PDAs (Pretty Damn Awfuls) – Part of the Great IT Con

Isn’t it interesting how people queue up to buy the latest IT gizmo?

This is especially so if they are perceived or promoted to be ‘best practice’.  Much damage has been done to social housing operations and budgets over the last decade by organisations such as the now (thankfully) defunct Audit Commission and the Chartered Institute of Housing (SWoTM) and their promotion of dysfunctional IT.

I would like to share some facts about Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).

The CiH / Mears Charter of Mediocrity for repairs recommends IT as the solution to organisational workforce management challenges.   These devices typically cost housing organisations in excess of £200,000 per year in direct waste. This does not take into account the additional costs and waste they drive in to processes.

Stoke CC and their contractor have just won a TPAS national award for re-igniting the customer experience in their repairs service.  One of the reasons they won was because Stoke CC, based on irrefutable evidence,  insisted that PDAs were no longer to be used and focused on serving their customers instead.  Listen to staff from Stoke CC talking about damage to performance caused specifically through the use of PDA devices.

As can be seen in the film the PDAs are a major part of the organisational problem and not part of any solution.  Procurement so-called ‘best practice’ endorses and sustains the deployment of these pointless costly devices. No PDAs; no entry to the procurement process.  This is a licence for IT companies to print money.

In the last seven large social housing organisations I have worked with and their 13 contractors / direct labour organisations (DLO) the use of PDAs has been shown to directly cause serious financial loss to the client and unnecessary additional profits for the contractors.  In one case alone there was a £2 million pounds loss per year directly ascribable to the use of PDAs. This has now been rectified through removal of these pointless devices and a current focus on meeting tenant requirements.

The so-called ‘best practice’ ‘narrative’ is that using PDAs will allow senior management in an organisation to know what is happening in their repairs and maintenance services.  “Costs will be under control and visible”. This is arrant nonsense of course.  They do nothing of the sort.  They are part of the problem, not part of a solution.

The everyday use of these devices across the UK goes something like this:

  • A responsive repairs request comes in to an organisation’s  call centre
  • The job is assessed by someone who doesn’t understand how all the elements of a building work; given a schedule of rates (SoR) code using repairs fault diagnosis software (of which more another time). An appointment is forced on a tenant to meet the needs of the dynamic scheduling software not the tenant.  It goes like this….. “You can have any time of appointment we choose to give you”.
  • The work is assigned an SoR code and sent to a trade operative’s PDA.  Think back to the problems with this outlined in the film clip by Stoke CC employees.
  • The Trade arrives on site and has been given a time slot, pre-specified by someone who doesn’t understand the work.  No latitude. “do what is on the PDA and nothing else”.  This is ALWAYS the case in my experience.
  • Often the work cannot be done e.g. no materials and the Trade has to tell the tenant to re book the job.
  • What is on the PDA often bears no resemblance to the real extent of the work but the PDA just keeps filling up with more jobs.   Don’t blame the trades people, blame the people who promoted the use of these pointless and expensive devices in the first place.
  • If there are other repairs that need done Trade isn’t allowed to do them, “not on the PDA; so you will have to ring them in as separate jobs and anyway I have 10 more jobs to attend today, so I cannot help you”.  Of course the repairs provider then gets paid for the additional job.  Lovely jubbly; more money for the contractor senior leaders ‘well-deserved’ end of year bonus.
  • Trade then has to get off to their next job after closing this one down on the PDA.  This can and often does take them quite a time (sometimes up to 30 minutes).  Which SoR codes are applicable?……..  “It was a small bit of this one, a bit of that one, a large bit of that one; ah well, I will just say it was this one”.  This is all driven by leaders desire to control cost using a pointless dysfunctional PDA.  Trying to control cost this way is a pointless exercise anyway.
  • The senior leaders Management Information System (MIS) looks great.  But, in reality, it is full of inaccurate nonsense.
  • Job is then charged to the client on the basis of an SoR code.

The best use for a PDA is as torch in a confined space and the best place for them is in the recycle bin.

Thanks for reading.

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