Setting the standard

By Matthew Grenier - on 28/09/2018

In a basement room in an office building just off London’s Old Street, twelve people are busy discussing repairs authorisation processes. It’s not, you might think, a particularly enthralling topic. Nonetheless, it’s a discussion that will impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of social housing tenants.

This is the weekly meeting of HACT’s data standards project group who have been tasked with developing data standards for the repairs process. Despite the high stakes, there’s none of the one-upmanship that can sometimes occur at meetings featuring representatives from different organisations. Instead, the atmosphere is genial, relaxed and genuinely collaborative.

“The ambition of the project was a bit overwhelming to start with,” recalls Amanda Kazer, System and Performance Analyst at settle. “I wasn’t too sure how I’d be able to contribute, but Chris has been really good at breaking everything down, taking it stage by stage. It’s easier to understand now and is starting to make sense.”

The Chris in question is Chris Lees, from OSCRE, who leads each session and gently guides the participants through the initial process mapping stage. Of the twelve people in today’s meeting, eight are in the room, and the other four are dialling in to the meeting. Despite the potential for discombobulation caused by participants being in four different places, the meeting progresses smoothly.

“Everyone is really engaged and focused,” reports Douglas Silverstone, Head of Data at TVHA, who was also involved in the development of version 1.0 of HACT’s UK housing data standards. “It’s quite intensive, more so than the first round. The quality of engagement is higher.”

The regularity of the repairs data standards meetings is something to which all the participants are committed.

“Sometimes we go into a lot of detail,” Amanda says, “but you need that in order to get to the nub of the issue. It’s great being part of something innovative in the sector that will have long-term benefits for benchmarking and integration.”

“This is a place where the sector can come together,” Douglas adds. “Our sector is lagging behind at the moment because of where we are with technology. Common data standards will enable us to make more demands of our suppliers, instead of just accepting what they offer us.”

TVHA is already reaping the benefits of version 1.0 of the data standards. “We were able to pull the standards off the shelf and plug them in,” Douglas states. “It’s made our recent data management project a lot faster and easier, and also means we’re not inheriting the same rubbish from the old system.”

“The standards have been invaluable with our merger with Metropolitan, who are also involved in the data standards project,” says Douglas. “It’s made a lot of decisions a lot easier and taken a lot of headaches out of the process.”

“We’re also talking with an association in Scotland about doing a common analytics channels together,” he adds. “Data standards will enable more of these conversations, making collaboration that much easier to do with housing associations across the country.”

As the participants prepare to go back into the meeting, we asked them for any other comments they’d like to add.

“For me,” Amanda says, “it’s been reassuring to find out that although we’re from different organisations, we’re all facing the same challenges. It’s good to talk with others and share ideas about how you can deal with certain issues.”

“What’s struck me,” concludes Douglas, “is that although the people involved are data people, they’re not typical data people. They’re not just looking at the technology in a vacuum. They also understand the challenges that the business has, which is unusual with tech people.”

Over the next few weeks, HACT expects a number of other high-profile associations and groups of associations to sign up to the data standards project. It means more weekly meetings will be happening across the country to develop common data standards, whether for care and support, income collection or complaints, meetings that will enable housing associations to embrace the full potential of the digital future.

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