnie?

Previously, after a job had been completed, an acknowledgement of the repair and a survey with a freepost envelope would be sent out and it could take days or weeks for a response to be received.  

We’re looking at speeding that bit of the process up as well by acknowledging the repair by text or email to tenants.  There are also plans to digitalise the survey element of it so we can get much more ‘real-time’ feedback on customer satisfaction.  

Keith adds:

Yes, we’re continually trying to develop the system to make it as user and customer friendly, and as paperless, as possible.  It ticks a lot of boxes!

And finally, a few words from Executive Manager – Housing, Anita Jamieson:

We have been gradually implementing all of the modules in our housing management system and I am really pleased to see the roll out of the project.  As Keith and Ronnie have explained, there are so many benefits to the service and our customers from having an integrated, one service approach. 

Implementing a system like this with a dispersed group of staff is a challenge at the best of times.  I am really impressed with how everyone pulled together and found ways to work through the implementation despite Covid restrictions.  I am looking forward to continuing to develop the system and to keep connecting all our staff.