Company: InterBiz Financial GroupCustomer: NBHASubmitted by: Spreckley Partners LtdThe North British Housing Association (NBHA) is one of the country’s leading housing associations, with 1,200 employees managing over 44,600 homes from Northumberland to the Isle of Wight. NBHA is a major developer of new homes for people in need of housing with over 4,200 currently in progress. It completes around 30 new homes per week.As with all registered housing associations, NBHA is a non-profit making organisation, governed by a voluntary board of management and local committees. These members freely give their time and expertise to ensure that the Association continues to provide good quality, affordable homes for people who would otherwise be poorly housed or left homeless.

Activities are regulated by The Housing Corporation which also provides a large part of the funding for NHBA’s work throughout the country.

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The Challenge

The services that NBHA provides are subject to strict budgetary controls which demand an effective financial structure to manage the average £123 million per year at its disposal. The challenge for NBHA as the 21st century approaches is to provide up-to-date, accountable and effective information technology (IT) to support the financial structure.

NBHA 2000 Programme

In 1998, NBHA invested £4.5 million in a complete overhaul of its information management systems to bring it up to date.

This massive investment was designed to combine innovative business practices with the very latest in technology, improving the efficiency and quality of the service that NBHA provides to its customers. The investment covered everything from telecommunications, Local Area Networks and electronic data management to payroll, human resources and financial systems.

The difficulties faced

NBHA’s financial system’s existing technology consisted of mainframe IBM AS/400 nominal ledger which was rapidly placing constraints on the business.With both the funding provision and the millennium in mind NBHA took the decision to install a new financial system that was Y2K compliant as well as delivering functionality that fitted the business process.

Martin Barber, Technical Systems Manager, NBHA said “The system we were using was not Y2K compliant or web-enabled and the whole process was laborious. It involved a lot of re-keying of information manually and led to the generation of many paper-based documents. It was particularly difficult to check the outstanding financial commitments in progress, which ultimately required us to be accountable.”

Selecting a system for Millennium

As soon as the NBHA programme was in place, Barber set about investigating solutions which could replace the dated, legacy accounting system with a new integrated financial system. The initial requirements for the system included good operability along with Internet and Intranet capabilities, strong reporting tools and accountability to enable tight financial control.”To implement a programme of change on this scale meant that we would need to take a big bang approach.

We also knew that the system we installed had to work efficiently the first time we ran it,” said Barber.After a thorough review of the financial and accounting software market, Barber chose Masterpiece/NetTM from the interBiz Financial Group, a business unit of Computer Associates’ interBiz Solutions division.The package stood out as meeting the main requirements and importantly was the only one which could provide a web-enabled system.Barber recalled: “The majority of packages on the market had not yet fully developed a web enabled system and did not expect to introduce web capabilities until the year 2000. We couldn’t afford to wait that long as we wanted a tried and tested system which we could start implementing straight away.”NBHA selected Masterpiece/NetTM .

The product contains web browser technology which incorporates General Ledger, Accounts Payable, Account Receivable, Purchasing, fund accounting and fixed asset modules.

Putting the system into practice

The complete implementation of the Masterpiece/NetTM suite took nine months from its conception to its birth in April ‘99. It was carried out on time and to budget. Barber largely attributed the projects’ success to the excellent and professional implementation team at interBiz Financial Group, who worked effectively with the staff at NBHA to smoothly implement the package.”As with any project of this scale, there have been inevitable problems to overcome,” reflects Barber.”As a result we are pleased to report that overall performance has been maintained and we are now looking forward to achieving significant business improvements.

“To ensure that no time would be lost once the system was installed, NBHA invested in an aggressive training programme for the 800 staff licensed for Masterpiece/NetTM. For three months from January – April ‘99, with the support of the interBiz Financial Group, each user was trained in their respective roles.

Realising the benefits

The new Y2K compliant system surpassed all NBHA’ s expectations. Holding the whole financial structure the system is now providing much tighter control of budgetary information. Original purchasing and payments processes and procedures have been removed and new ones put into place to streamline and automate operations.

These changes have produced greater efficiency and developed best business practices by allowing the individual divisions to have overall responsibility for payments processing. For example, the Accounts Payable module has enabled each regional area to manage and control its own data entry, resulting in significant time savings.Barber comments: “With the responsibility of the budget devolved to the 19 regional areas everyone is now accountable for their spending which achieves tighter financial control.”Administratively the system has moved NBHA towards a paperless office model, implementing an internal Intranet, Internet, email and the automation of processes. As a result, Barber estimates that the new system will save NBHA approximately 100,000 sheets of paper a year in purchase orders and general ledgers alone.

The new system enables the regional areas to gain complete control of invoice processing. Invoices are now scanned in and sent centrally to head office which means that the purchase orders are never physically seen. Employees can then drill down to view what each invoice is for.The new general ledger gives online hierarchies so that files no longer have to be updated or reports produced – the financial information can be viewed on screen whenever it is needed and seen in any format.The Web-enabled browser inherent in Masterpiece/NetTM provides a Windows ‘look and feel’, enabling users to operate via a corporate Intranet. This provides the major benefit of reduced IT maintenance overheads, as well as the avoidance of service disruption to users during system upgrades.

Barber emphasises that we shouldn’t forget the significant improvement of services: “These are technical changes which on their own are meaningless. They are only important because they underpin our drive to improveservices. For example, new PC’s are helping people to work more efficiently and make better use of their time.”New processes will help us to streamline our services and the communications network will allow us to share information and ideas across the country.”The addition of e-mail and the Intranet has greatly improved the effectiveness of our internal communications. It will be some time before we realise the benefits of the greater efficiency that the new processes and system will bring,” says Barber.

Future plans

Moving into the year 2000, NHBA plans to capitalise on the newly developed extra facilities now on offer in version 1.2 of Masterpiece/NetTM.Masterpiece/NetTM 1.2 builds upon the product functionality and thin-client Java interface inherent in Masterpiece/Net TM1.1, incorporating Euro-preparedness, stronger integration of modules, and ease-of-use system enhancements that further support the increasingly global demands of enterprise financial management.

Also, NHBA plans to continue to extend the provision of Masterpiece/NetTM enterprise wide to other parts of the organisation, such as Bristol churches who are joining the group structure to benefit from its strength as a national organisation.Barber concludes: “Now we have finally caught up with the times we intend to stay ahead of the game with our technological developments and will upgrade our system as and when appropriate. We will also ensure that the system continues to permeate every level of the organisation as we expand.”