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Social housing doesn’t just need to digitize. It needs to digitalize. Here’s why…

By Alan D. Duncan | November 29, 2016 | 0 Comments

Information ManagementData ScienceData QualityData GovernanceBusiness IntelligenceBusiness AnalysisAnalyticsData and Analytics StrategiesTechnology and Emerging Trends


I have been privileged to participate in several events organised by the UK National Housing Federation recently, and I will be part of a forthcoming a panel discussion at the NHF IT in Housing conference on Thursday 7th December, where the topic will be “Big data and the three Vs (volume, velocity and variety)”.

There are some interesting things beginning to happen in social housing in relation to the adoption of new technologies, and I think there is much more opportunity than the sector may even realise.

In common with other not-for-profit sectors, social housing is seeing mounting service level expectations and increasing budget pressures. Noting the accelerating prevalence of new technologies, the National Housing Federation has  shown a lead to its member associations and identified the need to transform the social housing sector to modernise and be more digitally aware. Initial initiatives might include offering clients the ability to raise a maintenance request via a mobile phone app, or to pay a bill online, or to have a well-maintained Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section on the website.

However, moving towards transacting digitally or “digitizing” the business, is only the first – necessary – step. Indeed, quite frankly it is the basic minimum for any organisation in the 21st century. And even in that, from the feedback in the conference sessions I’ve participated in with NHF, the sector is generally moving too slowly in my view (with a few notable exceptions perhaps). I suggest that the sector could take a massive leap forward by embracing the technology innovations of mobile, internet of things and business analytics – technologies that are already proving their value in other business sectors. There is a huge amount of innovation available to the social housing sector, that could be easily adopted to improve service and reduce operating costs.

A few examples of the “art of the possible”:

  • Cheap electronic sensors fitted to every boiler, so that maintenance can be performed proactively, rather that waiting for an equipment failure.
  • For sheltered housing, giving residents a “panic button” app on a mobile phone, rather than (or in addition to) the expensive physical “red button” and pull-string alerting.
  • Self-service chatbots to provide online assistance for a range of common resident problems, allowing the call centre to focus on more complex, time consuming incidents.
  • Automated planning and routing for maintenance and cleaning teams, to optimise the work schedule.
  • Machine learning algorithms that analyse warranty claims for fraudulent behaviour.
  • Dynamic budgeting models that allow financial planners to examine a range of scenarios and dynamically adapt the association’s expenditures according to changing conditions.

All of these are digitalization scenarios – where a “digital first” mindset is applied to the process scenario, and where data and analytics are core to enabling the service design and operation. This requires housing associations must embrace modern business analytics in order to to survive and thrive. A capability to treat information as an asset is also needed, if associations are to realise the potential value of a digitalized business model.

The technology challenges of modern business analytics and big data are perhaps difficult enough (particularly if there is no prior experience of delivering basic business intelligence). However, what really matters are the business innovation opportunities that they drive. To that end, I suggest housing leaders must focus on big data analytic initiatives with characteristics that prepare and exploit the business context of analytic data: variability, veracity and value. New innovation ideas,and proof-of-concepts that allow the association to learn quickly, will be critical to gaining momentum. Experiment, develop a flexible and adaptable approach, and seek outside help to get things moving. Optimise and orchestrate the best ideas and adopt them into your business operations.

I hope to see you at the NHF event on the 7th, and I look forward to a lively debate on the topics of digital business and analytics.

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