On Low-code and Automation
The Power Platform Streamlines Housing Corporation Operations
Mooiland Housing Corporation provides housing for over 50,000 people in more than 22,500 homes across the Netherlands. The housing association aims to provide a high level of service to its residents, which requires efficient workflows and error-free data transfer. Automating daily repetitive administrative tasks is helping Mooiland achieve this goal. The Microsoft Power Platform serves as the connector that optimizes data flows to standards and takes tasks off their hands, quite literally with the help of robot Buddy.
Mooiland's mission goes beyond offering affordable and quality rental housing. They prioritize creating a pleasant living environment and being readily available to their tenants. The foundation for this service lies in reliable administration, where Mooiland looks for opportunities to further automate standard administrative tasks. The tasks and data flows of the key departments such as finance, real estate, customer relations, and maintenance need to seamlessly and accurately align.
"We need to account for our financial and socio-economic performance, from the number of people we house to our income and expenses. Reports are the basis for this," says Peter Weenink, Advisor for Innovation and Information Systems at Mooiland.
Construction, maintenance, and rental may seem straightforward, involving just a home and a contract. However, a vast amount of data circulates in the world of housing associations. Having control over this data is crucial for accurate reporting and task execution. It is also essential for effective long-term planning. In an apartment building, there are various objects besides the homes, such as a central heating system, staircases, halls, windows, walls, roofs, and more, all of which require maintenance. These objects have different characteristics, like concrete quality, paint type, replacement time, etc. All of this directly relates to the living environment and tenant experience.
"Thanks to the Microsoft Power Platform, information processing is more efficient, and we implement changes more quickly."
Dashboarding for Data Monitoring
All this data is necessary for planning operational maintenance processes with different suppliers. Mooiland uses dashboarding to monitor data quality, ensuring it aligns with the information provided by contractors and installers, who often have different methods of reporting and recording.
Power Platform relieves work
"We receive a lot of information from the supply chain: PDFs and Excel files, contracts, and blueprints. These are not usable data. Our real estate data management department does a lot of manual work, which can potentially lead to delays or even errors. That's why we've implemented Power BI dashboards to identify bottlenecks." In this way, Mooiland improves data quality, introduces data standards to facilitate smoother data exchanges, and simplifies data processing.
With the Power Platform, we can now create a self-service reporting environment for users and organize data quality monitoring in a single technological platform. This significantly aids adoption and practical use. The KPI dashboards, monitoring, and reports all utilize the same environment, making knowledge management easier and administration simpler," says Peter.
The Power Platform offers more advantages, as it allows direct utilization of cutting-edge technologies like RPA (Robotic Process Automation). In RPA, software mimics human actions and automates repetitive tasks, such as transferring data from one system to another. In 2021, Mooiland initiated an innovation study to explore the potential of this technology. They examined how much work RPA could take over when preparing the final invoice upon lease termination. The potential turned out to be substantial.
Housing associations deal with standard repetitive tasks when processing information in administrative systems. For generating a final statement or invoice, various data must be gathered from different applications and processed with providers like gas, water, and electricity companies.
Buddy, the first robot employee
This manual search for the information and processing takes about 15 minutes per lease termination, Mooiland processes 6 to 8 final invoices per day. The study found that RPA could fully automate 60% of the final bills. Now Buddy, Mooiland's first robot employee, performs this work.
The remaining 40% of the final bill still requires a small manual operation in the last step of the process. In time, this last step should also be automated.
Assistance in Building Buddy
The strength of the Power Platform lies in its low-code nature, allowing the creation of apps and robots without extensive programming experience. "It's quite straightforward, but you need to understand the logic of IT systems to do it correctly. One ambitious colleague initially tried to build a robot on their own, but after the first session, it quickly became too complex. We have the functional and Power BI knowledge in-house, and Motion10, ah HSO company, assisted us with RPA expertise. With a good collaboration in that three-step process (ambition, knowledge of the information landscape, and product knowledge), we built an efficient, manageable, and well-documented robot."
Creating a robot was a novel experience and came with some challenges. For instance, comprehensive auditing was necessary. "If someone deletes a file, you need to know who did it and be able to recover it. It may sound trivial, but we genuinely treat it as an employee; Buddy is a virtual colleague in the finance department. You have to view a robot as an employee with limited rights. This project was new, and we sometimes had to find the right path, where our partner greatly assisted us," says Peter.
Having Motion10, an HSO company, involved in this process was essential because a holistic approach is crucial when implementing RPA. Mooiland uses a Power BI dashboard to monitor what Buddy does well and where the robot may make errors. "In the initial phase, we received an angry call from a tenant. He had been accidentally disconnected from gas. We promptly assisted the tenant. This happened because the address field had two parts for the supplier and one for Mooiland. Buddy inputted the data for house number 9-A as '9' and '-A'. The '-A' was not recognized. These are the risks of automation: you're not always entirely in control, and data quality appeared sufficient. Ultimately, such incidents only happen once. However, you need to be aware of teething problems and hiccups. Of course, we quickly reconnected this tenant."
Peter Weenink, Advisor for Innovation and Information Systems at Mooiland, discusses the Power Platform and how business and IT collaborate for digital transformation in this podcast on BNR Nieuwsradio. Listen to this interview to discover even more about the power of the Power Platform!
On Low-code and Automation