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If you are to build a successful business, you not only need a successful product and a strong team, but an innovative technological resilience in order to remain at the forefront of modern competitive markets.
Back in 1998 when the internet was still in its infancy, Home Group’s Director of Information Services David Redpath was undertaking a degree at the University of Sunderland whilst working for an industrial company for his placement year. Longing for the company to provide integrated IT systems which would benefit both staff and clientele, the Managing Director requested that Redpath return once his degree was completed and implement the necessary systems. From here, Redpath’s passion to deliver business change through the use of digital technology came into fruition.
Home Group is currently one of the largest housing associations within the country and is the largest adult social care company in the world, accommodating homes for around 120,000 people. Redpath is passionate about the services in which the company is set to deliver: “In the sector we are one of the leading innovators – we will invest money in the right things to make our colleagues, customers and clients daily lives better,” he says. “The fact that it isn’t about making profit for the shareholders, it’s actually about making surplus so you can reinvest and buy more and more of the services that we’re good at.”
Despite being “at the right place at the right time”, previously working within Australian and UK offices to develop businesses from an IT systems point of view has enabled Redpath to be a significant force towards utilising technology and creating a flourishing business model within Home Group, instigating efficient digital systems and essential business ethics in order for employees to deliver a personable and innovative service.
“My role as CIO is to identify where technology can help, but ensure it is not technology for technologies sake because it’s whizzy and new,” he explains. “It’s got to have some business value and some efficiencies. It’s got to be innovative, or it’s got to make us stand out from our competition. I am then responsible for delivering that change – identifying and driving it through, bringing the business at the same time.”
Large investments with Leighton, Technology Services Group (TSG) and international giant CISCO via infrastructure and hosting specialists, ITPS have cemented the company’s transition from a commercial model to one which makes surplus which is used to reinvest, transform, develop and install services which Home Group’s customers value. For Redpath, this provides “a much more powerful statement than just trying to make some money”, and enables the business to build more houses and provide essential services for people within the community that need them.
Redpath adds: “When you think of how many people are in our houses, we have about 30,000 clients at any one time, so we have quite a significant reach into the community. We are very much about building the community, building people and helping people enter difficult parts of their lives and also provide affordable housing, which is obviously what our remit is.” With the company’s move towards what Redpath calls a “digital first approach”, a new website and app, built in collaboration with Leighton, effectively puts the client back in control, with the sole focus to increase customer engagement and client independence.
Art of communication
Communication is a key factor that ensures the success of Home Group’s current position. The company’s personalised outlook is shaped through listening to customers’ experiences, alongside feedback received from internal teams. For Redpath it’s crucial to “put the customer back in control and for them to determine how the company interacts with them”.
The new Knowledge Management system, built in collaboration with TSG, is accessible to both staff and customers through the newly implemented intranet platform, providing essential information for clients who would alternately had to undertake a lengthy phone call.
It has provided numerous benefits to customers, which Redpath explains: “The Knowledge Management is available to the customer, so it helps customers find answers to things without having to talk to anybody, but it also helps our agents in the contact centre because we now track all of the interactions so we’re able to understand their journeys a little bit more. When the agent is talking to them, we have the history so you can see what has been previously asked and the answers given, which drives that knowledge.”
The system has won numerous awards. Furthermore, the company has utilised SharePoint with the support of TSG for employees to connect and work together, share data and save important documents online.
It is increasingly vital for Home Group to build positive relationships with customers and clients, but also to install essential IT systems in order to drive these crucial changes. In the last 12-18 months, there has been a substantial rise in employee engagement at the company, as a result of the investment in various technologies and developments, which Redpath acknowledges that “new computer equipment and systems has contributed to this.”
To maintain such encouraging results, monthly internal meetings are held to ensure staff remain aware of the strategic directive and impending developments. However, to remain in line with Home Group’s innovative and personable business approach, Redpath ensures an hour a week is taken out of his schedule to enable teams to visit him with any queries, concerns or suggestions that they may have.
Maintaining approachability is highly important for Redpath; in spite of his accomplishments and position within the company, he strongly reminds employees that “people should be able to ask any question that they like and get an answer” within the organisation, whether in the moment or whether he will have to find out the answer and feed back to the particular individual or team.
Even with its current success and stability within the housing market, Redpath makes clear that this is not without its challenges. With an increased need to protect company income and deliver services that are sustainable, efficient yet financially viable is a continuing complex balance.
Redpath highlights how Home Group is different: “When you’re driving efficiency through it’s usually about the bottom line. When you run the efficiency through here, you know that actually what you’re doing is reinvesting that back into the community.”
In the midst of regular external political and economic shifts, the move towards commissioned services in healthcare, alongside changes to welfare reform – these factors impact on the level of social care funding provided by local governments. All of these factors have a ‘knock on effect’ and link with the possible reduction of universal credit, which can universally affect IT services and the ability to build affordable housing as a result of a reduced company income.
However, the company is aiming to implement a new strategy towards constructing more housing for outright sale, funded through Home Group’s house building programme. “It’s not just about us sticking some bricks in the ground and there’s a house, as an organisation it is about building somebody’s home, but also helping to build their independence and their aspirations,” Redpath adds.
The company has grown significantly throughout the last 12 months and has successfully delivered what they set out to deliver in spite of significant internal and external business change. Redpath’s passion to drive continual high standards within a personable sphere and continual transforming IT services is clear to see. Wishing to remain leading innovators, with positive feedback received both internally and externally regarding its extensive services and an award winning customer contact centre, Home Group is set to go from strength to strength.