Patrick: 2022 has been a challenging year for the UK property market. For Hyde Group, a not-for-profit provider of homes, the responsibility to step up for its 95,000 customers across London and the southeast has intensified in the post-pandemic world. I'm Patrick Evenden, and on this episode of the Workday Podcast, I'm delighted to be joined by Anna Brennan, finance system implementation director of Hyde Group, who's going to talk to me about the role of technology in helping the business meet its objectives, why data is key in meeting ESG requirements, as well as offering advice to other organisations embarking on financial transformation. Anna, great to have you on the show. Can you tell your listeners a little bit about what Hyde Group does and your role there?
Anna: Yeah, thank you very much for having me. So I work at the Hyde Group. We are a registered provider of social housing, and so what that means for those who aren't kind of that aware of what the social housing is, it's we are both the developer, so we build properties. And then we either sell those outright, we do some shared ownership, but we also predominantly have affordable housing, which we have rented tenants in. And we have just over 100,000 tenants across London and southeast of England.
Patrick: Excellent. And in terms of your role at Hyde Group, what do you do day to day?
Anna: So my job at the moment and for the last 18 months has been implementing Workday, so we have just gone live with Workday Financials back in May of this year and with Adaptive Planning that went live in July of this year. I was seconded to that. So my day job is I'm part of the finance team, and I head up the team that's responsible for the management, accounting, budgeting, forecasting, so all of the kind of internal reporting that we would do, and that's my role. So yeah, my background is that I am a chartered accountant. I'm one of those evil auditors. And I trained with BDO and then worked at Deloitte before moving over to social housing about 10 years ago, worked at a few different registered providers before coming to Hyde.
Patrick Excellent. Well, and what encouraged you to move over to Hyde? It's quite a different field to work in compared to where you were working previously.
Anna: Yeah. I actually used to be the audit manager for one of Hyde's legal entities, so I kind of knew from that perspective. But for me, it was very much – housing, it's one of those things. If you give people a home, you just massively improve their chances of huge amounts of things. So schooling for children, that safe environment for them to be in and to grow up, being able to just get things like having an address for a bank account which then helps you potentially find employment. So housing, it's more than just a place for a roof. It's honestly one of the best things you can do for people to help them really get the most out of their lives and improve their living situations, and I feel very passionately about that, as do most people who work at Hyde. Being able to work for a company that is all about giving back, is all about providing great homes for everybody of a really high quality so that people feel safe, and they have somewhere every day that they can go to and call their own and make their own home rather than just a house. You're working long hours. Everybody does. There's parts of the job you don't like. But when you can kind of get back to, "Why am I here? What am I doing? Actually, I am contributing, and I'm giving back." That just gives you such a lovely sense of job satisfaction. So that's what made me kind of move from Deloitte, where I very much enjoyed the challenges and everything. But I kind of thought I'd always worked in the not-for-profit sector, so government, local government, that kind of thing, housing, charities. And then, yeah, I decided actually what I wanted to do is permanently work for that kind of organisation with that social purpose at the absolute heart of everything they do.
Patrick: And of course, I mean, it's well publicised that there is huge demand for homes and, in particular, for social housing in London in the southeast.
Anna: Yeah. And part of it is I'd love for us not to have to be there. I mean, that would be great, wouldn't it? But unfortunately, there is a real need for that, and so we try to diversify what we do. So we do do some outright sale, we do do some market rent, but predominately it's all about kind of that shared ownership to help people start to get on that property ladder and, hopefully, staircase. Which means increase the percentage of the home they own so that they can kind of that on and reduce the monthly rent. Or for those that need kind of an affordable rent option, that that's there and that that's also there everywhere. So it's not just kind of in new developments and things like that but also looking and making sure that everybody can live in every part of London in the southeast, which is predominantly extremely expensive when you look at the average across the UK, and so it's great to be part of that. We've got some amazing new developments coming up in places like Rochester and Canterbury that look fantastic, and we don't want there to be a difference between the social home and kind of the outright sale next to it. We want everyone to be equally proud of where they live, and we're really passionate to be able to give that to people.
Patrick: And I think as well, I think you said previously that a lot of the people that you work with, they're people that are front-line workers, people that are nurses working in hospitals, teachers working in schools that would otherwise be priced out of the property market in and around London.
Anna: Yeah, and it's great that we can give that to them and provide that to them and help. And yes, the vast majority of our residents are potentially on something, on housing benefit or other things like that, but they're amazing people. They absolutely deserve the best home that they can get and to be able to be near maybe where their families are, near where their work or, as you say, not having to commute for ages because they can't afford to live near other people. And so I think that's a really important part of what you do or what we do at Hyde is making sure that, like I said, we have these great homes for everybody everywhere.
Patrick: Excellent. Thank you. I know COVID-19 acted as an accelerator for change at your organisation in terms of your plans to transform but also to deliver better services. As a finance leader, how do you go about managing that change in terms of planning, budgeting, and forecasting?
Anna: So yeah, we've started – a couple of years into now a fairly ambitious digital program where all aspects pretty much of Hyde are we're ramping up the technology behind it to make us more efficient, make us user-friendly for our residents who, at the end of the day, they're why we're there. They're who we are there to serve. They're our customers. So more and more people are moving online, so we're making sure that we kind of have a front-line service in terms of being able to book repairs or being able to talk to us if there's an issue or you just want some support or help so that everyone can do that both still with offices so people can come in and pick up the phone but also driving more of that online contact because that's what our residents want. You can go online for Boots and order your pharmacy and stuff and everything like that. It should be no different for us. We're a provider of a service to them. And part of that is also transforming the back office, so finance. So our legacy system was 20 years old. It was coming out of support. It was completely not fit for purpose for who Hyde were and are and want to be, and so we needed to find a new platform in order to really help us engage the efficiencies that we knew were there and to be able to spend time helping support our partners on the front line.
Anna: There are customers as finance, though. Here, we have internal customers. And to be able to deliver to them what they need to know. Like how much resource have they got in terms of their financials? Where can they put it? How can they pivot that? And that was really made clear to us with the pandemic where we'd just finished our kind of budgeting round and all of that. And then, obviously, it came kind of in that March time. We then had to redo everything that we had just done because you were looking at – well, we had people going on furlough. Because obviously, if you've got an emergency repair, we were still there, and we were still helping. And our frontline saw us. They're amazing. Honestly, throughout the pandemic, they did not stop that commitment to our residents. It was 100% there. But not everyone could go in because you could only go in for kind of emergency things and stuff like that. So we did have a lot of key workers. But some were going on furlough. Our subcontractors were stopping working. So for our developments, a lot of those had to pause. As finance, we were working from home 100% from day one. So getting all the equipment out and all of that kind of stuff, it turned around amazingly quickly. But it also showed we needed systems that could pivot as quickly as our staff were because they were just – honestly, I cannot sing their praises enough. They were, oh, amazing. We did not drop the quality of the service we gave to our customers at all.
Anna: From a finance perspective, people worked ridiculously long hours to rework all our financial plans and assumptions to make sure that we knew where we were sending the money and we could divert resources to things like cleaning, to getting PPE for our staff, all of that kind of thing. And we were doing it with a system that was incredibly clunky, so we knew anyway as coming out with support, we needed to look for something else. And Workday was just the obvious winner for us when we went through that process. Workday Financials and Adaptive Planning are really giving us very easy-to-use tools that we can then use for our forecasting and our budgeting, our planning. We then can pull our actuals in. It's all very low code or no code. So I'm a finance person. You give me debits and credits, I'm fine. You start talking to me about interfaces and I'm like, "What's that? Is that something in sewing? No, no, that's not something in sewing, Anna." So the ability to be able to just drag, drop, scenario plan without having to go into Excel, clunky formulas that might not be correct. It can corrupt. It has really opened up a new world for us, and it's meant the transactional stuff is becoming easy. You don't have to pay much attention to it. We've set it up and configured it so it works as it's supposed to, which means that as finance, we can then concentrate on what I think's the fun stuff. And we can really support and act as proper business partners adding value. To not just going, "Oh, here are your numbers," but, "Here are your numbers. This is the trend. This is what it means. This is why it's important. This is what you should be looking at." And that's how we add value to the rest of the business. Not just going, "Oh, by the way, you spent £100 too much this year." You need to know the whys.
Patrick: Completely. And I guess as well hot off the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, we've had rising energy prices and there's all of that inflation, which I imagine has put additional pressures on your business in terms of things like the cost of materials and I guess underlying the importance of continuing to find those efficiencies so that those savings can be passed onto – or your customers can be protected from the effects of inflation and rising energy prices.
Anna: I mean, exactly. We are the same as everyone. We're facing the kind of rising costs, so yes. Yeah, cost of materials for building homes. And if it starts to cost 10% more, then that's potentially 10% less houses that we can build in the same year that we were going to, and that means that those families that we were hoping to be able to get into their own place, we can't. So it's things like that. It means that when we're looking at service charges which obviously, we have, so we will have units and potentially flats where we will be charging for kind of the electricity and the cleaning and all of that kind of stuff of the communal spaces. We pay that, and then that gets, depending on your property and everything else. So it's not always, but then that gets recharged to our residents. We're really conscious of if those prices are going up and we're not putting in energy efficiency everywhere that we can do to help them, not only are inside their flats, their costs which they bear directly going straight up, but then their service charges which we then recharge to them, those are going up as well, let alone our own offices. So it's 100% something that we are looking at is how do we build more sustainably? How do we build more better energy efficiency? How are the white goods that we put into our rented accommodations of the right calibre and quality whilst also maintaining the fact that we are a charity? We have a limited number of resources, and if we put too much into one individual place, then somewhere else suffers. So it's always that balancing act between trying to give the absolute best that we can to our residents while ensuring that we don't forget we have a long list of other people who want to become our residents.
Anna: And so it's constantly that balance of how do we put the resources in the right place so everybody wins and nobody loses? And we still, as I say, are making those surpluses to build those new homes. So people kind of talk in our industry about profit being a bit of an ugly word. Well, it's not. The money that we make, the cost efficiencies that we save means that we can build more homes, and you can't do that if you don't get funding. So Hyde this week has announced that we have just entered into agreement with AXA to do the very first for-profit registered provider. So it's a big change for us, but that has meant that we're massively leveraging that capital coming from AXA, and we can therefore build more homes. And we are constantly looking for ways to kind of find that funding. Back in the 1980s, government funding was everywhere, or so I'm told. I'm not quite that old. And that was quite easy to find that funding and build those houses. But these days, we have to be really smart about where we get our money so that we can keep building those homes, and we have to be smart about how we build them because yeah, there's no point in building a lovely flashy home that actually costs huge amounts of money to heat because our residents will then suffer for it. So we have to, right from the beginning, think about our residents, think about what's right for them and what the best value is for them, and deliver that.
Patrick: And what role has Workday Adaptive Planning played in that? Certainly, a lot has changed in a very short space of time in the UK. So in terms of understanding what impact that's going to have on your organisation, how has Workday Adaptive Planning helped in that regard?
Anna: So I'm guessing we're not alone, both within social housing but in more other things is that generally, what we were using was Excel spreadsheets, incredibly complex Excel spreadsheets that we'd kind of send out to our budget holders, ask them to fill in. They would come back into finance, finance would kind of look at them, amalgamate them, load them up into the – it was very clunky, and there wasn't a quick way of scenario planning. So especially when I think about to COVID, we did what was called a COVID budget which completely changed it, so we had budget one, and then we had the pandemic budget that went over the top of it. That was almost like doing the whole process again, so that was a good couple of months' work to put that forward. Adaptive Planning makes it so much faster so you can change an assumption that – you pulled your budget into it. You change an assumption going, "Well, okay, inflation is raised by next this," or, "The cost of these materials are going up," or maybe, "The date of when we're going to finish building this block of flats is going to change, so the income level's going to change," or even today, if we're being really hot off the press, rents are being able to rise by a price cap of 7%. So factoring those kind of things in, it's just immediate with Adaptive. You can absolutely put that in, and you can then kind of look out ahead as to what does that do in the future. And that really shows you very quickly, "Okay, this price-wise had come up." Budgets are only right on the day you finish them, aren't they? And then, you're straight into having to forecast.
Anna: So having a system that is that adaptive, that will make those changes that quickly, just means we can give that information straight away to the people who need it so that our development colleagues or our property maintenance colleagues or our exec team know immediately what those changes mean to them in terms of how much income they're going to bring in, what the costs are looking like, what are the service charges that we're potentially putting onto our customers. And we can give that real-time data, again, to our customers. We're not quite there yet. We've only launched this year. But that's the idea is to be able to get that detailed, specific information so much quicker. And we can already see it. Month-ends are already getting faster for us. So like I said, we're about, oh, gosh, probably fifth or sixth month-end now. And each one, we can see that improvement and that kind of knowledge rising and can move that forward. And means, as I said, we can then provide the analytics behind it, the data insight behind it, rather than just the number. And again, with the budgeting, we're now starting our budgeting for next year, so the '23,'24 budget. And we're using Adaptive Planning for that. We've built some brilliant models around kind of what's our rents look like, what does our workforce look like, so kind of where we may have changed teams or anything like that. And again, that's all coming through in models. It's all standardised. It removes the chance of human interaction as in making it wrong, errors, corruption of data. And it just means everyone's working off the same thing so that then when we get the information back from our budget holders, my poor colleagues aren't sitting there kind of going, "Okay. Well they've done it on a three lines. But this guy's done it on six." So how do we get that together to one piece of information which we can present to the board? And so that's kind of the immediacy of what we're seeing within our first six months of going live.
Patrick: How fantastic. I know as part of the 2050 plan that you spoke about a little bit earlier, ESG is a core focus. As a finance leader, how will you be involved, and what are the most important things for finance teams to consider do you think when it comes to ESG?
Anna: So our ESG report has just been finalised at Hyde Groups. And potentially by the time this goes out, it will have been all signed off and out there on our website. So go check it out.
Anna: And it will give you lots of detail about what the Hyde Group are doing around ESG. But we've always been one of the early adopters in terms of kind of the reporting that's come out and saying that you need to do more ESG reporting. A couple of years ago we did a whole thing around the social value of the pound. So not just what's the value for money you're getting but what's the social value for that, because again, for us, it's kind of going back to what I was talking about the link. If you give someone a home, kids are more likely to be in school, parents more likely to be able to get jobs, so that pound you put in building that home, actually to the economy, is multiplied hugely as to the social value it gives. And we're a social housing. That's what we are. So ESG, the S is what we are, and it's who we do.
Patrick: I imagine as well internally that gives you a greater degree of focus on realising those efficiencies. Internally as an organisation, that probably was a really valuable exercise.
Anna: Hugely. And also really uplifting and motivating to see what a difference we make to people's lives beyond I say just providing a home because it's not just providing. It's so much more than that. And, yes, I know I'm getting very evangelical about this that everyone's like, "Really?" "Oh, yeah, really." This is why a lot of us do what we do. It's why we work in the sector we work in. Can you imagine not having a safe place to go to every time or not knowing where your kids are going to be able to sleep? That's just an absolute nightmare. So to know that we give that surety to people is amazing. So yeah, I will keep wittering on about it because honestly it really does mean a lot.
Patrick: By all means, do.
Anna: It honestly means a lot. As I was saying, when we think about ESG, the governance of how we do things is incredibly important. We're a charity. Our money comes from our residents. That is the primary source of income for us. So every time we do anything, we remember the source of that money. And that kind of really makes you think like, "I can't waste this." Somebody has worked incredibly hard to be able to pay their rent. I've got to take that responsibility seriously. So I can't just kind of, "Oh, well, let's try about this. Let's worry about that," or, "No, let's cut corners here." No. No, no, no, no. People's livelihoods have come to pay for us and for what we do, and they trust us with their families. They sleep in our homes. Their safety is of paramount importance to us. And again, we're very conscious that making things as affordable as we can do, so the environmental side and the sustainability side of that is huge for us. If you look down at what kind of legislation's coming down, green agendas, we need to make sure our homes, the white goods we put in the homes, all of those are energy efficient. And that's not just for the environment, but that's also for our residents to keep their costs as low as possible. So from a finance perspective, being able to kind of say, "Right, we're going to invest in these technologies. We're going to invest in how we do all of this because that will pay dividends down the road," it's like anything with infrastructure. You can't take a one or three-year view. We have a 30-year financial plan because we have to look that far out because what we build isn't overnight, and the money that we invest in those homes and the way we change things won't be recognised immediately. So we have to as a finance team – my FPNA, my treasury colleagues have to look that far out. And we're heavily scrutinised, as we should be by our regulators to make sure that we do all of that. So yeah, there's a lot that we have to comply with, and we need to make sure that financially, we're putting the resources in the right place to ensure we do comply with that and still keep those great homes with that great quality for all of our residents.
Patrick: Excellent. There's a lot of talk about finance automation and the benefits of technology such as machine-learning. Which technologies do you think are going to make the biggest difference for finance leaders in the future?
Anna: So it's a little bit difficult to answer that one because for us, the size that we are, a lot of what I'm seeing that's out there, kind of the destructive stuff, the more AI, more machine-led learning, all of that. We don't produce the volumes where you'll really, really see a massive benefit to that. So I can see that's out there, and I'm very excited for my colleagues. But for myself, that's not kind of – for me, it's things like I was talking about, the low code, the no code, the ability to just drag-drop, and really get that kind of almost artificial planning help in that when you update something, it just flows through with things like Workday where they'll come back and go, "Oh, these things look like an anomaly." Oh, okay, so they flagged to you things that might look interesting, so your management accounts team then go and look at it, so stuff like that that really helps just boost you up even a little bit. That, for us, is a massive leap forward. So it's not that I'm not aware of what's out there in terms of the technology that's coming. But we're not going to be able to leverage that. What we can leverage, wonderful things like Workday Financials and Adaptive Planning, which will just already, as I said, help us move forward. We're never going to be a zero-close company. I mean, my FD might shout at me for saying that. But the realisticness is that we won't be a zero-day close. But if we could be a three-day close or a five-day close and then move forward, wow. That's it.
Anna: So I think the big thing for kind of my colleagues is, yeah, look at what's out there, see what's out there, but don't kind of get over or underwhelmed with, "Oh, my God, everyone seems to be doing this. We've got to be going for it." Go for what's right for you. Push your boundaries. Push your comfort zone, but a zero-day close, which might work for, I don't know, a NatWest or a Barclays or something like that, may not work for you. So don't go chasing that rabbit hole. Chase the three, the five, take those benefits, and move forward with it. And yeah, like I say, I'm not an accountant who can do loads and loads of coding and whizzy formulas and things like that. I've got colleagues who are much, much better at it. So the stuff that's embedded within the no codes, the drag and drop, the being able to kind of just drill in, so pulling something that's in my Adaptive Planning and that I can drill down and it sends back into Workday, so then I can find all the journal types behind it, and then who did it, when did they do it, how does that link into – all of that just saves so much time for me, and that's actually one of my most precious resources is the time of me and the time of my colleagues. The faster we can do things, the more we can do, and so for me, that's kind of where I see the finance – like the technology leading. It's that time-saving stuff. Maybe, in a new life somewhere else, I might be able to take advantage of kind of the machine learning and kind of the more disruptive kind of things, but not at the moment.
Patrick: I might be making sort of incorrect assumptions about Hyde Group, but I imagine as an organisation, you probably don't have a large IT team that you can just pull resource from in terms of being able to make those changes for you.
Anna: We have an amazing IT team, and they're quite big tech guys, yeah, because Finance isn't our only platform. We have a housing management system which has to maintain all of our homes and the rents and the service charges and everything like that. We have a repair system. We have a CRM for our residents. So there is a huge amount of technology that goes to running a housing association, especially a developing housing association, which is what we are. And as with everything, we're very conscious of where the resource is going. So if we start to pull on my incredibly capable tech colleagues to move forward with one area where we might not actually get a huge amount of value out of it, that means we're pulling that resource from somewhere where they could get a lot more. So that's the other thing is I'm here at Workday Rising, and it's amazing. I'm seeing all of the wonderful products that are out there, and in an ideal world with all the money in the universe, I'd be going back going, "Oh, these things are marvellous." But what we have to do is we have to be really realistic and go – again, it's not my money. Where does that money come from, right? Where am I getting the most value at the end of the day for Hyde and for Hyde's customers? That's where we're focused. And so we've put a huge amount of investment into putting Workday in, and it's paying back dividends, and it's amazing. But there was that use case and that justification for it, whereas with some of the other kind of next steps up in terms of technology leading, we just wouldn't get such a big jump. Changing your finance system after two decades, that's a massive thing. So also, I think my finance colleagues would kill me if I put too much more change in. They're like, "Anna, we had the older system for 20 years. We've only just learned the new one. It's been here for five months. Just let us learn this one, please."
Patrick: Well, lastly, final question, what advice would you give to other organisations that are going through the process of transforming their finance systems? What tips or what things did you learn along the way?
Anna: Yeah. Know yourself I think is the big thing. As I keep saying, we had the old system for 20 years. When you've got an old system in 20 years, it's a bit like moving house after 20 years. You find things that you're like, "Oh, my God. I've never looked at that in ages," and that's great. You get to declutter. It's exactly the same. So we decluttered, and that took a fairly decent amount of time, but it also meant that with our nice, shiny new house/system, we didn't put rubbish in there. So we didn't just move something out of the loft in the old one into the new one and you still don't look at it 20 years ago, and so that was one of the big pieces of advice would be is know who you are. Know who you've got and what your starting point is, and try and clear up as much of that before you start rather than doing it as you go along because then you're working from a much better starting position. So we completely changed our whole charge of accounts. We started with, right, what data is it that we need? What reporting requirements do we have? What is it we've got to do for our end users? And then worked our way backwards. And that's meant that we've really slimmed down our processes. We've really slimmed down the numbers of kind of what makes people win those nominals, etc. And that has just really helped us. We got rid of all of those kind of old purchase orders that been around with one pence left on it for years. We got rid of suppliers we hadn't used for five, 10 years – all of this kind of stuff. We got rid of old ideas about, "Well, these were the geographical sections. Yeah, those were the locations that we used 10 years ago. They're not the locations." So being able to kind of start as fresh and all of that. And I would say really put your time in at the beginning to that because that will pay you dividends.
Anna: The next thing I'll say is, if you're doing a finance transformation, meaning Workday's amazing, find the right partner for you. And we've used Collaborative Solutions the whole way along, and they've been incredibly helpful to us in guiding us through it. But also use the right people internally. I'm an auditor. Well, not anymore, I'm not. I'm an accountant. I'm a finance person. And my project team were predominately people seconded full-time from finance. So we've been backfilled, which meant we could concentrate 100% on putting Workday in. And it also meant that we're the end users at the end of the day, so we were looking at it almost from user acceptance testing from day one because we know that when we go back to our kind of our substantive roles, Workday's what we're going to be using. So the what's-in-it-for-me is really clear from day one. It's like, "Well, what's in it for me is you're going to be using this to do your day job, so you want to get it right. And all your colleagues know that you've set this up as well, so you want to get it right or they'll lynch you." Don't see it as just a project that's maybe run by your change professionals or by your tech professionals, bring finance in super early. And again, if you're doing HCM, bring HR in super early. And keep everyone involved that's going to be using it because otherwise, you'll design a lovely, shiny system that people using it on a day-to-day will be just like, "Well, this isn't what I need." So keep that in mind, I think. Keep your end goal in mind. Make sure you've got dedicated resource. Don't try to do this on top of a day job. And know yourself, so know that if you've got a lot of stuff up in that loft, clear it out first.
Patrick: That's brilliant. Well, Anna, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been great speaking with you and learning more about Hyde Group and social housing in London and the UK. And that's all we have time for today, but if you enjoyed the show, you can subscribe at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and SoundCloud. And you can also read more on the Workday blog. Thank you for listening, and have a great workday.