Is Housing Really Ready to Go Digital? How far could digital housing providers go? And what needs to put in place to get there?

By Matt Leach - on 07/12/2016

Over the course of this week, I’ve been blogging about how housing needs to radically change its approach to going digital.  On Monday, I blogged about the five main failure points in UK housing’s approach to going digital.  Yesterday, I focused on the three main barriers to change and how we overcome them.  Today, I look at how far housing businesses can go in digitally transforming themselves in 2017. 

How far could digital housing providers go? 

What is frustrating about the current state of housing technology is that the business models, understanding and tools already exist to radically rethink housing business delivery. The technology is already there. The question is not whether, but how far, truly digital housing providers could go in delivering radically better and more cost-effective services, should they choose to do so.

Could we create a housing provider with only a very few staff managing a platform for tenants to self-manage their own properties? Or a business driven by comprehensive, accurate real-time data informing resource deployment and business decisions? Do we need to be reliant on conventional housing management system-based infrastructure?

A few years ago no-one could have imagined Giff-Gaff or Hive or Uber. Looking closer to home, British Gas’ BoilerIQ and similar products stand ready to revolutionise housing and how boiler servicing and repairs are delivered.

As businesses start to preparing for the “post-app era” defined by intelligent agents, cloud based bots and learning algorithms, why are housing providers still focused on channel shift and mobilizing conventional workforces? With machine learning and AI now accessible to almost everyone who wants to explore and/or deploy it, it is hard to justify why some housing providers are still struggling to make sense of inadequate data, poorly managed across multiple systems, often supporting processes rooted in the 1980s and 90s, or basing performance assessment on crudely aggregated cost data that inadequately reflects a diversifying and changing sector.

And what does housing need to put in place to get there?

Housing has the opportunity now to radically reassess its relationship with data and technology. But it doesn’t yet have the people or the tools, particularly at the top of its businesses. The starting point for addressing that gap is to ensure board and senior executive teams are equipped to lead housing into a new digital age.

Housing providers have successfully worked to secure financial and development expertise on their Boards, and increasing numbers of finance professionals taking on CEO positions in landlord businesses. This has driven rapid and exciting innovation in funding and finance across the sector and a step change in approaches to development.  Housing providers now need to recognise and invest in effective digital governance as a first step to delivering digital transformation across their businesses. 

Later this week, HACT will be launching a major partnership initiative to transform digital governance in housing.  To register your interest, contact digital.leadership@hact.org.uk

This is the third in a series of blogs on transforming the housing sector’s approach to digital.  Tomorrow, I’ll be setting out how we can get there - HACT’s manifesto for digital change in UK housing.

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