Over the past 25 years the student housing sector has been transformed.
Where once the idea of student housing conjured up memories of shared dilapidated accommodation, these days, for many students, the accommodation they find themselves moving into may have more in common with hotel style living and include study rooms, games areas, gyms or cinemas.
The change began back in the early 1990’s, when the private sector realised that due to a lack of capacity in the University accommodation there was a potential market for students who were unable to find available accommodation close to Universities. As a result, the Private Sector started to provide Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) to meet this gap in the market. Since this time and, driven by the increasing numbers of students coming from overseas and an ever discerning student base, the numbers of PBSA bed spaces has increased to 568,000* in 2016.
* Cushman & Wakefield Student Accommodation Report 2016
Managing student accommodation effectively
Of course, such accelerated pace of PBSA provision, inevitably has led to an increase in growing pains. In the days since the first PBSA was introduced in the UK, many Private Sector companies and Universities themselves have recognised the merits in providing PBSA accommodation to students in high volumes.
However, as shown below, the accommodation lifecycle associated to these properties involves many elements including the initial marketing of a property through to handling of a request for a viewing appointment, management of property availability to student check-in, billing and maintenance, welfare requests and the final check-out activities.
As a result, many organisations, both Private Sector and Universities, have struggled source affordable systems capable of effectively managing this accommodation lifecycle. Traditional ERP system approaches have led to a high associated cost involved in housing expensive database and IT infrastructures. Such high costs have often been exacerbated further by PBSA organisations managing large dispersed property networks, particularly in the private sector where companies focus on providing accommodation within key University cities. As a result, student accommodation organisations have historically been reluctant to commit to introducing large integrated solutions capable of managing their accommodation networks.
The net result has been that many organisations in the PBSA sector continue to retain their original IT systems and manage the complex accommodation lifecycle processes using disparate desktop based legacy systems or spreadsheets. Inevitably, this has resulted in largely inefficient business processes being retained with significant manual overheads, multiple versions of the truth and organisations struggling to extract key business critical information in meaningful timeframes.
Organisations have therefore struggled to keep pace with the high levels of customer service demands associated with the student accommodation lifecycle. This has led to a reduction in customer satisfaction scores and an increase in student churn with students moving to competitor accommodation.
The merits of a Cloud based approach
Fortunately for organisations acting in the PBSA space, there has been a move in recent years towards providing affordable, scalable and reliable solutions capable of managing the accommodation lifecycle. With the arrival of viable and now mature Cloud technology, there is no longer a need to purchase and maintain expensive hardware and associated IT infrastructures. Instead these organisations are now able to adopt enterprise-grade IT infrastructure that’s extensible enough to accommodate growth, requires minimal capital expenditure and yet can provide flexible, agile solutions to PBSA focused organisations to manage their processes.
Cloud solutions provide all the key elements that have historically acted as blockers to the PBSA sector moving towards solutions capable of managing their accommodation lifecycles.
Low Cost – The use of Cloud solutions avoids large capital expenditure being incurred on implementation services, hardware and upgrades. It allows small to medium sized organisations that have limited IT resources to focus on running their businesses rather than their IT, allowing them to take advantage of a wide range of products from solutions to storage which can be scaled on demand as their organisations grow. This is of particular importance to organisations operating in the student accommodation sector who continue to experience substantial growth.
Flex on demand – Cloud environments provide elastic capabilities that can expand and shrink based on demand. When demand is cyclical, capacity can be increased or decreased with organisations only paying for what they use. This is particularly attractive to student accommodation organisations that often align their accommodation capacity with the academic year resulting in lower capacity being needed in summer months.
Innovative Solutions – With Cloud Infrastructure, organisations can rapidly deploy new systems, solutions and projects to take them quickly to the forefront of their sector. No longer is there a need to undertake large scale projects to implement solutions. Instead solutions can be deployed and configured quickly avoiding the need for lengthy, expensive IT projects and allowing organisations to quickly deploy targeted solutions to the PBSA sector.
A Cloud based approach to managing student accommodation
Working alongside market leaders within the student accommodation sector, Claremont has designed and delivered a Cloud based solution for managing the accommodation lifecycle.
The solution focuses on providing a comprehensive set of standardised processes able to manage the student accommodation lifecycle from initial construction, through marketing, viewing and sales processes, to ongoing customer servicing and support. It integrates the front-office sales and service functionality managing student booking, maintenance and welfare requests with back-office inventory and finance functionality to manage all maintenance stock, student billing, debt collection and accounting activities.
The solution is focused on the two core elements associated to managing student accommodation successfully, namely the managing the Room and managing the Student.
Each student room record is defined as an asset in the system linked to the parent property. The occupation and booking activities associated with the room are managed through a master room ‘availability matrix’, which is used to track the status of the room from the room offer stage through the booking and to the final tenancy completion.
As well as tracking the room occupation, key room attributes such as room size, orientation and gender occupancy – can be held against each room. This enables customers to select rooms according to their personal preferences.
Each booking is managed through the creation of a tenancy agreement which defines the period of the tenancy, the room linked to the tenancy and the associated tenancy billing schedule.
Crucially, the ‘tenancy management’ solution also allows for the downstream lifecycle of contract bookings including tenancy terminations, transfers and expiries
Customers can terminate their bookings early, with the system able to calculate any termination charge/credit that needs to be applied at the point of termination. The solution also provides functionality that can manage a customer wishing to move rooms. For example, the system could be used to simultaneously perform room inspections at check-out and generate charges for any damage incurred.
Marketing and Sales
The Claremont Student Accommodation solution uses Oracle’s Marketing Cloud module to allow properties to be marketed to potential tenants through multiple channels including email, mobile, social and web based advertising.
The same rooms can be offered against different tenancy types for different durations at different prices allowing you to maximise your offerings to potential tenants.
Maximise Billing Income, Minimise Debt
The solution further integrates as standard with the Oracle Financials Cloud. The billing of tenancy agreements into Oracle’s Cloud Receivables module allowing rental and services to be collected via Direct Debits from customers whilst any delinquencies can be chased through collections strategy integrations with the Oracle Collections Cloud.
Understand the profitability of your properties
Oracle’s powerful Cloud Finance modelling functionality using Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service (PBCS) allows you to track all costs and revenues associated with individual properties and their associated tenancies and to pull these together using comprehensive modelling templates which attribute all maintenance costs and rental and service revenues to specific rooms, tenancies or properties. This allows PBSA organisations to understand the profitability of individual rooms or tenancies within their properties allowing for decisions such as replacement versus repair assessments to be made on individual rooms, sets of rooms or properties.
Multiple tenant communication channels
The solution recognises that the channels student customers wish to interact with PBSA providers are no longer restricted to e-mail or phone.. The solution therefore makes significant use of Oracle’s Cloud Customer Experience (CX) Social Cloud Channels enabling service to be delivered across communication channels such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram on top of the email, phone or on-line chat communication channels.
The Student Accommodation Cloud solution also provides functionality that empowers service desks to deal with tenants via an online booking portal. New lettings, extensions, statements, check-ins/outs, early terminations and other key tenant activities can be performed via this Booking Portal.
An optional tenant portal provides tenants with direct access to their key tenancy information giving them the ability to pay rental or to raise service requests into the Oracle Service and Field Service Cloud modules from the portal.
Mailer integration ensures that tenancy documentation can also be issued through the email channel to allow tenants and their guarantors to accept tenancies online.
Maximise additional purchases
Integration with Oracle’s Purchasing Cloud allows additional ‘Add-On’ items – such as bedding packs, utensils and access to broadband – to be sold separate to lettings. Once placed, an order can be directed to third party suppliers for direct delivery to customer rooms ensuring that delivery dates are aligned with customer requirements.
React to tenant demands
Student tenancies can be linked with any Service Level Agreement that may have been agreed between you and your student tenants. This ensures that any reactive maintenance service requests lodged by tenants through Oracle’s Field Service Cloud can be resolved within agreed timescales. These service requests can be captured directly via the online booking portal, call or email centre or even via Oracle Service Cloud’s numerous social channel integrations.
Further, should you wish to integrate any planned maintenance schedules, you are also able to generate these alongside reactive maintenance requests allowing the same maintenance staff to deal with both via their service dashboard accessed via laptops or mobile devices.
Summary – a scalable and flexible solution
The student accommodation sector has grown rapidly over the past 25 years. With an ever-increasing demand, both from UK and foreign students, it is likely the sector will continue to develop exponentially over the coming years.
This means that there is – and will continue to be – an increasing need for optimised systems that can manage the high volumes of student bookings and their associated maintenance and financial elements.
Student accommodation companies in the PBSA sector need to be able to manage the immediate demand for bookings and rentals; but they must also be flexible and scalable enough to accommodate future growth in this fast-paced sector.
With the growth in Cloud based solutions providing affordable, scalable and reliable system solutions capable of managing the student accommodation lifecycle, student accommodation organisations no longer need to purchase and maintain expensive hardware and associated IT infrastructures. As a result, there has never been a better time for PBSA organisations to adopt Cloud based student accommodation solutions.
Claremont’s Student Accommodation Cloud solution provides the PBSA sector with a comprehensive Cloud based accommodation lifecycle solution offering comprehensive property booking and maintenance functionality combined with a wealth of integration with Oracle’s Financials, Purchasing, Service and Field Service Cloud solutions. This ensures PBSA organisation’s are quickly able to benefit from a streamlined booking, finance, service and maintenance solution without incurring the overheads associated with traditional ‘On-Premise’ solutions.
As Principal Functional Consultant, Ian is primarily responsible for designing and implementing tailored functional client solutions relating to the Service, Contracts and Financials business areas. He has extensive involvement in functional presales.