Meeting the accounting challenges of Social Housing organisations

With reduced costs, enhanced functionality, better access and no IT headaches. The adoption of Cloud solutions provide far more than just increased effectiveness, improved efficiency and lower monthly bills for today’s Housing organisations.

The traditional model for buying accounting software was to pay an upfront licence fee and then on-going maintenance or upgrade charges. This often involved a large initial capital outlay — both in terms of purchasing the software itself and the hardware to run it. As software has became more complex, it also means companies require specialists in particular software to configure, manage and offer support on an on-going basis.

Social housing organisations have been using separate housing and finance systems for a long time and, in many cases, these will have been in place for years. The companies that supply them may have come and gone, but the systems themselves have only changed slowly, offering technology that is often expensive, difficult to update and almost certainly very costly to maintain.

This can present an acute challenge to the many providers of social housing. It is probable that your chart of accounts/analysis/reporting structure is designed to allow reporting on housing activities broken down by account code and scheme. This is fine but the changes demanded in the revised Accounting Direction mean that you will need to report on further operational matters such as the scheme type.

Changes to housing reporting — Are you ready?

This can be built in as further analysis but doing so often leads to maintenance issues as there may not always be strict validation within the finance system to ensure that the right combination of scheme identifier and scheme type are met. This could give rise to errors in statutory reports and returns.

Modern solutions have been designed specifically to provide sophisticated analysis. For example, Aqilla offers a specific entity that not only acts as an analysis code but in addition can have further attributes associated with it. Without effort or the additional overhead of further data entry or bespoke interfaces, a breakdown of activity by scheme type, local authority area or scheme manager is immediately possible.

Even if this type of data can be stored in your existing system, it’s unlikely to offer an inbuilt report writer which is flexible enough to cope with the original requirements, never mind these changes. Upgrading to a new version of an on-premise accounting suite will result in significant levels of expense and disruption. Furthermore upgrades often result in a need to re-train staff and refactor reports, often from scratch.

As a result of this many organisations are now looking to the new breed of modern, cloud based accounting solutions such as Aqilla

Freeing up Resources with Cloud Computing

When cloud applications first appeared, the most common application use was for customer relationship management or CRM, helping business development and salespeople organise their pipeline of sales opportunities. More recently however, there is a growing number of small, medium and large businesses who are using the cloud for accounting solutions. The speed of take-up is undoubtedly accelerating.

In business terms, the move to the “cloud” (where applications are hosted on servers in a data centre), means that applications are

available 24 hours, seven days a week regardless of whether people are in their office, at home or on the road. All that is required to access these applications is a device that can connect to the internet.

Whilst a number of the legacy suppliers claim to offer so-called cloud solutions, in reality these applications are the same old systems simply deployed over the Internet, usually using Citrix or Terminal Services. Besides not being designed for purpose, these applications still carry the same baggage as they always did.

From a financial perspective, cloud applications are supplied on a revenue (OPEX) model whereby users pay a simple monthly subscription fee in contrast to enduring expensive infrastructure or capital costs and annual maintenance fees associated with traditional, on-premise solutions.

MEETING THE HOUSING CHALLENGES OF TOMORROW, TODAY

For social housing organisations the move to cloud computing is not simply a case of asking a supplier to host your application or outsource your existing IT operations. Doing so provides little economic or business benefit. Instead organisations should look to derive value from a scalable, shared service where a number of customers sharing exactly the same software provides benefits of scale, where new customers and new users can be added in a matter of minutes with no demand to incur additional infrastructure (hardware & communications) and software installation costs. For these and other reasons this approach is also sometimes referred to as ‘Utility Computing’ given its similarity with the way a company satisfies its energy needs.

Simple Integration With Housing

With a cloud based accounting solution such as Aqilla, a modern, simple API (application programming interface) is provided to enable real-time or batch processing of information from another source or system. In the case of the interface with rents, you may be using a particular finance system (the market leaders in UK social housing are SunSystems, Open Accounts and Kypera) that requires a file produced by the housing system. The good news is that this type of file can be processed in Aqilla without the need to change the interface.

Two-way Integration With Excel

In addition to the automatic updates that Aqilla provides, a free Microsoft Excel Add- In exists for those ad hoc (or indeed regular) activities requiring direct access to data. The Add-In not only offers enquiry and reporting capabilities but also provides a simple to use mechanism for carrying out reference data updates — small or large — safe in the knowledge that the data is validated in exactly the same way as when using the online screens.

No Add-on Costs

Certain finance systems have benefited in the past from add-on products, especially in the area of reporting. In fact many people have come to rely on these products in order to compensate for deficiencies in the core product.

All standard functionality within Aqilla, including reporting and enquiries are provided as part of the core system (an example report is shown on the last page).

Keeping Up With Change

Another of the great challenges facing social housing organisations is the apparent rapid change in organisational structures, whether as a result of internal reorganisation, acquisition or merger. Alongside internal changes there are also frequent changes in practice and regulation.

One of the advantages of cloud-based applications is that they are very good at coping with change. New functionality can be easily made available as there is no delay between the development and testing of changes by the software provider and the availability of these to all customers.

Furthermore social housing customers should ideally look for a cloud provider that offers flexibility such as that if user numbers need to grow or shrink — slowly or rapidly — the commercial arrangements can vary likewise. Aqilla’s per user per month subscription arrangement means that user numbers can be adjusted from month to month with no contractual penalty. All a new user needs is an internet connection. With that in place there are no other barriers to a registered user logging into the system. So, if new offices are opened or operations are acquired you can be certain that access to the finance system is not going to be a problem.

Aqilla is a specialist provider of cloud accounting solutions suitable for social housing organisations that are seeking reduced costs, better functionality, no IT headaches and improved access to information.

Cloud solutions provide far more than just increased effectiveness, improved efficiency and lower monthly bills. In addition to these benefits, social housing organisations need an accounting solution that:

  • Integrates across all housing and finance systems.
  • Provides full multi-dimensional reporting by account, account group/category and schemes
  • Meets regulatory compliance with the ability to meet the very latest statutory and regulatory requirements
  • Has a financial budgeting process that is easy to use
  • Offers approvals through document flow integrated within the system
  • Includes expenses and time recording
  • Is implemented at a fraction of the cost of a legacy on-premise solution

Aqilla is Designed for Social Housing

Running effortlessly within a web browser, Aqilla’s intuitive software provides users with a system interface that is highly sophisticated yet simple to use.

Social housing organisations need an accounting solution that integrates across all housing and finance systems, providing full multi-dimensional reporting by account, account group, category and schemes.

Aqilla addresses the latest statutory and regulatory requirements.

Financial Reporting

Providing a rapid reporting and integration framework, Aqilla allows users to perform instant analysis with a simple to use query engine.

The technology in Aqilla is a fundamental shift in how organisations manage their own business intelligence. The system features advanced financial budgeting and forecasting capabilities that are straightforward in operation.

Using a proven and trusted integrated or combined ledger model, Aqilla operates in real time across multiple periods and multiple user definable calendars to support fiscal and management reporting timelines.

Built In Intelligence

With built in facilities to manage expenses and time recording, important tasks are never missed. User definable workflow takes care of approvals and document flow throughout the system.

Simple business intelligence aids the measurement of progress against operational and strategic goals. Through the use of colour coding, Aqilla warns each user when important dates or milestones are approaching.

There are a number of occasions when it is more convenient to collect reference information from external sources.

For example setting up suppliers or item codes from a previous purchasing system or collecting information from housing management software. In these situations data can be imported into Microsoft Excel and mapped to the specific layout required.

Providing a range of additional migration service options, Aqilla makes the transition from a legacy system to a more contemporary solution as straightforward as possible and at a fraction of the cost.