Many housing authorities suffer from the lack of IT support, even the big ones. 

In this day and age, having the team and systems behind you could take you a long way. Host Abhijit Verekar invited the Senior Manager at Avèro, Robert Kornovich, who has been very involved in the Public Housing Authority Practice. Here, he talks about the challenges that often get in the way of efficient operations. He discusses how to manage the support process and vendor relationships, and why these are very important. 

Join Robert in this episode as he breaks down the necessary things housing authorities must keep in mind and more.

AV: I have with me Robert Kornovich, a Senior Manager at Avèro, and who is very involved in our Public Housing Authority practice where we help our clients redesign business processes, do project management, and more than anything, make their enterprise systems more useful to them. Robert, welcome to the show.

RK: How are you?

AV: I’m good. Tell our readers what it is that we do for housing authorities. What I want to do is talk about some challenges that our clients and other authorities like them are facing as far as using their main system, be it Emphasys, Elite or Yardi, or any of the others that are out there, and the impediments to effectively using them. What is the problem statement here?

RK: We have a variety of things that we do for housing authorities that I’ve seen. There’s the very high-level stuff, which you’re obviously there to help fill a need. Usually what I’ve seen is a lack of staffing and the ability to either directly manage a vendor, manage the customization of the product, manage the support of the product, being able to do an evaluation if the product is truly working for you, doesn’t need to be modified. Those are fairly typical things that we do in a variety of projects. 

Housing authorities specifically, I’ve seen have a lack of technical staff likely because of lack of resources. Of course, the number one resource being money is one of the reasons why they tend to reach out for services like this.

I’ve seen a number of things. Most housing authorities have minimal to no IT staff, to be honest. Those that do, like one of our bigger clients, have a minimal amount of IT staff. They should be having several more staff members than they currently have. Even the largest housing authorities in the nation are still suffering from a lack of IT support, that being part of our expertise. We help fill that gap in a variety of ways. They either have no IT staff or they have maybe one or two, and they often have almost no full-time support for their main workflow product, whether it be Emphasys, Elite, or Yardi.

AV: Is it a numbers problem or is it a skillset?

RK: It’s both. The number one thing is they have to be available. One thing I’ve been thinking of in preparation for this discussion is how unique housing authorities are in terms of their operation or technical needs. Let me explain what that is because we always have uniqueness with each client that we have. 

Housing authorities truly are unique and they’re special. What I mean by this is we always have business process maturity, strategic visioning, using technology to solve service delivery issues, procuring a workflow product, aligning expectations with goals. These are all things that we do all the time in our profession. Each project has unique qualities, but housing authorities are unique.

I can think of no other projects other than housing authorities where what we do and what the housing authority does has a more direct impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. We have been dealing with the basic human need for shelter. 

On the other side of the coin, you have landlords that are providing the housing on your behalf – this could be their primary income or a major portion of it. There is no option of not having a product available or not having the ability to interact with the people in your community that need housing or need payment for the housing they are provided. 

I come from a law enforcement background. Safety of life is the ultimate goal in those situations. The margin of error is slim. Even with that, let’s say talking about a police officer, an officer can still go out and do their job without the technology. There might not be a high degree of accountability and the risk might be greater because the technology is not there, but even if a CAD/RMS system fails, and that in itself is a major liability and a service disruption, an officer can still go to a call, respond to an accident, engage a suspect. 

A housing authority, what options do you have? You have to be able to be up and running. You have to be able to provide housing and pay landlords, submit required documents to the feds. That’s why housing authorities are different. Their workflow products have to work. Most consultants don’t always understand that.

AV: Given COVID-19, it’s even more. I know they’ve been defined as required services or a necessity. If your ERP or your system that takes in applications and crunches the data to see if you’re eligible or not, if that’s not working well, where do these people go that need shelter? Are you reverting back to a paper-based process or is it falling through the cracks?

RK: Where would you even begin to start that? One of the things I’ve learned when I started working with housing authorities is their downtime is measured in seconds to minutes. There is no, “We can’t be down for a few hours. We can’t be down for a day.” A lot of organizations feel that way about their main foundational product, “It has to be available, it’s essential for our business.” The impact of not being up and running for a day is huge with the housing authority. 

Local governments could sustain themselves for a day doing manual permits or even telling people that, “We’re not going to be able to issue permits today. We’re not going to be able to come on-site and do your inspections, come back tomorrow.” That doesn’t work with the Housing Authority. 

The fact that you have the federal authorities constantly looking at your operations because that’s who you interact with for all of a majority of your funding, and you have accountability to them. There’s a reporting process that you have with them. You can’t call them up and say, “There’s something wrong with our reports. We’re not going to be able to report to you for 30, 60 or 90 days.” The consequences are unacceptable.

AV: Also the amount of data the housing authorities hold and not just the amount, but the sensitivity of it. You don’t want to have a data breach or a network breach that lets out people’s Social Securities and addresses – that’s a huge risk too. I know it’s not directly related to the main processing system but it’s all interconnected. If your security isn’t up to scratch, it doesn’t matter if you have the best of breed system. Coupled with lack of skills or staffing, it’s a recipe for disaster if not done right.

RK: This is something that can be a major discussion because it does overlap into other areas, but you’re exactly correct. The federal government is very good about giving you guidelines and some parameters of whether you’re dealing with PII or you’re dealing with health information, and you’re exactly right, that’s an excellent point. 

In a housing authority, they wind up seeing a lot of your personal information when you apply for housing or when you come on board as a landlord. These are passports, birth certificates, and tax records. Is there anything that’s more sensitive other than maybe some certain health records? Even then, there are some situations where the housing authority would need access to some of your health records for certain conditions, prove you have a disability and that you’re eligible for this supplement or a payment or financial assistance. It doesn’t get more serious than that.

The feds are very good about issuing guidelines about whether you have personally identifiable information on your system. You need to make sure you have these certain protections. 

First of all, those guidelines are never matching current industry trends in terms of security. Two, they don’t tell you how to do it. The housing authority gets a lot of regulations, a lot of mandates that they have to follow. If you don’t have the technical staff to be able to maintain that high level of security, all the regulations in the world do no good if you don’t have a way to practically implement that at your housing authority. 

The most important thing of course is to keep it going. We talk about workstation patching in a lot of our cybersecurity events. Even the basic, simple things of making sure that your IT staff can keep all the workstations patched, which is one of your major vectors and routes for some cyber event, can become daunting when you only have a handful of IT staff. You wind up choosing between, “Am I going to take the IT staff and put them on this important project that I have or I’m going to let them be able to do their daily jobs and keep the infrastructure stay safe and up and running?”

AV: With any of our projects and any of our clients, sometimes it comes down to defining the problem. This is a multifaceted problem: staffing, security, patching, reporting, database structures, all of that going hand-in-hand when delivering services through a housing authority. We can spend days talking about these things. How about we focus now on the system itself? Let’s say a large housing authority is using a leading unnamed housing authority software for intake, eligibility, inspections, and what have you. Most of the time when we go into housing authorities, big or small, they’re dissatisfied with the system they have. What are the top three or five things that get in the way of getting those systems to be used more effectively so that public housing authorities are not left with spreadsheets, extra paper, vulnerabilities like loss of data, or the more serious hacks like losing PII? What are the numbers 1 through 5 for you?

RK: What I see as showing up on a regular basis now in terms of housing authorities dealing with their core foundational workflow product is a lot of them are very highly customizable. 

As we know, there’s a positive and a negative to that. A lot of organizations want a foundational piece of software to be customizable so that you can match it to your workflow and your operations, the way you do work. Especially if a housing authority tends to have some extra programs that it’s doing, like MTW that changes some of the federal regulations that are applicable to them. They’re allowed to get a little more say in how they implement certain programs. 

MTW designation is important for housing authority, but when you get that, you then have to modify your workflow product to be able to adapt to that not only in service delivery, but in your ability to report that information back to the federal authorities on a recurring basis. The customization has its downsides. You can customize the product as much as you want but as we know, when you go down the road of customization, you almost never come back from it because you have to constantly be keeping an eye on those policies. 

As a new patch is implemented for the product, does it affect some of the policy settings? We do a change in our workflow. Are we going to do some testing on that policy setting within the software first? These things are what most housing authorities simply don’t have the resources to do. What happens is when you have a piece of software where you can customize 1,400 different settings, if no one’s maintaining it or no one has looked at it over a period of time, it starts to become a burden. Especially when the product no longer does what you expected it to do because you haven’t been keeping up with the settings and making the modifications as you develop other parts of your business product or as you change your workflow and your service delivery.

The housing authorities that I’ve seen that can do the most with customizable software often don’t have any staff or any procedure in place to be able to manage the customization that’s available to them. 

This leads to dissatisfaction with the product. They start wondering is there a better product out there? They start getting into this vicious cycle where you’re constantly looking for a product that’s going to serve all your needs, but without you having to invest staff or have an advocate for you with the vendor to help keep the vendor accountable as well. You create this vicious cycle, which, unfortunately, plays out over a long period of time. The organization tends to constantly be at some level of dissatisfaction with their product. The customization is number one on my list out because there are some other things that are priorities. This is what I’ve been seeing occurring.

AV: You tend to get tied to the person or the company or the vendor that made this customization for you. Now, you’re the only one in the world that has this customization. The trend is moving away from customization. Customization is a dirty word in system implementations. With the onset of Software as a Service, you’re looking at an off-the-shelf solution that can do 80% of the job for you. The 20% that it cannot, you either change the processes for or find other ways, rather than getting down this rabbit hole of customization. I agree with you. the leading software is so far behind that there is no way for them to work in 2020 other than with customizations or other drastic workarounds.

RK: You still have the political aspect of someone on your executive board. 

I use this example all the time but it’s true: during a major software implementation many years ago, I had a director in a department incredibly upset because the one report that they ran every day, as weird as the report was, was not available in this new product. There are a lot of technical reasons as to why it wasn’t. It wasn’t a useful report. The data on it was a little ambiguous, but this person liked having this report available to them every morning to go in and take a look and take a snapshot. I believe it was related to service equipment. That person became one of the most vocal haters of that new system simply because of that one report.

You’re exactly right. In terms of the technical side of it, customization is bad for a variety of functional and strategic reasons. Politically, it’s still a viable concept because there’s always someone who’s like, “I know the software can do this but I wanted to do this. Why can’t it do this? Why do we have to spend $7 million and I don’t get this?” 

There’s always that you have to deal with, “Let’s change management too.” Especially when we’re engaged on a product, make sure we communicate and record all expectations and have that covered. When an organization doesn’t have that advocate, doesn’t have someone working for them to help them through that process, it becomes painful internally. You’re dealing with the change management political aspects of the product or one that you’re potentially looking at.

AV: The whole process of requirements, definition, and documenting detailed requirements is critical because then you can hold your vendors accountable. In the vendor community, if I was the 800-pound gorilla that hasn’t moved much for the last 20 years, I’d be happy with the clientele I have because the clients don’t know what to look for. It’s in my short-term interest to keep you there, so I can keep getting the fees from you and I can keep charging the customization fees. It’s a vicious cycle in many ways. That is being addressed with the Software as a Service evolution but there still is a gap. The leap to go from a legacy housing authority software to a more modern one is huge because of many entrenched interests.

RK: With one of our clients that we’re dealing with, it was refreshing to take on this project because it was immediately known to me that they were looking at their process from the correct vantage point. They have a product that they’ve been using for well over ten years. As with a lot of organizations, they have frustration and pain points with it. They wanted to try and figure out what those pain points were, what can be done to either eliminate them, deal with them, identify them, do a deep dive on them. 

Their main goal was, “We have this product. We spent a lot of money on it.” Housing Authority workflow products are as important as CAD/RMS like I was talking about early on. It’s foundational to what you do. You can’t simply throw it out and go to another product after two or three years. This is a major long-term investment. If you are going to do that, it has to be worth the disruption you’re going to cause within your organization, both politically as well as your training. 

A lot of times when you go to another product, it’s better in one area and it’s not as good as other areas in your prior product. One thing that they seem to be lacking and what this customer was big on was, “Let’s clean up our own house internally first on this product. After we take all these steps to maximize it, we implement regular user training. We implement user groups. We do a lot of testing on these patches.” Once we do that and we discover that we’ve done everything we can with this piece of software and if it doesn’t work for us, then we’re at a point where we can logically start asking the question of, “What else is out there for us?”

Most customers don’t have the ability or the time to do this, but when you do find the time to do it and you maximize it, you discover that a lot of your internal processes can be modified and improved to get the most out of your investment. A lot of housing authorities simply don’t have the funds and the resources to change their basic workflow product. 

They’re stuck – a lot of bad software vendors know that. They know that you’re not going to be able to leave and go someplace else. I know it’s painful for a lot of organizations to want to spend the time and money, but do those first steps into figuring out what exactly is going on with how we’re using the product. It is incredibly important because it pays dividends and everything else further on in the project and your own strategic goals and initiatives with your software products.

AV: It can be as simple as finding out that you’ve been paying for the module for the last ten years that was never implemented and people forgot. A system audit that compares what you have versus what’s being used, it’s critical. What else is a challenge?

RK: You entered it into an area there, which is also another important item, which is you have to have an internal advocate for vendor support these days, relationship management, customer care. The days are gone when your software vendor account rep or care managers advocate for you. That is different in the number of years I’ve been in IT from when I started out to where we are now. Your customer service rep and even the sales rep, the person that sold you the software, would tend to straddle the middle between being an employee for the software company but also being an advocate for your success. They wound up being a partner with you. You can call them on a regular basis and say, “We’re looking at this patch that you guys put out. There are a lot of weird things in here that don’t make sense. Can you contact the development team or get us some more information on this?”

Within 3 or 4 hours, they get a phone call or an email, or I might even get someone who’s from the development team in the software on the phone with me. This is in my position as a support manager or in information technology, and I can get that information. It doesn’t exist anymore for a variety of reasons. 

What a lot of housing authorities are lacking is having someone who is your advocate, someone who is going to give you a non-biased view as to what exactly is going on with a particular piece of software or process. In my opinion, honestly, vendor support is on the decline and has been for the past few years. The relationship management needs to be there because if you don’t manage the relationship with your software vendor, it becomes adversarial quickly. These things tend to get people engaged emotionally, especially on the customer end because you’re frustrated with the software.

If you’re the one who’s responsible for dealing with this vendor, you’re getting phone calls from the executive director who’s upset that this is happening or that you implemented a patch but then it broke something that’s a key part of the workflow. 

You’re the one that gets a lot of the pain from the organization. You try to pass it on to the vendor, but if you don’t have that relationship established, it’s likely not going to go anywhere. You do need an advocate, which is another thing that we’ve been doing with a lot of our customers, they put us in the middle between their organization and then the product support itself that’s being provided by the vendor and have us manage that. It doesn’t have to be someone who’s techy. 

In fact, a lot of the housing authorities we’ve seen, the person who winds up managing the software contract and the software support is usually the completely wrong person for this job. They were seen as a person who’s highly effective in one area, they grabbed them and they stuck them in between the organization and the vendor.

A lot of that is lacking of resources and it’s unfair to that particular employee, but that’s another area where we’re seeing constant follow-on projects with these housing authorities. The ability to manage their support, their ability to have us do an evaluation for them of some modules that are available for a particular product that an organization is considering. That’s one example but these are things that take time. When you have a housing authority that has minimal staff, these are dreams. These are wishes for a lot of housing authorities that they would someday possibly, one way or another, maybe if we hope hard enough, have the staff to have that. What they wind up doing is they wind up engaging us on a contractual basis to help them fill that gap and get them set in the right direction.

AV: I’ve seen that not just in housing authorities. In the past few years especially, as the world has moved to cloud and Software as a Service, and not having a production server in your own database, there’s less incentive for the vendors to be engaged after they’ve had to sign the deal. The sales guy has gone, the implementation team comes and does the job and it’s gone. If the vendor does not have good ongoing customer support or account management, things fall apart. We’ve seen this not just with housing authorities but counties, cities, where the systems are put in and now you’re on the team for the next seven years paying your SaaS fees, and there is no customer advocacy. You’re right, this is where we are stepping in increasingly.

RK: It’s interesting that it’s almost always the same thing over and over again, in which you have organizations that, because no one’s managing that customer service relationship. The fact that the vendors aren’t providing the same level of support that they did in the past and the fact that in my opinion, they’re less engaged with keeping you as a long-term customer and more engaged with what can we do to get you to buy something now. They sell you either a maintenance agreement or some modules or get you in the door. Once you’re past go, live and implementation, the amount of customer support and customer care drops off dramatically.

What we hear over and over again is that the relationship with the vendor is bad. It keeps getting worse, usually to the point where the vendor and the customer don’t talk. In some situations, I’ve seen support requests completely stopped from an organization to their software vendor because they throw up their hands and go, “When we were submitting support requests, they never got it done or they never got it done in time. We never heard from the vendor, so we gave up.” 

These are bad places to be. It’s bad enough that it’s allowed to get to that position because your vendor isn’t holding up your end of the bargain. The organization itself feels completely lost because now they are completely isolated. If they don’t have a relationship with their vendor, they feel like that they’re the only ones taking on these problems and that they’re the only ones having these issues. Your software vendor is always going to make you think that you’re the only person having this issue.

Whereas if you can bring in someone who can give you a fresh perspective and say, “These are common. This is a vendor relationship issue. Here are some basic things we can do to get that relationship going. Let’s take a look at the backlog of all your service problems and all your support tickets. Let’s set up a plan for you to be able to go through them, either through a temporary augmentation of your staff or maybe some things we can do to push back on the vendor and get those solved for you. You’re not alone. You’re not the only one experiencing this. The most important thing is there’s a way out. We understand these problems and we know how to get you to a position where you’re outside of this isolation, doing better, the product is working for you. You don’t have to invest millions of dollars in a brand-new workflow product and put yourself into the same cycle again, except with a different vendor.”

AV: You’ve stumbled on problem No. 3: when you ask for the trouble tickets and a log of these tickets over the years, you don’t get anything because they haven’t been tracking them. There isn’t a mechanism for users to effectively put in tickets, ask for help, seek resolution or escalate in our IT departments. Housing authorities particularly don’t have a toolset that the user base can go into and say, “A certain form isn’t working or the report isn’t spitting out what I wanted to.” Where do you go from there?

RK: Let’s say an organization hires us to come in, and this has happened with us as well. They do exactly that, they put in front of us, “Here are all the long-term tickets that we have that have never been resolved.” When you look at it, it’s daunting because of course, they’re all priorities. They’ve all been festering long enough that they have a lot of change management issues associated with them, end-user confidence, training, which is the other one that we always run into. 

Organizations tend to not invest in recurring training with their staff, especially if they’ve had a lot of turnover and you have a crop of new employees who have never been through training on your foundational software. That is a major investment that gives instant dividends user training on software.

These things all are major priorities. You have to step in and you’re the one that has to start prioritizing with the client. That’s one of the reasons why a lot of housing authorities honestly don’t like getting a lot of consultants in, or even bothering to look out and reach out for these services. Consultants have to understand PHAs, Public Housing Authorities. They want us to understand the uniqueness of their operation from the beginning. 

Solutions and options are correctly aligned and immediately actionable from the get-go because they have to wind up teaching or training you if you don’t have that particular knowledge. They simply don’t have the time and the resources to do that because of what we were specifically talking about. As soon as you get into the door and you start helping out the client, that’s the first thing they’re going to put in front of you.

They’re not going to have time to spend one or two days giving you the backstory on this particular ticket or why this customization request is dead-end with the vendor. You need to be able to jump in there immediately and start producing results for them, and getting a lot of these things prioritized down the road. 

You can go to your housing authority that you’re working for and say, “Here’s the roadmap to get you out of this. It’s going to take three, six or nine months. Along the way, these are the major milestones where you’re going to be able to get this customization implemented, which is going to reduce your workload in this area because it’s going to be automated. You’re going to be able to start addressing some of those reporting regulations that are coming down the line from HUD. You’re going to be able to train your staff on a process that you are correctly using because we’ve identified this is how this process maps out.”

The ability for a vendor to get the job with the housing authority and then spend a couple of months getting up to speed with what exactly housing authority is and what this particular HUD form does, that’s the nightmare scenario for a lot of housing authorities. They simply don’t have the ability to teach you what is specific about their operations before you become effective. You have to be effective from day one.

AV: You mentioned a large client, and if I’m thinking what you’re thinking, this is one of the top 10 largest housing authorities in the country. They had a similar problem. Their system, which is the 800-pound gorilla, wasn’t doing things that they wanted it to do. There was no customer service, IT was engaged. It was a write off for most of the executive team until they said, “We’re going to take a final, last hurrah at this to make this thing work.” What we’ve found is that dumping your enterprise system is possibly the last resort. There is a way out in making these systems work. It’s not always technical. It’s always around business processes, project management, and communication. How did you solve that problem? Give us a quick case study.

RK: We spoke with the clients, and the first thing we agreed on is that we were going to take over support for their foundational product, for their workflow product for being a housing authority. It does a couple of things. 

First of all, we practice what we preach. We identify that there’s a bad vendor relationship there or there hasn’t been the management of that particular vendor relationship for a variety of reasons. We immediately inserted ourselves into that with the housing authority’s approval and not only started turning that relationship around. The things we put in documents and proposals and we’ve put in front of the client, they’re not meaningless words, these are things that we do. We were able to be effective immediately in addressing a number of the things that we put in their initial proposal to them.

By taking on the support, we wind up being an impartial advocate for a lot of these things, which allows the housing authority to start taking a fresh look as to why they got to these particular things. An example with that housing authority is they had a user group, which was meeting on a regular basis, which is outstanding that group already existed because we didn’t have to build it. We did have to do some rebuilding of how that group works. 

One of the things that we took on that they hadn’t done in a while is end-user testing for a particular software release or patches. That’s another area where the rubber meets the road on what we say. If we’re telling you that you can improve the relationship you have with your current vendor or with your product, we have to be able to give them the actionable steps and provide the delivery of what that means.

Part of that is doing user testing on each new patch that the organization is looking at doing and limiting the pain that often comes from, “We implemented a patch. It fixed this but it broke these three other things.” 

Unfortunately, one of them is something critical like the rafter process in Section 8. We’re going back to very basic service delivery of providing someone housing. You can’t have these processes break down. The importance of testing these out in advance and making sure that everyone in the group of about 14 or 15 users, and this is a large housing authority, which is why the user group was that big, signing off and saying, “We tested everything that’s important to us and is critical. It looks good. Let’s go. Let’s implement the patch.” It helps them not fall into that gap of, “We simply don’t have time to look at the next major release or I know a housing authority over in another part of the state that implemented the current release and it messed up a whole bunch of things for them.”

That may or may not be true because when you get the feedback from other organizations, you don’t know if it’s exactly the same patch you were looking at, or the circumstances are the same or you’re dealing with someone who’s never liked the product, they happened to have your ear. 

We figure those things out, sort those out, and then give the organization confidence that their foundational product is going to work for them. Being the person who’s providing support and is managing that customer relationship made a huge difference in getting that project off the ground. It’s something that we still do to this day for them and likely will do long-term for one degree or another. It’s managing the support process, managing the vendor relationship.

It’s because with the resources that we have within our own consulting firm when the vendor says something and the organization looks at it and says, “We don’t think this is true, what they’re telling us.” We can verify that from a technical aspect and say, “Correct, the vendor is not providing you with accurate information or they’re telling you to implement something that is fifteen years behind the times in terms of technology. We need to push back on the vendor and get them to come up with a different solution, being an advocate for you and getting the most out of your software.”

Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with an existing product you’re trying to get the most out of, or you’re looking at a new product and you’re already halfway down the road of procuring it and you bring us in. The topics are still the same. These are things that have to be perpetually looked at and evaluated. Otherwise, you’re going to go through the same cycle. You’re going to go down the same road full of pain with your new vendor if a lot of these internal processes aren’t solved, identified, quantified or had a strategic vision laid on top of them.

AV: What other challenges can you think of? These are foundational in almost boring types of challenges. If you’re looking at it from the outside, you’re trying to throw things like big data and business intelligence and AI at a problem, which is what most third-party service providers try to do, and there’s a time and a place for that. What you’re talking about is fundamentally broken processes and channels of communication between a client and the vendor. Before you move on to some of the more exciting sounding technological aspects of this, you have to do the basics.

RK: It’s interesting when you’re dealing with a smaller housing authority. One, if they’re already operating in isolation, like I was talking about, your relationship with your vendor is either spoiled or is not very good or is downright adversarial, you already feel isolated. You already feel like you’re the only person experiencing these particular issues. You’ll start hearing this excuse of, “We’re a small housing authority. We have very limited funding. Our computers are still running Windows 7.” They’ll insert something here. A lot of that is the mindset that can be changed. 

Just because you’re a small housing authority and you have limited funding, it doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of a lot of new technology that can not only help your process but can also make you more secure.

That can also help you clear a lot of the backlog of manual overhead that some IT organizations or IT departments use. There are a lot of affordable products, not specifically related to housing authorities. There are a couple of products that we talk about on a regular basis with our clients that cost a couple of hundred dollars that inventory your entire computer network. It provides you daily dashboarding as to what’s going on in terms of your patches, in terms of system availability, where there are any errors that the user wasn’t reporting, what you’re seeing in a system log. 

These solutions literally are a couple of hundred dollars to buy it and implement it. A lot of these smaller housing authorities and smaller organizations, they fall into that rut of thinking, “My IT budget is small. It’s only $10,000, $15,000 or $100,000.”

If you’re a larger housing authority, it doesn’t seem like a lot of money but there are a lot of opportunities that you have in front of you. Especially with dealing with the vendors, you’re already paying a maintenance agreement that’s been approved by an executive board that’s probably $10,000, $20,000, $30,000, $40,000, $50,000, or more. We can maximize what you’re getting out of that money. If you have a bad relationship with your vendor and you stop calling them for support on the product, you’re handing them $40,000 a year that they’re taking and they’re using internally and not providing you anything in return. Just because you have limited funding in your smaller organization, there are still lots of options.

In a lot of ways, the technology industry is geared now more than ever toward smaller organizations, smaller businesses, providing a unique solution, providing you a hosted solution that’s not going to cost you $1,000 a month. It might only be $75 a month or $200 a month. 

A lot of this technology and the opportunities associated with it are available and scalable for your organization. Even if you are a small organization, there are solutions and opportunities. There are a lot of good things out there that can help you in your organization get back on track. In some cases, it’s not as bad as you think in terms of where you are in terms of your technology. We see surprises all the time when someone internally comes up with some great innovation in finding a solution for this. It didn’t cost them more in terms of staff resources or technology. There are a lot of positive things out there.

AV: It’s never more timely than now. Who knows how COVID-19 wraps up, ramps up? The need for affordable housing and especially to those folks that qualify for HUD supplied housing funds, is critical. Where do you go when you’re asked by your state’s governor to stay home if you don’t have a home? It’s more critical now than ever that housing authorities take advantage of all the things you mentioned to become more resilient and more customer-facing, less paper-oriented, and have better processes. Everything is out there within reach as you’re proving with your experience with your clients.

RK: We’re at a great spot in terms of the uncertainty of COVID-19. It’s negative – it’s not something anyone is purposely trying to wish for in terms of how it affects your business process to have more variables thrown at you but we’re seeing it every day. Each state is reacting differently to how they’re doing their operations, whether they issue local orders or the state level orders that affect your staff, the ability for them to come into work, the effect on your clients, those you’re trying to house, your landlords. 

At the end of the day, this is a great opportunity to reinvent some of your business processes to work better for you, so that you know in the future if there is something that is as unpredictable as this situation comes up, you know you’ve got the flexibility in your back pocket to address that. You’ve either dealt with disaster recovery because you’ve been able to move your onsite products into the cloud with minimal additional cost if any, and in a lot of cases, you might even see a cost savings.

This is the time and opportunity to do those particular things. That way, you can go forward knowing that whatever is thrown at you, because who would have predicted this pandemic one or two years ago and it having such a major effect on business operations? You now have the flexibility, the resiliency, and reliability in your back pocket. Sometimes they lower costs than what you were doing before when you were hosting the onsite. You have that in your back pocket now so that you can confidently go forward and know that your operations are critical as they are to your community and are going to keep going no matter what.

This is the perfect time to explore that. A lot of organizations have been forced to explore it, to be honest. They didn’t have to worry about this in 2019, but they sure are worrying about it now because it can expose vulnerabilities and weaknesses. They can be addressed quickly with not as much of a capital outlay as people tend to think they are. Technology is at a great point right now. It provides cost-effective solutions to a variety of organizations, even those that have limited funding, limited staffing. There are still a lot of great opportunities.

AV: It’s a great time to end this show on that note. Unless you have other burning statements to make, we’ll continue this some other time.

RK: We’re good. We covered a lot of the key things that a lot of housing authorities have in the back of their minds when they’re looking at what’s this technology implementation that we’re looking at. 

What is this going to bring to us? Where do we stand? How do we compare to other places? The uniqueness of housing authorities balanced with the isolation that they often feel with those vendors, you get locked into this vicious cycle like that we talked about. There are a lot of ways to get out of that cycle and keep moving forward. There are a lot of great opportunities.

AV: If you’re a housing authority, executive or director, or staff reading this, give us a call. We’d love to see how we can help you. Robert, thank you for your time. We’ll talk soon.

RK: I appreciate it.

AV: Thank you. Take care.

About Robert Kornovich

Robert Kornovich is a Senior Manager at Avèro Advisors with experience in the service industry and Business Administration and Marketing research. Expertise in providing all practical IT strategic planning, business process redesign, system advisory, and project management/mentorship services for various public sector organizations. Konorvich has worked with numerous clients across the nation. Also, he has a certification in Project Management and is a Certified Public Manager from Arizona State University.

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