5 Lessons on Digitisation and Transformation in Housing

By Shariq Kochhar - October 23, 2019

Transformation projects, particularly with an element of digital, can be tough - especially in Housing. At Plentific, we work every day with progressive organisations across Housing to change their operations, systems and supply chain to make service faster, cheaper and better than ever before.

In this guide, we’ll outline some of the key lessons we’ve learnt with our clients along the way. We’ll show you how crucial the factors of data, communication and culture are to the ultimate success of an organisational transformation or digitisation project in housing.


1. Let data tell a story

Question your data. Do you have the answers? Or do you think you have the answers?

Many of our conversations with housing providers start with a discussion on the power of data. Knowing what you have and don't have is a crucial starting point.

Ask yourself these questions:

How much data does your organisation have access to? Can your organisation report on your operations with it? Can your organisation uncover insights with it?

However, be mindful of the infamous ‘known knowns’ outlook on the levels of uncertainty possible with information. Consider a host of factors that might be currently unknown but are in fact knowable when it pertains to your data. With that in mind, there are questions around data worth asking to determine:

  • If all data-related considerations have been made (eg. are your housing directors aware of all current data and do you understand which decision it might affect/ drive?)
  • If housing teams have considered data they know is being gathered but isn't currently utilised for decision making?
  • If there might be data sets housing teams are neither aware of nor understand when it comes to the housing sector (eg. the unknown unknowns of Brexit and the impact they will have on logistics, procurement, policy).

With trustworthy data, comes knowledge, and with knowledge, comes insight. In his piece ‘10 Kinds of Stories to Tell with Data, Thomas H. Davenport reinforces the idea that good qualitative analysts can tell a meaningful story with the data available to them.

For organisations struggling to balance budgets alongside tenant engagement and satisfaction, this can be the difference between winning and losing. A winning approach would be to invest resources in collating data using a strategic planning approach - thus leading with a compelling narrative to unlock further social opportunities.

Let’s consider Hyde Group, which in 2018 worked with the Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust (HACT) to drive insights on repairs data across its portfolio. Hyde determined that working households cost the group 33% less in repairs than non-working households - an important insight to tailor future services, fulfil a responsibility. But also to enhance its stability as a business and the stability of its tenancies. Driving important insights from this data will mean longer tenancies, lower arrears and better cared-for homes.

2. Be part of the culture shift

We’ve seen that the biggest obstacle to a digital transformation project’s success often isn’t the technical solution, a change in process or even the data. It’s people. Your people. Making a change to process and technology affects every level of an organisation - and each have their own concerns and a reason to resist or embrace change. 

Leaders have an important role to play in deconstructing old practices to make room for new capabilities.

In a recent interview with settle (a progressive housing provider) we learned that when people in key roles - both leaders and the teams they manage - are more involved in the digitisation process, it can create a unified mindset and behavioural drive to make transformation a rewarding experience.

3. Reduce risk and accelerate pace with pilot projects

Setting up a digital transformation project for success relies on showing benefits and value clearly, and early on. Pilot projects are a great way to achieve this and provide three immediate benefits: 

  • The feasibility of a new, transformative system can be rapidly assessed by senior management. 
  • It serves as credibility for wider use across a property portfolio, particularly if a housing provider has many thousands of properties in their portfolio that need a robust system to support.
  • There’s also a cultural element to change that’s crucial. Showing people the thing - the benefits, how it works and what it means for them and their teams reduces ambiguity, push back and reduces resistance to implementation.

We often work with clients to isolate a trial site. Then senior management can develop a roadmap to roll out with project gateways that constantly assess progress and value - feeding back improvements for the next stage to drive more value for the organisation. All while accelerating adoption.

4. Give the day-to-day an upgrade 

Implementing a continuous learning environment can be the first effective step in getting the ball rolling on this 'upgrade'. 

Think of it as an open work environment where individual roles are allowed to evolve. Give teams a say on where digitisation should happen or shouldn’t be adopted. This can further encourage positive ideation in the day-to-day.

It helps to ask: how can I make the most of my people with diversification? 

Should you encourage individual roles  becoming 'holistically re-defined' as part of a transformation? Yes, for a start this helps bridge traditional aspects of an operational environment in housing along with new digital components. It also helps develop internal capabilities.

5. Use communication to build better services 

Communication is at the heart of each of these lessons - from data to cultural shift, piloting new technology to continuous learning. But it's not just important for adoption of a new process or technology: communicating with your stakeholders, from management to operations, contractors to tenants can bring insights that allow you to develop a better solution tailored to organisational and customer needs.

Effective communication can serve two key purposes in a sector-wide transformation for housing: 

  1. Inside: It helps early adoption and you can better leverage the brainpower and expertise of your people. 
  2. Outside: It helps bring about change, show tenants that you're progressive and helps them to shape services they receive.

It also proves useful to explore how effective communication has created positive change in other industries and sectors. Ever wondered if you should explore the opportunities a chat bot provides? (You’d be in good company - booking.com, M&S, even Ticketmaster have seen remarkable results). Should you map customer experience across multiple channels to uncover insight?  Can you build a more holistic picture of a customer’s repair and maintenance issues using a robust platform?

In your route to realising better communication, you should look to tick off the items on the list here:

  • Can your housing teams work remotely?
  • Are you able to devote enough time to tenants/ neighbourhoods in addition to daily tasks?
  • Can your housing teams communicate with tenants using non-traditional means?
  • Can you make advice and help available 24 hrs a day?
  • Are your tenants able to self-serve? (Arrange essential services/ maintenance for their homes, themselves)

Discover how we are enabling organisational transformation.

At Plentific, we’re showing housing providers that it really is possible to reduce costs, improve services and create happier tenants. We’re showcasing that organisation-wide digitisation does not have to take years or months. It can start much sooner. 

It’s why some of the most progressive housing providers in the UK - Notting Hill Genesis, Hammersmith and Fulham, Wandle included - work closely with us to make their housing operations more efficient each day.

If you’d like to know more and see how we can assist you with operational transformation, ensure happier tenants and safer communities, get in touch with us today.

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