Housing Technology magazine: Big data – Time to pool our resources?

By Matt Leach - on 22/07/2013

It’s time the housing sector raised its game on data, creating its own shared big data resource, pooling data resources from across the sector for shared insights, data-led innovation and the development of new tools. But it shouldn't stop at existing sources of data, and if we’re going to make the most if it, we need to look beyond the sector for groundbreaking expertise, argues Matt Leach, CEO of HACT.

This blog was originally published in July 2013's edition of Housing Technology magazine.

Housing providers are data-driven businesses, collecting and harnessing large amounts of data on assets and residents as a core part of their business activities. It sits at the heart of business planning, customer service delivery and asset management. But as a sector, housing lags significantly behind other public services in realising the full potential offered by technology innovations around data management.

The value of data

In virtually every other aspect of our lives, whether its banking, shopping, health or leisure activities, data underpins the products and services we are offered. But poor data management practices, a lack of effective (and common) approaches to data sharing, a narrowness of ambition, and limited appreciations of the value of data as a business driver have stood in the way of customer insight and service innovation across the housing sector. This has stalled the widespread development of the sorts of data-driven tools that would be commonplace in other business sectors seeking to better understand and respond to the preferences, ambitions and behaviours of their customers, and to develop more efficient approaches to delivering more to their customers within tighter budgets.

There are some housing providers breaking new ground in thinking about how the sector can embrace technology-led business innovation: Midland Heart and Aster’s use of GIS mapping; Bromford’s social media focus; and Orbit’s forthcoming reinvention of its approach to digital engagement. And while e-procurement platforms such as Fusion21 and Valueworks have a good track record for driving efficiency gains in housing, these are exceptions. In general, it would be hard to make a convincing case that housing has embraced the full potential of or generated significant value from the data it holds and collects.

Pooling resources

But the sector cannot make that leap on an organisation-by-organisation basis; a sector-wide approach is needed. While individual housing providers collect significant amounts of data on assets and tenants, even the largest providers have a customer base that is very small when compared to other data-rich businesses such as banks and supermarkets. If a similar scale of value to those sectors is sought from the data held by housing, it will need to come from the (managed and controlled) sharing of data across the sector, enabling insight to be generated from hundreds of thousands or millions of residents, assets and transactions.

It’s time for the sector to take a big leap forward into the world of big data by establishing a common repository of housing data encompassing both data held by housing providers and wider sources of relevant open data, enabling insights into service delivery, business improvement and the development of a robust evidence based on the social value generated by housing providers’ activities.

And it might provide the trigger for wider innovation. Mobile data, embedded connectivity and household sensor-based technology (including smart homes and the ‘internet of things’) have the potential to provide massive streams of new data for large-scale innovation. But that dynamic data is of greatest value when it can be analysed and interpreted in the context of the existing (mostly) static data on housing assets and tenant details, preferences and demographics.

The data economy

But if the housing sector is to make maximum use of the potential that is offered from big data technological innovation, it is going to have to look beyond its existing boundaries and embrace partnership with those defining the new ‘data economy’. That is why we have been engaging with Microsoft to launch an initiative to push the boundaries of what can be achieved through sectorwide collaboration around data analytics and wider technology-based innovation.

Over the next few months, we are planning to recruit a vanguard of housing providers willing to collaborate in the creation of common data repository for the housing sector, and showcase and stretch the boundaries of what can be achieved using the power of data analytics.

Early outputs would include the piloting of work to identify what drives tenant satisfaction, and the identification of any causal relationships between other aspects of residents’ housing experiences and reported wellbeing and social value.

Over time, the data could be used for more advanced approaches, including the development of predictive models that could allow housing providers to identify and pre-emptively respond to issues such as anti-social behaviour, maintenance and repairs and arrears, and identify other factors that affect tenant participation, engagement with worklessness and other community investment-related activities.

This insight would be open to the sector as a whole, enabling all housing providers to understand the benefits that might be gained from improving their own use of data.

Finally, it would provide a challenge to thirdparty technology providers of business analytics to demonstrate the value of their approaches to the understanding of housing data.

It’s a radical proposal, and an exciting new partnership for the sector. But we believe it’s needed if housing is to make the leap into the data economy.

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© 2013 The Intelligent Business Company, publisher of Housing Technology magazine

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