The greater complexity of data and decision-making means old housing management approaches are becoming redundant, says Trevor Mole
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How has technology – and specifically data – changed asset management in the housing sector?
The management of tangible assets such as houses was poor, even as little as 30 years ago. Organisations attempted to monitor and maintain these assets without knowing much about what they owned. Good information, together with good IT analysis tools, has undoubtedly been vital in improving asset management. However, decision-making has also become more complex as more information has become available to analyse.
This complexity is leading to many existing asset management systems becoming obsolete. The work now requires new tools that are more intelligent, more comprehensive, more analytical, more collaborative and that stretch out from the traditional ‘operations and maintenance’ perspective of asset management to include aspects such as what to acquire, what and where to develop, what to improve, and what to dispose of.
This rapidly expanding requirement continues to move, as it has done in the past, alongside technology. Asset management software has consequently needed to become more sophisticated, embracing live data, artificial intelligence, information modelling, complex algorithmic analysis and so on. The journey is only beginning.
Is there still a role for more traditional surveying know-how in this new world?
The advancement of asset management software has been held back by a lack of knowledge capture within available software and the use of that knowledge. Often, asset management software is stuffed with information and data of all kinds, much of which is incomplete, but organisations are not benefitting from this, because there is little understanding or interpretive analysis taking place.
Some organisations put too much emphasis on database management and too little on business intelligence. In some organisations, asset management software is almost exclusively chosen by IT managers.
Nevertheless, data is key and non-IT professionals often fail to deconstruct technical reports and information. For example, an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) has limited analytical value, but the data that sits behind it is powerful and provides important business intelligence to inform maintenance and improvement strategies.
Data, information and knowledge go together, and the need now, more than ever before, is to capture and integrate professional knowledge by having more online analytical processing, so that asset managers and decision-makers can have the highest levels of property management intelligence.
At Property Tectonics, we aim to do so by blending construction and property professional expertise and software engineering, and so design and create software.
How can data gleaned from asset management software inform other decisions (in particular, strategy) within an organisation?
Asset management software must be the primary source of property and business intelligence. Data integration is extremely important and key decisions must be made about how this should work. Organisations need to be open and receptive, as must all their software suppliers, to enable data residing in different sources to be used and analysed in a variety of ways.
In our opinion, the core of any asset management system is data and information on every aspect of what makes up the tangible characteristics of the asset. The purpose is to ensure that these datasets are fully integrated, and this requires multidisciplinary teamwork to design and deliver software. For example, an external wall generates data across maintenance, energy, fire, health and safety, decent homes, cost models and other sectors. Change or replace that component and every area of the software influenced by the wall’s attributes needs to be automatically updated.
How can multidimensional analysis help to evaluate stock performance?
The design and analysis of asset management software must be constantly reconfigured to exploit developing technology and changing user demands. Every aspect is multidimensional.
Many social landlords are now, post-Grenfell, focusing on fire risk assessments (FRAs). To many, this is fundamentally an FRA report but to Property Tectonics, this is integrated asset data that produces a statutory FRA report and a set of costs and actions in a maintenance programme. The same core fire data is used for tendering and completed works are recorded and used to update FRA reports as required for compliance. If any components, such as fire doors, are replaced then these components are recorded as new in the database and automatically scheduled for replacement in the maintenance programme for that property according to their life cycle.
How does social value analysis fit in?
Multidimensional analysis is now being taken to another level, as social landlords are having to make important decisions relating to the economic, functional and social performance of their stock. Business intelligence needs to support investment strategies and external funding opportunities using government and private sources.
The natural home for this kind of online analytical processing is within the asset management system. However, core analysis based on things such as the condition and attributes of each dwelling must also be enriched using data from other sources such as the housing management system.
The task does not end there, because an important aspect of any evaluation in social housing must be an assessment of social value. This is where the analysis becomes much more complex, as factors such as the serviceability, desirability and quality of accommodation must be analysed alongside other data.
For example, what is the social value attached to a home that is fully equipped with disabled and accessibility aids? And how should social value influence a decision to sell a property and address other strategic questions?
All these multidimensional factors are not mutually exclusive. For example, desirability scores are driven by residents’ choices, which in turn are influenced by physical (asset) characteristics such as location and energy costs (EPC data). Social value analysis must consider demographics and address the specific needs and demands of different residents, including issues relating to support and physical and mental health.
This is an emerging and complex analysis, and property performance analytical tools need to provide as much flexibility as possible to allow for differing strategic priorities.
Where have you implemented your software successfully?
The final and most important members of our software development team are our customers, who provide context, purpose and intelligence. This input is essential to provide focus and relevance to our work.
For example, the collaboration between leading housing provider A2 Dominion and Property Tectonics is long-standing and is driven by innovation, based on A2 Dominion’s quest to advance software tools in support of its strategic objectives.
Gary Bellenger, assistant director of property services at A2 Dominion, set his team and Property Tectonics the challenge of providing a fully integrated software solution that used the full suite of our integrated ‘Lifespan’ products, including Housing Asset Management, Project Management, Mobile and Property Performance Tool. To meet that challenge, we had to engage with the organisation’s stakeholders.
An essential part of the work also involved integrating external data residing in different sources, such as A2 Dominion’s housing management system, to assist in comprehensive, multidimensional modelling and analysis.
This integration provides A2 Dominion with extensive, state-of-the-art, business intelligence that can inform and underpin its asset management strategies and plans.
Trevor Mole is founder and managing director of construction and property consultancy Property Tectonics, which has developed and delivered asset management software since 1987. He has played a key role in the surveying profession in the UK and abroad, and is a visiting professor at the University of Salford.