HOUSING FUNDING AGENCY (HFA) CATEGORY: STATE GOVERNMENT
Housing Funding Agencies (HFA’s) are state-commissioned low income housing organizations. They administer federal and state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) programs, the Affordable Housing Assistance Program (AHAP), federal HOME funds, and the direct funding of other housing assistance programs.
While working with a HFA managing over $1 billion in assets, Tricension identified that they had been operating with the same core technology stack for the better part of 2 decades. Working in such a highly-regulated and dynamic environment with limited resources who rely so heavily on antiquated technology has found this HFA struggling to keep pace with ever changing policies and performance expectations.
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Complex data flows
Tricension performed an extensive analysis of the HFA’s legacy systems and processes, making the following architectural observations:
COMPLEX DATA FLOW
UNMANAGED WORK FLOW
Complex Data Flows
The legacy system contained numerous subject specific databases that created a scenario whereby data progressed from database to database depending upon the stage a development happened to be in. Although on the surface this may seem logical, there were numerous exceptions that would affect this progression, not to mention many instances where common data was being rekeyed, introducing many data quality anomalies. It was commonplace to hear HFA associates say “I don’t trust data from that system” or “things always work this way, except in these cases”.
The legacy system was a semi-customized solution that was built upon an outdated data management platform. The solution often experienced performance issues and users had difficulty getting at raw data in a meaningful way. Over time, the availability of resources with expertise on this technology also became quite problematic.
In addition, the user experience associated with this solution was based on system standards built decades ago. It also lacked functionality and the ability to be extended without heavy reliance on the solutions non-responsive support team. To their credit, the HFA created individual Access databases or Excel spreadsheets to ensure work could be completed, but this created significant complexities in the overall management of information. The overall lack of capability gave way to labor-intensive processes that made heavy use of decentralized data and lending itself to poor data quality.
Most of the HFA’s core business processes involved the construction and ongoing maintenance of low-income housing developments and involved 4 basic stages: Underwriting, Construction, Allocation, and Asset Management. Overall these stages were driven by basic checklists that were managed by the departments responsible, but in most cases, they were manually maintained.
Additionally, the activities being performed were done so by highly-trained associates with large amounts of domain knowledge acquired over years of experience. Tricension found in many cases that this knowledge was undocumented and very few associates understood all aspects of the entire process.
With the lack of technical resources on-hand, the HFA became highly dependent upon the legacy system’s creator to support the changes in the business. As the platform became more and more antiquated, so followed the vendor’s ability to support changes in a timely fashion.
When changes could be made, the stability of the platform came into question.
Because of these observations and in collaboration with the HFA, Tricension established the following business needs:
Create a strategic roadmap for a slow-but-steady replacement of the legacy system to allow for improved functionality and more costeffective support and maintenance.
Replace the multitude of Access databases and Excel spreadsheets with a centrally-managed database to eliminate data duplication, minimize data redundancy, and improve overall data quality.
Introduce a workflow automation platform that supports the ability for the HFA to get their processes out of the minds of individual associates and potentially enabling them to do more with less resources.
Utilize a cloud-enabled technology stack that enables HFA to be as self-sufficient as possible.
Due to the nature of their business needs and the limited budget at play, the solution proposed by Tricension instituted several core architectural patterns using a “buy vs. build” approach. The goal was to leverage commoditized functionality as much as possible through the purchase of new tools or repurposing of existing ones already owned by the HFA. Anything that was needing to be built would be specific to HFA’s business needs, or in a more generic sense, those of a Housing Finance Agency (HFA).
The primary areas of focus were: Data Management, Forms Development, Process Automation, and Infrastructure.