End of an innovative era

By Matt Leach - on 26/10/2016

In December, I’m going to be leaving the housing world to join community funder Local Trust, after five amazing and enjoyable years heading up HACT, the housing sector’s in-house ideas and innovation agency.

In many ways I’m leaving at precisely the wrong time (although for incoming CEO, Andrew Van Doorn, its arguably great timing…).  Because 2017 feels like it is going to be the year when housing stops talking about innovation and starts to put it at the heart of their business vision.

With financial pressures on the sector increasing, the state in retreat (and likely, in any event, to be Brexit-befuddled for the foreseeable future), and tenant experience outside of housing defined by a world of on demand services, instant delivery, streaming media, platform based services and always on connectivity, the case for radical reinvention of housing businesses has never been higher.

The case for common data standards has never been higher.  Offering the potential to open up the closed and sleepy world of housing technology, remove costs from organisational collaboration and create new opportunities for data-driven innovation.

That work now looks to be about to take off, as a forward looking group of housing providers look set to collaborate to make this a reality, working with HACT and building on the experience of the CORA standard in the Netherlands to make UK housing data standards a reality.

The recent launch of i4h’s modernised benchmarking service, looks set to bring much needed new thinking and competition into the benchmarking space, with HACT contributing innovation partnerships emerging from the initiative, and contributing significantly to the development of next generation data-led performance comparators during 2017-18.

Alongside that, work on new approaches to resident satisfaction, better reflecting the new environment in which residents live and housing providers operate, are being developed by HACT for a consortium of major housing providers, are set for launch in mid-2017.  And in November, we’ll be publishing the outcome of a year-long project looking at the impact on bottom line business costs of tenancy support activities.

We are seeing rapid sign up by contractors and landlords to HACT’s social value and procurement framework, enabling landlord businesses to mainstream the delivery of social value through their supply chain, embedding social impact in the way they do business in a way that old style community investment never found possible.

And HACT has been lucky enough to work with some great organisations transforming their housing and social care offers to successfully work with the NHS.

This reflects the rapid shifts in funding, with local government in continued retreat and health-based spending an increasingly important part of the business landscape.

Looking forward, we are extending our support to NHS Trusts, helping them reform their care pathways and work successfully with housing. Brokering understanding and new relationships is now a key part of our work.

Early market testing of HACT’s Digital Governance initiative is already generating huge interest – and in November we’ll see the launch of a unique partnership offer between HACT and leading digital talent agency Hannington Tame, to bring digital leaders from across the commercial sector onto housing provider boards, to help the sector drive forward the digital transformation initiatives so many are planning over coming years.

Finally, HACT’s technology transfer and innovation initiative, is attracting a growing number of groundbreaking tech start-ups as well as some exciting bigger players, looking to pilot and then mainstream great new technology led solutions across all aspects of housing provider businesses.

But it is not just in HACT that great and innovative solutions are emerging.  Last week I saw a demonstration from one of our major housing software providers of a potentially game changing “Uber for housing” prototype repairs and maintenance system which – if it makes it to market – could transform how housing businesses deliver their services.

There are a lot more great ideas out there, about to emerge as ever more capable technology expands what is possible.  And don’t get me started on the potential of FuzzLab’s almost-there AI-driven repairs diagnosis model…

The coming year is going to be an exciting one for housing innovators.  I’ll be gutted to miss out on it.  But I am confident HACT will be there in the mix, continuing to provoke, inspire and enjoy working in what – despite it all – is one of the most exciting, committed and dynamic sectors I have ever been lucky enough to work in.


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