At Defence Housing Australia, information needs to be at a staff member’s fingertips anywhere, anytime. That’s where CIO Shane Nielsen steps in: Creating a mobile workforce so that staff can access corporate systems and enter data remotely.
Nielsen, who has been in the CIO role at DHA for some six years, was brought into the organisation to develop an IT roadmap that would boost productivity. Mobility and access to information, he says, are a big part of that.
“IT plays quite a key role within this organisation. We have a seat at the table in regards to the executives, and we have forged very close relationships with our business,” he says. “I think IT standing alone as a commodity doesn’t really exist any more, nor should it exist.”
“The key driver for my role coming through has been to… understand where the data sits across the life cycle of not only when the house if first developed but when a Defence member moves in, when we maintain it, dispose of a property and go through that cycle again,” Nielsen says.
DHA provides housing and related services to defence force members and their families in Australia. It is responsible for 19,000 properties with a total value of approximately $10 billion. DHA also provides IT services and support to 19 housing management centres across Australia.
Nielsen decided to equip about 150 property managers with iPad Minis and develop an application in-house that would allow them to access information in real time to help them carry out their work activities more efficiently, as well as enter data into DHA’s core systems while out in the field.
“Over the last year we have extended out our [mobility platform] for property managers to go and visit properties multiple times a year in conjunction with members to look at maintenance issues, pre-vacation inspections, welcome visits, condition reports, etc.
“With the amount of data that is now available in real time it has really improved the efficiency of this organisation. It’s that discoverability of information; [being able] to see the latest plans that have come through and if there are any issues in regards to safety, which is quite a key concept obviously for government and DHA, and in particular the construction industry.”
Nielsen says he is currently in the process of measuring the success of having a mobile workforce which will let him assess how much time is being saved. He says he has seen a significant improvement in business operations as property managers are able to raise maintenance issues immediately.
“Not only does it improve time it also improves the consistency of service delivery. So a Defence member can actually see that we are actioning things immediately for them and be confident that we are going to deliver all the things that we need in the time-frames that we need to.
“As Defence members move out and new members move in, maintenance sometimes needs to be done over the course of a couple of weeks. So time is crucial and getting that information into the system immediately as opposed to potentially a couple of days later when they do get back into the office saves an enormous amount of time.”
Supporting DHA’s mobile workforce is CommVault’s deduplication and archiving technology. This allows property managers to retrieve information that may have been produced many years ago, as well as prevent duplicate records. For example, a property manager may need to track the previous tenants of a house and would need a copy of all previous leases, some produced 10 years ago. Enabling instant to access this information while out in the field is a huge benefit, says Nielsen.
The ever-increasing amount of data being produced through house inspections and maintenance drove Nielsen to improve DHA's data management capabilities.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in both structured and unstructured data. In the last two years our data requirements increased by three times and in the last 12 months our data has actually doubled than what is was a year ago,” the CIO says.
This has helped DHA to create an environment where 70 per cent of workers’ time is spent business-as-usual activities and 30 per cent new on projects, compared to typical ratio of 90/10 in a typical IT environment, Nielsen says.
New financial management system
DHA rolled out a new financial management system this month, replacing Infor SunSystems with TechnologyOne's offering. The system integrates into DHA’s enterprise application suite for financials and development management for the housing construction side of the business.
Nielsen says when it came time to replace the old system, which had been used for over a decade, he took the opportunity to look at a business process re-engineering program to create efficiencies around processing and timeliness of data to contribute to quicker decision making.
“With the new system we expect to see an increase in the view of financial reporting, more immediate reporting as opposed to waiting until the end of month and we will be able to see things in a much more real time fashion,” Nielsen says.
“It has also improved the reporting and the deliverability around our [building] development side of our organisation. We have a billion dollars under development. Rather than development managers having two, of three systems they need to look at, they just have one fully integrated system… when it comes to financials."
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