HousingFirst – Case Study

HousingFirst charts a smooth transition to Business Central during COVID-19 pandemic

HousingFirst, recognised in 2019 that its old accounting system was unable to fulfil their growing requirements. They chose Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central and Payroll Easy from EBS (Evolution Business Systems) to manage finances and payroll for the organisation. Despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 during 2020, EBS successfully implemented the system for HousingFirst in time for the 2020-21 financial year.

The challenge: Replacing the rudimentary accounting package with a system for growth

HousingFirst is a leading not-for-profit provider of affordable housing in Melbourne, with a 1205-dwelling property portfolio worth $365 million that provides homes for more than 1600 people, spread across eight different council areas: The cities of Port Phillip, Monash; Melbourne; Kingston, Moonee Valley, Whitehorse, Glen Eira and Knox. Established more than 30 years ago to manage public housing in Port Phillip, HousingFirst Ltd has grown strongly since 2012, when it had just 822 properties and 1100 residents,

As far as implementations go, I couldn’t have asked for a smoother process.
Narelle Lowe ACF
Liat Lahav
Finance Manager 
Using its strong balance sheet and financial performance to build affordable homes and local communities, HousingFirst plans to add another 769 properties in the next few years. However, HousingFirst recognised during 2019 that its existing accounting software, Reckon, was unable to deliver the level of performance or reporting that the organisation needed to manage its diverse and growing property portfolio. HousingFirst Ltd Finance Manager, Liat Lahav, said the organisation was on a big growth trajectory. “We have a lot of plans in the pipeline for buildings that we’re developing with other developers,” she said.

“With such a large property portfolio and so much going on, Reckon was a bit rudimentary for what we required now and in future, especially as we will increase our properties by more than 50 per cent in the next two to three years.

“There was too much flexibility in the old system, because individual users could access the whole system rather than just their own area of responsibility.

“Basically, it was small business software that was not suitable for an organisation our size that has such broad responsibilities, especially as we used that software for our payroll as well.”

After surveying the market for alternative accounting solutions, HousingFirst identified Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, offered by Melbourne-based business solutions specialist Evolution Business Systems (EBS) as the system best suited to its current and future needs.

The journey: EBS gives HousingFirst ‘smooth’ transition to Business Central

Ms Lahav said the EBS implementation of Business Central went very well. “It was really smooth:  As far as implementations go, I couldn’t have asked for a smoother process,” she said.

“The most important part of the process was that we managed to be as organised as possible because there was so much to do. We had a very rigid implementation schedule, of brainstorming sessions, workshop sessions, training sessions, which had to be done in the right order for us to move through the process.

“As a result of that great organisation, the implementation was pretty quick: The bulk of the system was working within about two and a half months.”

An additional challenge was created by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: During March 2020, HousingFirst was converted to a fully remote operation for its employees.

Ms Lahav said the EBS implementation plan had proceeded even though everyone at HousingFirst and EBS was working from home during the first Victorian lockdown. “It felt like the perfect storm, with everything hitting us as once,” she said.

“Organisation was essential because I had a lot going on at that same time: While we were doing the Business Central implementation, I was working on the 2021 budget as well. Although I was working a lot of hours to make the deadlines, I had the ‘luxury’ of working from home without having to commute, which made it a lot easier and more comfortable.

“We were fortunate in how we just got through all the different stages. It worked like a machine.”

Ms Lahav said an important reason for the smooth implementation was the availability of EBS Senior Solution Specialist Dan Argus. “Dan was readily available whenever I needed his expertise,” she said.

“It’s important to keep in mind that we didn’t implement just the accounting software, we implemented a new payroll system as well, so we were actually implementing two projects concurrently.”

The outcome: “It’s a system that’s smarter so we don’t have to work harder”

Ms Lahav said that despite its intense implementation schedule, HousingFirst’s  five-person finance team was pleased with the result. “I think they’re definitely happier with the new software,” she said.

“For example, with the flexibility of Jet Reporting provides a much more streamlined process which means considerably less pressure during the end-of-month reporting process. 

“Previously it would take an entire day just to do the reconciliation of our income. We’ve now got what we wanted: It’s a system that’s smarter so we don’t have to work harder and can focus our energy on things that make a difference.”

Ms Lahav said HousingFirst’s payroll officer had found the fortnightly payroll process was a much smoother experience with Payroll Easy compared to the former system. “It’s nowhere near as labour-intensive as it was when working with manual timesheets and Reckon,” she said.

“We’re still going through the process of working on how to reduce the manual demands: Our desire is to have as little human intervention in the compiling of the data as possible. Up till now, with the preparation of month end reports and the KPIs, there have been so many manual steps required and formulas that needed to be constantly checked.

“What I’m working on now is to use Jet Reports to extract the data and then build formulas off that data extraction so that it updates automatically as the profit and loss reports update. I think that will continue to improve the presentation quality of the results as well as the integrity of the data without us having to check formulas etc.

“But, already, the time it takes us to do things now is obviously greatly reduced – and it will keep getting better as we learn more about how to best use Business Central.”

Australian Childhood Foundation chose EBS for their business management software

Client Profile:

HousingFirst is an award-winning, independent, not-for-profit organisation providing social and affordable housing. We are recognised as one of Victoria’s largest community housing organisations, enjoying excellent working relationships with industry stakeholders, including the Victorian State Government, developers, financiers, regulators and industry organisations. We are a Registered Housing Association, regulated by the Victorian Housing Registrar. We have over 34 years of financial, property development, tenancy, asset management and community development experience to create some of Melbourne’s most attractive and liveable homes. Our strong balance sheet and financial performance drives our mission to build affordable homes and local communities.

housingfirst.org.au
(03) 9534 5837

Office Location

3/47 Burgundy St
Heidelberg VIC 3084

Postal Address

PO Box 1115
Camberwell VIC 3124

Phone

1300 303 973