While we are collaborating more than ever as a sector, we’re missing one key ingredient which could take us to another level altogether, writes Mark Henderson
Stay with me here for a moment.
Imagine for a second if we had the technology available where a smart system in a house could detect a problem with a boiler.
The system automatically orders the part, which is delivered by courier, or even drone. The customer isn’t at home, so they use the CCTV app on their phone to recognise the contractor through face recognition, the contractor puts in the code to enter the house and does the work.
The contractor signs it off, the smart system does the self-check. An invoice is issued and by the time the driver is in the van, payment has gone through.
While that might sound like a script written years ago for Tomorrow’s World, the truth is, for some organisations, it’s very much today’s world.
This type of technology is available to us – technology which could revolutionise how we operate across our businesses, as well as how we use it in partnership with one another to great effect.
Although we are working together more than we ever have – opening up to each other via things, like the sector scorecard – we are still operating too much in silos, despite having genuinely shared interests. Interests that would not only benefit us but, more importantly, benefit our customers.
Embracing the technology available to us could undoubtedly have a major impact on how we work together, bringing returns like we’ve probably never seen before.
Take maintenance and repairs – one of the issues we all wrestle with on a daily basis. Namely, in striving to be more reliable, efficient, consistent and effective.
Remedying simple issues, such as the different approaches we have to things like door colours, window styles, boiler types, would have a significant impact on our bottom line – not to mention the impact on our customers.
We operate in streets and estates where there are a large number of other associations working in the same space. If we could agree on door colours, window styles and boiler types for that street, it would make those aims that we strive towards more within our reach.
It would also highlight the futility of what we do now, which is to have three vans from three different housing associations going to do essentially the same job in the same space.
We could do away with having generalists doing the job rather than specialists.
If we agreed on a common service standard customer contract, which is pretty much there or thereabouts in some respects, we could have specialists for each community, which means the job gets done right. Ultimately, we’d probably all agree, customers don’t really care who does the work if it gets done properly.
“Implementing AI could revolutionise our maintenance and repairs activity. Understanding our properties to such a level has massive implications, as we start to move from the reactive to the preventative”
Working in this way would also give us much more procurement muscle, putting an end to the market playing us.
Imagine if we established that common service standard and then embraced the type of artificial intelligence (AI) technology available to us.
Organisations outside the sector have done just that and have improved their businesses, along with the experiences of their customers.
Implementing AI could revolutionise our maintenance and repairs activity. Understanding our properties to such a level has massive implications, as we start to move from the reactive to the preventative.
The impact that can have on investment and planning goes without saying.
The type of technology we would need, like condition monitoring, has been around for some time and is being used to great effect in areas, such as shipping, for example.
Combine AI with the available supportive technology I mentioned in my introduction, such as automated fulfilment, transport and payment methods, then that revolution is more an evolution in part.
The revolution, arguably, is more about our ability to agree a collaborative approach.
We could take the technology even further if we wanted. If one housing association contractor was looking after a group of streets – in line with our ‘new collaborative service agreement’ – it will still be possible to maintain brand identity, thanks to the chameleon paint technology that has been developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“The revolution, arguably, is more about our ability to agree a collaborative approach”
For instance, a contractor’s van could drive down the street brandishing one organisation’s livery, do their job, go to the next house in the street with another organisation’s livery and do that job.
Again, this technology is already being used in other sectors.
The impact of us collaborating in areas such as maintenance and repairs, especially using the latest technology, would be dramatic. I’m sure those challenging targets we set ourselves currently would be reached with ease.
This highly possible approach would not only have a massive impact on our businesses, it would have a huge impact on our customers.
For us, we are operating more efficiently, safe in the knowledge that our customers are getting a great service and experience.
For our customers, they feel we are reliable, effective, delivering value for money and, overall, trustworthy – feelings we all strive towards but fall short of all too often.
Collaboration, integrated with technology, is flourishing across other sectors.
I sense there’s a desire to embrace it in ours but for one reason or another we’re not. Because of that, not only are we missing out, so too are our customers.
Let’s push it up the agenda.
Mark Henderson, chief executive, Home Group