Marches Energy Agency (MEA) is an independent charity supporting communities in the Midlands area. MEA’s overriding objective is to support households by delivering practical solutions to reduce fuel poverty and cold homes. The charity actively promotes energy reduction and encourages the uptake of renewable energy.
There are over 75,000 households struggling to stay warm in the areas that MEA supports. With the help of regional partners, they are working hard to tackle this issue.
MEA is working towards:
- Supporting vulnerable households to live with dignity at home so fuel poverty does not start to affect their physical and mental health – they also provide support for better energy bills.
- Helping households make their homes more energy efficient, warmer, and cheaper to run, producing significantly less carbon and generating their own power.
- Promoting trusted local companies who can install effective energy saving measures, and employ a local workforce, thereby helping to invest and encourage growth in the local economy.
- Encouraging communities to work together to share knowledge and learning to create more vibrant and resilient places.
- With the future impact of climate change, MEA wants to see a more significant leadership role from Local Authorities, preventative health organisations, faith networks, colleges and NGOs who are able to influence, train and inspire a shift to a low carbon society.
Two charity organisations, Marches Energy Agency (MEA) and Act on Energy (AoE), have created a partnership to deliver a joined Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system centred around fuel poverty and household retrofit works in the West Midlands Combined Authority area. To help with this, the partnership received a grant from the Warm Homes Saves Lives Programme – a West Midlands Initiative to tackle growing fuel poverty crisis.
Existing databases used by fuel poverty organisations are outdated, labour intensive, and do not synchronise well with other IT systems, either within an organisations’ day to day operations or with external systems. Some activities and essential reporting must be done manually or using workarounds which lead to inconsistent processes, overloaded databases, and time spent on unnecessarily repetitive tasks. The types of business data management tools used also made it impossible to link the MEA and AoE existing CRM systems, or scale these to accommodate both charities.
One of main challenges that MEA and AoE faced was selecting the right CRM system that would fulfil both their requirements. The CRM system was required to not only support their daily needs, but also to provide a holistic and detailed dataset for the local authorities and their fuel poverty organisation partners to use. The Warm Homes Save Lives CRM would be used by local authorities and fuel poverty organisations to coordinate a prioritised fuel poverty support service.
The goal of this project was to replace the outdated customer database systems with a modern Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool to streamline day to day data collection processes and make caseloads easier to manage from a caseworker perspective, while also ensuring data can be easily shared with relevant partner organisations and local authorities. This tool would be used by AoE and MEA, initially, with scope for it to be used by other partners including local authorities, with the potential of regional and national use. The Think Beyond Data team agreed to support MEA and AoE to deliver the CRM system that would meet their business needs.
To support MEA and AoE in delivering a joined Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, the Think Beyond Data team was involved in a large range of activities. In the initial requirements analysis stage, the team reviewed and helped to refine and prioritise the CRM system requirements. Not all requirements from both organisations could be realised given their limited funds, hence non-essential or costly functionality was postponed for future system development.
Various off-the-shelf CRM tools and retrofit programme software were considered to fulfil ‘must-have’ requirements, with Microsoft Dynamics and Parity Projects software being most promising candidates. Since neither MEA nor AoE had specialist IT knowledge, the Think Beyond Data team offered impartial advice on systems’ capabilities and technical specification. Neither of the two tools could fulfil all ‘must-have’ functionality and would have to be integrated. After a careful specifications review, it was decided to pursue custom-build Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM system with Power Apps and Power BI ad-ons. Technology Management (TecMan), an independent developer and Microsoft partner was contracted to deliver the CRM solution.
During the CRM development stage, the Think Beyond Data team assisted in refining the system specification to ensure that the delivered functionality met the requirements. It was also important for the system to be flexible and to accommodate future development and integration with other tools, if required. The team also investigated Domestic Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) Application Programming Interface (API) to assess whether public EPC Register can be easily integrated with the CRM system to automatically load EPC data.
Finally, at the deployment stage, the team assisted MEA in data migration activities. Historic and present data from Access Database was exported, reformatted, and cleaned for import into new Microsoft Dynamics CRM system. It was important to preserve as much business data as possible to enable seamless transition to the new CRM system, which was successfully completed.
MEA now have a functioning CRM, enabling staff to work efficiently and support clients from locations around the Midlands. The CRM has been a key part of enabling rapid growth in the last six months. Despite working from home, staff can integrate fully with their colleagues in order to provide seamless support for our customers. Introducing the CRM has been a major step forwards for the organisation. The potential of the dynamics system for further development means we are well placed to introduce more streamlined and efficient ways of working, to better support our clients and keep our funders well informed.
Think Beyond Data brought much needed experience of both CRMs and working with developers to the project. As non-specialists, this was hugely helpful and reassuring at an already busy and challenging time. As an organisation, our reliance on an outmoded system was causing many problems and crisis, and it is not an exaggeration to say that a poorly chosen and developed product would have crippled our ability to continue to provide our service during already testing time. Think Beyond Data’s advice at key points, as well as involvement in day-to-day decision making and other ad hoc support, was extremely useful and I feel contributed enormously to the successful instruction of the CRM.
“Our proposal to Think Beyond Data was that two organisations, Act on Energy and Marches Energy Agency, needed a new CRM to adapt to a rapidly changing funding and reporting landscape across the charitable energy sector. Neither organisation had specialist IT staff and so the advice, teaching and support from Victoria really has been a huge help in helping us settle on a CRM system that was easy to use and just right for our needs. We cannot speak highly enough of the support we have received and would strongly encourage applicants to apply for support.”
Joseph Brookes, Senior Project Officer, Act on Energy