Shepherds Bush Housing Group Saves Time and Money with CSB.
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“We haven’t had any problems since we started paying landlords with CSB, and now we’re really monitoring and controlling these accounts. It saves time, there is no stress, and it works very smoothly.
We used to use people to manually check, so we would
leave the task with them for one or two days, then another person had to check their work, which meant another half day or day: it was a madhouse!
I would say 5% of the hard work, the manual work, has just vanished”.
Nadia Aounallah, Finance Officer, Shepherds Bush Housing Group
Shepherds Bush Housing Group is a growing West London Housing Association, with 5,000 homes and a commitment to build inclusive communities that can support London’s economic growth.
Contract & Service Billing (CSB) from Professional Advantage, through partner organisation Jude Consulting, provides the desired full integration with Infor SunSystems at a low cost, plus deals with all the required areas of functionality.
Shepherds Bush has been struggling with a complicated, spreadsheet based approach that was identified as too open to the risk of error and financial inefficiency.
To implement a solution that would allow automatic self-invoicing as an easy way to accommodate private landlord financial administration, as well as curb errors and possible overpayments arising from an overdependence on manual and spreadsheet based approaches. The organisation also needed a system fully compliant with its core Infor SunSystems finance platform.
Contract and Service Billing (CSB) from Professional Advantage is helping a busy London housing organisation efficiently manage all its non-tenant contract and recurring invoices – leading to time and money savings and a massive reduction in errors via manual processing. Rapidly expanding West London’s Shepherds Bush Housing Group is a group made up of a number of housing associations. The group’s key areas of work are regeneration, temporary accommodation, and low cost home ownership, while Shepherd’s Bush also delivers a range of services to support independent living, including sheltered accommodation, supported housing, plus general needs housing.
Established in 1968, the organisation now provides services to tenants via a portfolio of 5,000 properties. Employing 230 staff and with turnover of £40m, the group has recently grown to include Domus Maintenance Services and registered charity and social enterprise Staying First.
Key to its success has been technology from Professional Advantage – in particular, the Contract and Service Billing solution in place since 2009, according to the organisation’s Finance Officer, Nadia Aounallah.
Data could be held in one place
CSB was suggested by Jude Consulting as offering an ideal way to improve how Shepherd’s Bush was handling contract invoicing for a specific aspect of its business called Private Sector Accommodation.
The problem Aounallah and her team were trying to address was the situation where a private landlord has properties that Shepherds Bush Housing houses its own tenants in. The organisation then needs to pay a regular monthly payment to that landlord and in some cases landlords have more than one property.
As Aounallah recalls, “I just thought, we can use CSB to invoice people – so why can’t we use it to invoice ourselves in order to pay these private landlords?” Instead of invoicing to recover money, the plan was for Shepherds Bush to invoice ‘itself’ and include in a monthly payment run. The benefit was that if a system could support raising a liability on the books every month, for every landlord, Aounallah could be sure all Shepherds Bush data was maintained in one place, and on its ledger tables.
Having investigated possible solutions, Shepherds Bush made the choice to implement CSB, implemented by trusted Professional Advantage partner Jude Consulting.
Apart from meeting Aounallah’s specific invoicing requirement, the system benefited the operation by clearing out a morass of spreadsheets and thus offering a much more controlled and structured financial workflow process.
Previous to CSB coming on-stream, all properties were stored on a big spreadsheet which was then imported into its central Infor SunSystems ledger. This was a process without any controls – and as a result, errors could occur, such as inadvertent duplication of payments. Shepherds Bush was also finding that landlords were on the spreadsheet who they no longer had a relationship with, and overall the system was difficult to maintain.
Shepherds Bush Housing also wanted a way to automate the more standard ad-hoc, as well as contract-based, invoicing it needs to do as a busy housing association. Again, these were all on Excel, while significant monthly resource had to be allocated to administer recurring invoicing for annual support contracts.
No wonder maintaining all this was a very admin-intensive process, all the way down to the manual issuing and chasing of individual invoices.
A wide range of tasks
Things have definitely improved since the decision to bring in the Professional Advantage facility, says Aounallah. As CSB has a facility to set up contracts and bill at a regular interval, her team is now able to automatically generate invoices every month end, or every week or two weeks, instead of manually generating invoices piecemeal, she points out. A welcome side effect of this is that any invoices due on a particular contract get invoiced, properly and on time.
Plus, Shepherds Bush is using the system to manage a wide range of tasks, such as handling its rental, agencies, utilities, and other recurring activities, even down to billing individuals for identified utility bills, for example.
Debtor management has also become a significantly easier process thanks to CSB. “It was really hard to chase people before,” Aounallah confirms. “We had to go back all the time to a spreadsheet for people who had or hadn’t paid, then work from there. Now, we just run a report from another system called Executive, which is linked to CSB, and we get the report showing debtors.”
While previously there had been a clear risk of over-payment and error in the 300 or so payments the association makes to its landlord payees, CSB has removed this exposure. “We haven’t had any problems since we started paying landlords with CSB, and now we’re really monitoring and controlling these accounts. It saves time, there is no stress, and it works very smoothly.”
Meanwhile, the accuracy and efficiency of the reconciliation process has greatly improved. “We used to use people to manually check, so we would leave the task with them for one or two days, then another person had to check their work, which meant another half day or day: it was a madhouse!” she jokes.
The whole procedure, including data inputting, would take five days a month. This has been slashed to a mere two – including all the checking. “I would say 5% of the hard work, the manual work, has just vanished,” enthuses Aounallah.
As well as reducing the amount of manual data entry required and the time taken to process and generate self-billing invoices, using CSB has also made the process of managing contract and ad hoc invoices far more efficient at Shepherds Bush. “It works really smoothly, and we’ve never had any problems,” she confirms.
Aounallah also likes the way CSB works with credit notes: “You just click, and it’s done, it will reverse it automatically so we don’t have to worry about the other side.”
Easy to use
In terms of day-to-day work, Shepherds Bush finance team members say using CSB is very straightforward and in all its time as a live system they can recall few, if any, service issues. Aounallah also appreciates the support from Jude Consulting handling the deployment, which she says has been very much appreciated: “CSB has been very straightforward to deploy and use – it’s a very friendly system. Meanwhile, Jude Consulting’s support is great.”
To sum up, since the implementation of CSB, this busy London housing association says it has been the basis for sharply reduced accounting overheads, less errors and omissions, and dramatically reduced manual data entry requirement.
In terms of return on investment, was this a good idea? For Aounallah, the answer is emphatic: “Definitely.”