A series of articles on how tech impacts the housing sector
Part One: Barriers to knowledge
Working together to make tech accessible
As a software business, we work with tech day in and day out, creating solutions for the housing sector. Whilst we live and breathe it, we realise that for many of our customers technology can be a complex – and at times, daunting – topic to get to grips with. It’s for this reason that we’re writing a series of articles over the coming weeks with the aim of demystifying the subject.
To get started, we spoke with some of our colleagues about their take on how technology translates to our customers and how they work together with them to make it accessible. In this article we’ll be ‘lifting the veil’ on our processes and giving a background to what goes into developing our software solutions.
Zoe Banks is our 2nd and 3rd line Support Analyst working on flagship HomeSwapper and Housing Jigsaw systems. She works closely with customers to identify and resolve any technical issues they might be experiencing as well as working on bespoke configuration for new customers.
There’s no question about it, tech can baffle us all from time to time! Our customers are generally not technical specialists and can struggle at times to get to grips with the software, something which Zoe has come to understand well through her work.
Typical barriers that Zoe’s encountered with customers can range from general tech knowledge around using a computer or websites, to misunderstandings around specific terms used, or understanding the implementation of a new system. However, as she explains, there’s an element of reciprocity in the learning and understanding process.
She tells us, ‘I don’t have a housing background as such, so I’ll come up against barriers myself to understanding that sector. I’ve had to learn all about the processes that tenants take to get housed, so there are barriers on both ends, although perhaps more on the customer side.’
Zoe’s take on overcoming those hurdles with customers is twofold and often involves a back-to-basics approach. “Written instructions, or even screen sharing where I can explain what to do or they can show me what they’re trying to do but can’t do – that’s very helpful.”
It’s crucial that our customers have a good understanding of the systems we create; our purpose in creating them after all is to make their work – and lives! – easier. Ultimately, we want to encourage our customers to engage with the respective system as fully as possible, so that they can get the most out of them. When it comes to explaining the way in which a particular programme works therefore, there really are no questions too foolish or problems too small!
Along with visual and written aids, Zoe also makes the point, “I personally try not to use ‘techy’ terms when speaking with customers, just because there are far easier ways to put it and I can make it much more understandable by not doing that!”
Whilst for her own understanding, much of the work around getting up to speed with goings-on in the housing sector has involved acquainting herself with housing legislation to gain a better understanding of where a person has to go within Housing Partners products and why a customer would need to work with certain elements within the software.
Even before a system reaches a customer however, a rigorous testing process is undergone to ensure they are as user-friendly as possible.
Zoe Johnston is one such team member; she works at Housing Partners as a Software Test Analyst, which means in her own words, that she ‘gets the chance to try and break things before we give them to the customers.’ The majority of what she works on is the front-end of the product – essentially, what the customer uses – and making sure that it’s fit for purpose.
She has to make sure a product is simple to use, intuitive and makes sense to the customer, ‘does what it says on the tin’ as well as looks good. All of which means, that whilst working in tech, Zoe functions as a representation of the customer and what they need from the software product being developed.
With her ‘customer head’ on, Zoe works closely with the developers behind the products. She describes a very ‘agile’ approach, where the processes of development and adjustment are going on alongside each other. “You don’t get the whole system before you test it, so things are changing all the time.” This ensures that systems from the start are built in line with what is being proven throughout the process to function well for the end user, ie. the customer.
As our conversations with Zoe Banks and Zoe Johnston indicated, from inception to delivery, customers are always front and centre of mind. Our focus on making technology relatable and understandable to our users is clear in all of the processes we use; after all, our systems are only as good as the customer using them!
In the coming weeks we’ll be giving a deeper insight into technology in the housing sector, from a look at the terminology we use, to how we see technology shaping the housing sector into the future.