Data can help landlords to better understand their repairs and maintenance services, says Colin Middlemass, chief operating officer at Mears
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In my time, I have been to countless courses, workshops, conferences and meetings on repairs and maintenance, but never on the topic of fortune-telling.
However, in my experience, predicting the future is a much needed skill when it comes to providing efficient repairs and maintenance services.
Knowing when that tap might fail, which properties cost more or which tenant age group requires more resources makes planning so much easier. Of course, landlords and service providers such as ourselves have always collected this kind of information, but not always made the best use of it, nor had the tools to analyse it.
Now though, our sector has access to more information than ever before - and, in the age of the computer, collating and making sense of that data is taking our understanding of service requirements to a new level.
Increasingly, repairs and maintenance services, and what we as service providers offer to landlords, are driven by data. This has required a step change in the way we operate, embedding IT technology and, alongside it, the people to implement and operate the systems, into the very heart of our business.
Of course, that is easier said than done and requires time, commitment and funding, but the results speak for themselves.
Our new Mears Insight tool - a kind of real-time ‘data warehouse’ - makes high-quality, centralised data available to the right people at the right time.
This real-time reporting takes us away from the traditional approach of trawling through reports and spreadsheets based on hindsight. Now, up-to-the-minute insights move us towards actually predicting the future with state-of-the-art algorithms.
The results are producing some staggering insights.
Another tool we now use as standard on every partnership is an online portal that uses a geographical information system (GIS) to give an insight into local demographics. Type in a postcode and stats for a local area - such as population age groups, schools, or employment rates - pop up in front of you with a click of a mouse.
Our customer and community teams are using this data to understand our communities better to design and deliver targeted social value programmes. An area of high unemployment, for example, would benefit from projects to increase skills and job opportunities.
Our social value calculator, developed with the Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust, also helps identify return on investment - putting a value and worth on each social value project.
For all their complexities, these tools are simply about putting the right resources in the right places for the biggest impact.
All this is good news for social landlords, whose biggest concerns remain tenant satisfaction and service efficiency. Latest figures show that, despite cuts, repairs and maintenance is still one of their biggest areas of spending.
Our view is that traditional models - of demand-led repairs and maintenance service delivery - are unsustainable for most housing and service providers. It is equally clear to us that data can not only provide the evidence to make services more efficient, but also the direction in which the repairs and maintenance sector needs to move - for a better and more certain future for all of us.
Now that’s something I can predict.