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PA Housing’s digital journey to date and where they are headed for the future

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PA Housing is one of the largest social housing providers in the UK with over 23,000 properties. Their focus has always been on ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘always being there for their customers’. This company focus led them to discover the importance of digital technology and how it would enhance their resident’s quality of life.

 

Following a procurement exercise in 2020, they partnered with Appello to being their digital journey, installing our Smart Living Solutions system into their developments.

 

Jaswant Padam, Infrastructure Project Manager at PA Housing spoke to Iain Hockings, Head of Marketing at Appello, about their digital journey, advice he would give to others beginning their journey and what learnings he has found along the way.

 

Could you provide us with an overview of why it was important for PA Housing to go on a digital journey, in terms of telecare.

 

The plan was to get a solution, but more than that it was because of BT’s announcement that they would be withdrawing analogue support or converting all the lines from analogue to digital, which meant that we had to do something and get PA Housing compliant ready. That kickstarted off the project.

 

So, we had a number of schemes, we’re talking about nearly 150 + schemes with 22,000 – 25,000 flats around, and all the equipment we had was legacy equipment. Some of it was working, some wasn’t working, and it was all analogue based.

 

The digital solution itself was mainly to do with the replacement of our analogue systems. There wasn’t any other agenda but to be making our customers safe in their living environments.

 

So, the connectivity across the new digital network was the paramount concern?

 

That’s right. It is also making sure we had one platform, one supplier, standardisation across the board and effective support. The digital environment also gave us the facilities to incorporate other things, like My PA application, which is the digital application developed by PA Housing to allow our customers to pay their bills, look at their rent cards, look at their outstanding balances. It was an enabler for a number of other things as well.

 

How would you describe how the project is going to date and what is the size of the project?

 

Well, it’s over a three-year period, it’s 5 million capital investment. We have done two schemes which are completed, and I think the majority of them are signed up.

 

In terms of the schedule, we scheduled the project over a three-year period. Coming down to September now, what we initially estimated into the budget we have already spent, so we are progressing faster than we expected. We are doing two or three schemes more than we envisioned. Initially we thought we would do one scheme in every four weeks, but I think we are doing two or three schemes in three – four-week period. So, the progress in the project is advancing faster than we expected.

 

What learnings have you found so far and what are you looking to take forward?

 

I think the biggest learning cycle for all of us has been working around the COVID process. It has delayed a number of things and brought in a number of challenges in place.

 

We can’t plan for everything. Once the issues get identified you need to address them straight away and Appello have been really forthcoming and trying to work with us in finding options.

 

One of the things we learnt in terms of COVID was that social inclusion was very important and that the SLS (Smart Living Solutions) system will allow social inclusion because you can have flat to flat communication and things like that, which will be useful to get people talking to each other.

 

Beyond the upgrade of the technology, where else are you looking to upgrade?

 

We’ve obviously got two areas, we’ve got the Appello system equipment which is being installed in the supported living sites. But in regards to the back office [monitoring centre] we’ve got the Tunstall system, so what we’re looking at is to align that either with the Appello solution or with another solution which gives us a complete digital solution. At the moment we’ve got a bridge between the two, digital to analogue, but that is a temporary solution. But we’re looking at a solution which is all encompassing, digital to digital.

 

How has Appello DigitalBridge supported PA Housing?

 

It is basically allowing the current Appello system, which is fully digital compliant, to integrate with the Tunstall analogue system. So, it does a digital to analogue conversion, but that doesn’t give us all the benefits of a digital solution. Primarily, if you look at calls, they are slower into the response because they have to go from digital to analogue conversion, which adds a bit of a delay.

 

With a fully digital solution we would be instantaneous contact, so that is the area we need to resolve going forward.

 

Do you see at PA that your future clients will be more interested in digital technology?

 

I think so, we hope so, this allows them a lot of flexibility. One of the things we can allow them to do is monitor door entry, give them access to who comes in the building, they can see who comes into the flats, they can integrate with people next door, they can talk to people and it allows them to call or use their alarm button in case of an emergency.

 

It is all new for them, but the customer feedback is pretty good. The integration of the My PA app has actually made things much better for them.

 

If you were talking to another housing provider starting their journey what would be your advice?

 

Two things, one is that the whole process of tendering takes a long time and you’ve got to get it right. As BT are switching over in two years’ time, I would suggest you start now. Then the other thing is you’ve got to really look at the market. A lot of suppliers are not NOW IP compliant, they don’t have interface digital solutions, so you’ve got to find a supplier who does that and enables your digital journey, because otherwise you will get stuck. People will promise things and they can’t deliver them, it’s going o add more time and risk to the project.

 

Take a look at their Digital Diaries episode here.

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