Since 1979, the San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC) has earned a national reputation as a model public housing agency, creating innovative programs that provide housing opportunities for low-income and homeless individuals and families in the City of San Diego. The agency provides rental housing assistance for more than 15,000 low-income households annually, and partners to address homelessness and to develop affordable housing units.
COVID-19 Alters Operations
When COVID-19 hit, the agency’s staff and IT team found themselves scrambling to continue serving families needing assistance with affordable housing. While the IT team had to ensure staff could work effectively from home, staff found themselves burdened by unexpected tasks triggered by their need to work remotely.
Beto Juarez, SDHC’s Chief Information Officer, took steps in line with SDHC’s strategic goal to maximize resources through operational efficiencies and technological innovations. “We were unable to move at the pace we wanted once staff began working remotely. My philosophy is that we don’t need to be experts in everything so I began looking for a partner that could help us address these issues,” he explains.
Quickly Automating Essential Processes With SKAEL
To streamline critical processes, Juarez turned to modern automation options. After comparing his options, he chose SKAEL. “UiPath was complex, while SKAEL clearly and concisely described the business outcome we could achieve and how they would help us achieve it,” Juarez continues.
Though Juarez was impressed with SKAEL’s technology, he did not expect the project to go quickly. “Given the history of technology projects we’ve implemented at SDCH, I expected the deployment of Digital Employees to take 6-9 months. I couldn’t believe we went live in weeks,” he says.
Overall, the deployment went smoothly. However, when Juarez and his team needed assistance, SKAEL responded. “SKAEL’s customer support staff is really knowledgeable and skilled, and stands out in offering excellent customer service,” he continues.
Empowering Staff With Digital Employees
The first Digital Employee – deployed in just a few days – was a virtual agent for the agency’s emergency rental assistance program. This Digital Employee, accessible via the SDHC website, answered all eligibility questions, explaining how to apply for rental assistance, the requirements, who to contact, and how long the process typically takes.
The agency also deployed an IT helpdesk automation Digital Employee to handle the influx of support issues associated with a newly remote workforce. The focus was on managing basic requests such as help with password resets and network access.
Finally, SDHC deployed a Digital Employee to automate part of the eligibility process so its housing specialists could focus on processing housing applications. “The Digital Employee is tailored to match our back-office operations, perfectly orchestrating the flow of information from applications to our case management system,” says Juarez.
Realizing Measurable Efficiencies
Across the board, SDHC and its constituents are benefiting from these Digital Employees. The virtual agent provides quick and accurate answers on the fly, saving interested parties from waiting on hold for lengthy periods as staff looks up answers to frequently asked questions.
With the IT helpdesk Digital Employee handling 30-40% of level-1 tickets, the IT team is freed to help staff with remote technical assistance and situate themselves to work effectively from home.
Now that a Digital Employee automatically handles the eligibility process, the agency has reduced the number of staff involved in the process. As the Digital Employee scans documents and updates content management and case management systems in the background, staff are freed to work with applicants. Moreover, as Juarez underscores, the Digital Employee handles the process more quickly and accurately.
“Even though COVID-19 prevented our staff from meeting face to face with residents needing housing and rental assistance, SKAEL’s Digital Employees are freeing them to focus on tasks that best serve our constituents. Plus, these Digital Employees get better over time. The more they understand the processes taking place, the faster they anticipate what's going to happen next,” Juarez explains.
Gaining Newfound Visibility
Previously, SDHC staff were forced to aggregate data from multiple systems to produce ad hoc reports on critical activity. Through SKAEL dashboards, SDHC gains that visibility via on-demand reports that show details such as how many and what type of people applied for housing assistance, and the questions people are asking. “We like to see how well we are serving the public and these on-demand reports enable us to do so much more efficiently. This visibility can help us understand ways we might be able to improve our services,” he continues.
Planning for Additional Automation
In the future, Juarez plans to deploy a Digital Employee so residents can perform self-certification to prove they are eligible for benefits from the housing commission. “This process ensures we’re delivering the right services and that only eligible people receive them. We will use a Digital Employee to quickly handle what would take one of our staff 45-60 minutes, everything from verifying someone qualifies for assistance to ensuring the right documents are uploaded,” Juarez explains.
As Juarez says, SDHC is fortunate in that it receives healthy funding for technology. This is largely due to being one of only 39 public housing authorities nationwide, out of 3,400, to receive a Moving to Work (MTW) designation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “This designation allows us to offer a unique program and with SKAEL Digital Employees, our staff can better deliver on that mission,” Juarez concludes.