May 31, 2007 By Jessica Weidling
As Congress cobbles together the 2007-2008 federal budget, the slice of the pie for public housing authorities looks yet again smaller than the year before.
If the budget passes as is, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, housing authorities' main funding source, will get approximately 83 percent of last year's allocation. However, last year's allocation represented just 85 percent of what was needed then -- meaning the cuts deepen with each year.
With dwindling federal funding, the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA), the fourth largest public housing authority nationwide, used customer relationship management (CRM) software to maintain and improve service to its low-income residents.
The CRM application, deployed in October 2006, helps the housing agency keep up with demand, despite budget-induced work force losses. Even with the decreasing headcount, workers can better handle incoming calls, accurately track client data and monitor maintenance requests.
The PHA -- which is Pennsylvania's biggest landlord, serving 85,000 low-income residents with another 100,000 people on its waiting list -- buys, builds, rents, leases and manages properties throughout Philadelphia.
The agency averages 4,000 calls per day, but received as many as 10,000. The call volume is testament to the area's critical need for affordable housing, said Carl Greene, executive director of the PHA.
Before the CRM software roll out, customers dialed different numbers or visited PHA offices to access information, and employees gave what answers they could off an old legacy system.
"We did not have the ability to organize information, to track information," Greene said, "and we had the redundancy of people taking the same calls, and giving out different answers to the same question."
Greene's idea to adopt the software came after a business trip abroad, where he saw foreign housing authorities successfully using CRM applications.
The CRM suite was also acquired to compensate for work force losses, said John Washek, president of the Massachusetts-based Edgemere Consulting Corp., which assisted the PHA for the past nine years on several initiatives, including the Oracle-PeopleSoft CRM implementation.
The predominantly public-funded agency (some of its money comes from private grants) was forced to trim its work force in January 2007 by 350 employees. Since 2000, a pattern of cuts pushed the PHA to halve its work force -- from 2,500 to 1,250 -- at the same time doubling its customer base.
Because of this predicament, Greene said, the PHA used CRM software to re-engineer its entire organization.
To implement the new software, consultants, experts, staffers and end-users convened in a series of meetings to mold the technology to the PHA's needs. And in an uncharacteristic move for the public sector, the authority spent time up front with the software provider to carve out requirements before issuing an RFP or firming up costs, said Stephen Holdridge, vice president of government and education for Oracle Consulting.
Though it took more work, Washek said, the authority's CRM deployment went more smoothly because of careful planning.
"What happens is neither side has the depth of information to really understand what the final solution is likely to be until after you've gone through detailed design and analysis," said Bryan Howe, regional director of public-sector enterprise resource planning applications for Oracle.
While the move toward CRM might be pass