Paradigm Housing Group is a leading provider of affordable housing in England. Paradigm owns and manages over 11,000 properties and provides a wide range of housing and support services throughout the South, East Midlands and London. Paradigm used Visual LANSA to develop its document management, CRM and financial systems, Visual LANSA Framework to redevelop its core management system and LANSA Integrator to exchange information with business partners. All development and maintenance is done in-house by a development team of two.
Mike Silk, head of IT at Paradigm Housing Group, says, "The productivity of Visual LANSA Framework lets us meet business requirements much more quickly than in the past. Without it, I would not have undertaken such a large redevelopment project as replacing our core system with our small team of two developers. I estimate that we saved at least 350,000 pounds in license fees by not purchasing an off-the-shelf housing management system."
Without Visual LANSA Framework, I would not have undertaken such a large redevelopment project as replacing our core system with our small team of two developers
- A Diverse Portfolio
- An Expanding Solution
- Improved Customer Satisfaction
- Improved Developer Productivity
- A Clear Return on Investment
- Company and System Information
A Diverse Portfolio
Paradigm's portfolio contains a diverse mix of housing, including affordable rent, low cost home ownership, key worker housing, foyer accommodation, supported housing, private for sale and private for rent.
Silk explains that, "As a social housing provider we rent out properties below market rates. We manage and own the housing stock and get some government grants to subsidize the acquisition of some of these homes. In return, the local authority has the right to nominate the households to be accommodated in our properties. We also manage the waiting lists on behalf of two of our local authority partners. People’s housing needs are assessed based on government criteria and local authority priorities."
"We act as the agent for the Chiltern District Council, South Bucks, East Northants and East Herts local authority areas in the provision of services such as housing waiting list, homelessness, temporary accommodation and housing advice services. We also run shelter schemes for elderly people where care services are provided."
"The industry is heavily regulated and there are a quite a few peculiarities to the legislation that governs the way we operate. Legislation and regulation changes frequently impact on the IT systems. This was one of the reasons why we started developing our own software in RPG back in 1991."
"But by 1999 maintenance was so time consuming, that we either had to grow the IT department significantly or look at a more productive development environment."
"Because of the expansion of the business we also needed a better way of handling the large amount of paperwork being generated, particularly as our organization was operating over a large geographic area."
"We wanted to manage all paperwork from a central location and distribute it electronically. Commercial document management packages were too expensive, plus we wanted the system to integrate closely with our core system."
"With its short learning curve, Visual LANSA was the most practical tool to productively develop and maintain software and deliver an integrated Windows and iSeries document management system."
"We developed the bare bones of the integrated document management system in six to eight weeks," says Silk. "Visual LANSA's easy integration with ActiveX controls to access scanned documents helped get the first stage up and running quickly."
We developed the bare bones of the integrated document management system in six to eight weeks with Visual LANSA
An Expanding Solution
The document management system was implemented in 1999 and has grown to include contact handling and integration with the tenancy management system, essentially becoming Paradigm's customer management solution. "At the moment the database hold pointers to the documents, but with LANSA V11 we can incorporate images as binary large objects (BLOBS) in the database directly," says Silk.
In 2000, Silk and his team started building Visual LANSA enquiry screens over commonly used core data to present key elements of the old 5250 interface via a true Windows interface and integrated with MS Office. "Visual LANSA became the bridge between our old legacy system and the new core system," says Silk.
In 2003, Paradigm used Visual LANSA to replace its packaged financial system and implemented many other smaller applications, especially in the Human Resource area, such as attendance management, leave requests and automated email routing of leave requests to managers.
Paradigm is currently rolling out a Visual LANSA Framework-based replacement of its core RPG system. "It is already live for one of our smaller contracts. Rather than focusing on just tenants and properties, the system's open design allows for organizational units, such as people, households, companies and properties and together with the Visual LANSA Framework makes it a lot easier to slot in new functionality as we take on new types of services," explains Silk.
"Visual LANSA Framework's productivity lets us meet business requirements much more quickly than in the past. Without Visual LANSA Framework I would not have undertaken such a large redevelopment project with our small team of two developers," says Silk.
Since 2005, Paradigm has used LANSA Integrator to exchange information on property repair and maintenance work that is outsourced to Connaught Plc. To ensure tenant contact details and property information is up to date, LANSA Integrator generates work request documents in XML and posts these to Connaught's FTP site. As repair works are scheduled or completed, Connaught's system sends back XML documents so Paradigm can include the details in their cost control and performance monitoring reports.
Visual LANSA Framework's productivity lets us meet business requirements much more quickly than in the past
Improved Customer Satisfaction
Wendy Chalmers, head of housing operations, says, "Our system gives us exactly what we need. We can easily navigate with tabs to check a tenants rent account, the original application, past correspondence and phone calls, special service needs and so on. We will also have better information about a property's nomination agreement and funding arrangements once the new core system is fully up and running."
"Previously, staff had to work where we stored the physical documents. Now we have a central customer services team that acts as our main point of contact, regardless of the customer's location. If a customer rings, they can instantly view all documents electronically and understand what the customer is talking about. We record all contact and actions taken in the system, so there is an audit trail of exactly who said what to who and when."
"From a customer perspective we can now deliver a far more immediate and comprehensive service. We survey residents every three years and feedback shows improved satisfaction."
"The housing sector is driven by economies, everyone wants more for less. We recruit fewer additional staff to manage a growing number of properties. To ensure that we can demonstrate our unit management cost, we have to be as lean and mean as possible."
"The new system will help people to better understand the business, instead of just the small area of their expertise. There will be greater emphasis on putting better information in the system, because they understand how colleagues within the organization rely on this."
"Last but not least, the system is very robust. I cannot remember the last time it went down," concludes Chalmers.
From a customer perspective, "We now deliver a far more immediate and comprehensive customer service
Improved Developer Productivity
"We are very happy with the quality of the software that we’ve been able to produce with LANSA," says Silk. "Since going live, we can count the bugs of our new systems on one hand. I am sure we would have a bigger support issue with a package solution."
"Defining all business rules centrally in the LANSA Repository is an important factor in the high quality of the systems we produce. LANSA's 4GL is very straightforward as well, so it is easy to write programs."
"We created as many reusable components as possible. For example, we wrote a service that can be re-used anywhere in the system to post journals when a financial transaction is generated. This reduces the risk of coding errors and improves productivity tremendously."
"It's hard to compare LANSA's development productivity with RPG, because we could not have built our current system in RPG. But I would estimate that development with Visual LANSA is three to four times quicker than RPG."
"Visual LANSA Framework doubles Visual LANSA's productivity. It produces very polished looking programs that are up and running with minimal effort. You don’t need to worry about the programming to handle the user interface, navigation, error handling and other plumbing. The programs themselves are very simple," says Silk.
Visual LANSA Framework doubles Visual LANSA's productivity and produces very polished looking programs that are up and running with minimal effort
A Clear Return on Investment
"When the new core system goes live for all our communities, all applications on both Windows clients and the iSeries server will be 100 percent LANSA. We won't have any RPG code left," says Silk.
"All the development was done by our two developers. I estimate that we saved at least 350,000 pounds in license fees by not purchasing an off-the-shelf housing management system. The annual maintenance fees alone would have funded our two developers. We have saved money and have total control of the software."
"One of the reasons we selected LANSA in 1999, was that it gave us portability options should we ever decide to move from the iSeries. But the iSeries is very robust, scalable and a good back-end database server, so we have no immediate plans to move. We did a complete upgrade of our iSeries environment recently, that's not something I would like to do in a Windows environment," says Silk.
"We find the same robustness in LANSA. Commitment control was one of our main criteria to select LANSA. We use it throughout all our applications. It gives us a very tight environment and ensures data integrity."
"Once the new system has been rolled out, we will do more with the Web. Customers will be able to do their own account enquiries and local authorities will get access to the programs we run on their behalf. LANSA's central repository approach makes it easy to deploy to different environments. I expect we will start to give Web access to external users from mid 2007. As we extend our services to third parties we also plan to use Web Services with LANSA Integrator."
"One of LANSA's biggest benefits is that it insulates you from the technology. Rather than having technology experts in my team, I can have experts in delivering the business solutions via LANSA. We don’t have to worry about all the ins and outs of XML or Web development. We only need a basic understanding of the technology to deliver a business solution," concludes Silk.
I estimate we saved at least £350,000 in license fees. The annual maintenance fees alone would have funded our two developers. We have saved money and have total control of the software
Company and System Information
- The Paradigm Housing Group, headquartered in Amersham, U.K. has a turnover of £42 million per annum and total assets of £430 million. Paradigm provides a wide range of housing and support services throughout the South, East Midlands and London. The Group includes Chiltern Hundreds Charitable Housing Association, Frays Charitable Housing Association, Paradigm Foyer and Paradigm Homes.
- For more information visit: www.paradigmhousing.co.uk
- Paradigm uses an iSeries model 820 and has 250 internal users spread over multiple sites. PCs at the main client locations are connected directly to the iSeries, while PCs at the smaller sites use Citrix thin clients to avoid bandwidth issues. The DR machine is a model 720.
- Paradigm's IT team of two developers, a network administrator, an operations manager and two help desk staff does all systems development, maintenance and support. The LANSA system contains approximately 400 files, 4,000 fields and 1,000 components.
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- Technical Article – Rapid Windows and Web Development with Visual LANSA Framework