What can cloud do for affordable housing?
As a technology consultant, I talk to housing agencies on a daily basis. The problems are very similar; paper based forms for client intake, tools like Excel to manage processes, shared “drive” for managing documents, siloed systems that are either chained to a desktop or need a VPN / firewall to access (vendors that call that a cloud – please don’t); essentially information that is scattered across various virtual and physical entities. Despite all the issues, the funding is limited so the question becomes, why should we invest into automating our processes?
Time is Money!
Disparate systems that don’t scale or talk to each other end up consuming a lot of your staff’s time in data entry. You have a system that manages Rehab, another that tracks Counseling, another that is used for Lending (LOS) – all singing a different song. When you have a report that is due, you will need to pull all this info into a spreadsheet and massage for hours. When your client walks in with a paper form, you need to file it (digitally or in a file cabinet) that takes time as well. A well-designed platform that allows you to manage several of these processes can save a ton of time.
What can you do with the time saved doing duplicate data entry or manipulating data for reports? Can you serve more clients? Time is money, think of it as savings or additional revenue. In addition, proper tools can elevate your staff’s skill-set, and make them feel like they are contributing to the organization’s growth.
Improved Visibility Across the Enterprise
Those working in the housing sector can’t completely get away from paper files, yet! There are credit reports, and loan documents. But instead of having them sitting in a cabinet (or a network drive), where you have to search and find information; what if they were attached to the “client file” in your system? Everyone shares the same document, no more multiple versions floating around. Furthermore, what if you had a portal for your clients? It is possible to build secure portals using modern day technology for your clients to submit these documents electronically and all you have to do is click on their record to access all the information. Having a unified view of the client and their documents across departments saves tremendous amount of time (and money); and improves a client’s experience with your organization. Many clients like the flexibility of a portal, and with a technology like Salesforce Communities it is easy for consultants like us to build them.
Need Compliance? Cloud can do it!
“We don’t expose our APIs because we don’t trust others. We have designed our system to be an island because that way it is secure”.
For a long time, vendors of systems built for housing sector have sold “compliance” as their insurance against badly designed applications. So many of these systems in use today have User Interfaces that haven’t been upgraded in years and they show their age. People use them because they have not had a choice, but now they do. Ease of use and compliance can co-exist!
A platform like Salesforce offers myriad of ways to build necessary reporting. Unlike other systems, the platform is open to talking to other systems. You can write automated interfaces to systems like HUD’s ARM that allow a connection. If a system does not allow developers to connect directly to it, you can create an interface that allows a user to export in the exact format at the click of a button. The system does all the parsing and sorting for you, whether it is tallying up unique or total number of clients, by demographics or other criteria you need for your reporting (think HUD 9902). Moreover, having an application that is scalable, and flexible opens up possibilities. You can start with housing rehab today, add housing counseling tomorrow, and property management the following week. Solutions running in the cloud require little to no IT maintenance, are secure, and easily accessible.
Sandeep Banga is the CEO of Acutedge. He started his career as an Architect, loves motorcycles, Pink Floyd and using technology to solve problems for his clients.