Inside Housing, in association with Capita One, asks the sector about the challenges and potential of data and technology. Picture by Getty
Technology has the potential to transform every aspect of our lives. In the housing sector, we have access to more sources of information than ever before. Innovations including smart home systems, self-service apps and data analysis tools can all be harnessed to drive improvements in efficiency and service standards. But there’s little value in innovation for its own sake. How can we make sure technology drives change for the better?
Inside Housing and Capita One have come together to canvas the sector on the challenges involved in technological change and the potential power of information. Our survey of senior housing professionals seeks to uncover the biggest obstacles to adoption of technology, the likely scale of future investment, and the most exciting areas of innovation. A total of 179 respondents took part, including chief executives, directors and heads of service from housing associations, councils and ALMOs across the UK. Their responses reveal a mixed picture in terms of data use so far, and a wealth of opportunities for information to be used more effectively.
The survey indicates big differences in the extent to which data is currently used. One in five respondents say their organisation uses data to understand the needs of residents most of the time. But just over two in five say this only happens sometimes, and 13% of those surveyed say this happens rarely. More than 40% of respondents reveal frontline teams rarely have easy access to the information they need. Fewer than one in 20 surveyed say frontline teams have access to this information all the time. Less than a third of respondents state mobile teams have access to the same level of information as their colleagues in the office.
Any organisations struggling with technological change risk failing to keep pace with residents’ expectations. Michelle Tyler, housing director at Capita One, says online retailers have paved the way with personalised services and many customers now expect a similar service in other areas of their lives. “If you call your housing provider, you expect them to know about you and your property,” she says. “They need to provide quality homes and offer the best customer service in a sector which is evolving and becoming more competitive in offering great services to those in need.”
Our survey respondents, most of whom were drawn from the top tiers of management, indicate relatively high levels of data adoption. More than one in three say they use data, both to monitor services and understand future need, most of the time. Only 6% say they rarely or never use data in this way. But the results also suggest there is still work to be done to communicate the benefits of technology more widely. More than one in five survey respondents say cultural change is the biggest technological challenge facing their organisation.
Ms Tyler says organisations should explain how everyone can benefit from increased access to data. “You need to take the staff on a digital journey with you,” she says. “This is not just about cutting costs. It’s about allowing teams to have a greater impact on residents’ well-being. It’s important to bring staff into that vision.”
Better use of data can improve life for housing professionals as well as residents – providing greater job satisfaction and the time to focus energy on the most rewarding aspects of their work. Ms Tyler says: “Providing a multi-channel digital service is also about freeing up key staff to work on more complex cases rather than high-volume routine requests.”
For this kind of vision to be realised, Ms Tyler stresses that technological change should be driven by the needs of residents in the first instance. More than one in four of those surveyed cite effective digitisation of services as their biggest technological challenge. Ms Tyler adds that it’s important to appropriately deploy technology to support residents: “For providers specialising in over-55s or those living in sheltered accommodation, accessing a self-service portal to log a repair request may not be the most appropriate channel.”
“Demographics and local nuances need to drive that digitisation of services,” she adds.
This is where staff expertise can prove invaluable. Ultimately, organisations can gather endless amounts of data – but it’s almost useless without additional knowledge gained from years of combined experience in the housing sector. “It’s not just about collecting the data, it’s about what actions you then take,” says Ms Tyler. “If you’re not analysing the data you’re not providing the value you need. Making the data more digestible allows you to add intelligence about your residents and local area, which means you can then build the right services.”
More than one in three respondents say predictive information will have its biggest impact in the form of self-service tools, combined with automation and artificial intelligence. Nearly one in four say it will be of greatest help in identifying vulnerable residents, while one in five point to asset management as the biggest potential area of change. Only one in 10 say predictive information will have the greatest impact on payments and rent collection.
Ms Tyler says housing organisations or councils should think broadly about possible applications for information technology. “Data analysis can really help drive revenue for reinvestment to improve living conditions for your tenants, and provide affordable housing for those most in need,” she says.
Whatever the likely applications, more than 70% of those surveyed say their organisation will be making an investment in data analytics in the next 12 months. Ms Tyler stresses the need for organisations to keep their strategic priorities in mind. “It’s more than just looking at what you do now and thinking: ‘We’ll just digitise that.’ You need to understand what your strategic goals are,” she says. “Technology offers an opportunity to think completely differently about how you interact with both your properties and your residents.”