Tradition to Transformation: How the housing sector can deliver business transformation with technology

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The Social Housing sector has been in flux for a decade, reduction in government funding, changes to welfare delivery and recent tragedies have resulted in increased pressure and a deeper involvement into the lives of registered provider’s tenants. As government subsidies are reduced, providers are forced to look at efficiency gains whilst still delivering a consistent service to their customers.

This reduction in stable revenue has led to an increased role and responsibility for care and management of a varied tenant base. Most have an emphasis on safe and stable communities, supporting individuals through educational schemes and support mechanisms tailored depending on tenant type (GN, IMR, SO, LH, AR, C, DM, FH, MR).

Today social housing providers do so much more than just deliver physical spaces, and this creates the question “How do we do more or the same, with less?”.

In this blog series, we’ll focus on some key areas of business transformation that leverage technology to improve the quality and efficiency of business and customer services, drawing from our experience within the sector. We’ll look at the benefits of transformation driven by people and culture, target process model, process automation, digital and data analytics. In this first blog, we’ll explore the key role people play in igniting business transformation.

 

Why are people so important when it comes to business transformation?

We chose to start with a focus on people because it’s the single most important factor for successful transformation. Even the most automated processes are reliant on people to set and maintain their relevance, so it would be naïve to think that any significant changes can be delivered without human intervention.

It comes as no surprise that the number one focus for executives is creating a culture receptive to disruptive innovation. Without openness, staff and customers are likely to resist change and the investment placed in new technology will be nothing more than a mark on the P&L sheet.

 

How do I inspire my people to be part of business transformation?

Culture is a philosophy and mindset shared across the business that drives the way people work and interact with each other and tenants. To push the needle and move towards innovation there are a number of areas housing providers can focus on to ensure widespread successful adoption of technology.

The first is communication, it’s a seemingly obvious point that is not always managed in the right way, today a huge part of the CEO, CIO and CDIO and technology leader’s role is to evangelise and inspire the kind of mindset needed to adopt new technologies.

Many companies host all-staffs, department specific events and an array of video content to connect with tenants and staff, these are great opportunities to talk about upcoming plans and invite industry peers that have undertaken similar projects. Building confidence and excitement for the upcoming changes and the long-term benefits make adoption that much easier.

There’s a lot to be said for learning from others and one huge advantage of the Social Housing sector is its collaborative nature and openness to sharing ideas and past experiences.

Another way is to lead with a clear business strategy with technology at the heart of it. This will help massively with aligning company-wide expectation on ways of work and the pace the housing provider is going to move. Including IT and key business units in the creation of the strategy will dramatically improve buy in and ensure it’s not seen as a just a top-down directive.

A great of example of this is at Salix Homes where the corporate strategy focused on deliverables and how they would digitise the business. Salix went a step further by branding the technology strategy as “Rethinking Housing” publishing videos and vision statements to both staff and tenants ahead of their cloud migration. Today having completed that journey, they move onto “Rethinking Housing 2.0” and continue clear and transparent communication with the business and tenants.

 

How do I encourage my team to learn new technologies?

Once you’ve improved buy in by informing and inspiring your team, it’s important to consider that there will still be nervousness and resistance created by skill gaps and a lack of confidence.

It is important to lay the foundations for learning including formal training. These approaches are an extremely effective and rewarding way to mitigate any remaining uncertainties. Teams can learn a significant amount in a short space of time and build confidence in the solutions you will eventually adopt. Introducing incremental training as early as possible is a great way to build confidence when working with new technologies.

Both AWS and Azure offer free and paid training courses which lead to industry recognised certifications. These courses cater to different levels of understanding which means upskilling opportunity for a variety of job roles.

 

What are the benefits of involving my people developing new ways of working?

The housing sector has access to organisations like Housing Technology and The National Housing Federation who put on industry events and Hackathons such as the NHF “Futures programmes”.  Attendees often return from these with a new sense of passion for innovation and focus on using technology to fix these challenges, enthusiasm is infectious and there are huge benefits to organisational culture by promoting attendance.

Together with Microsoft, we hosted a Cloud and Digital National Housing Hackathon last year which was a full day collaboration across multiple UK housing providers. We invited representatives from multiple business units and tenants to come together to come up with innovative solutions to some of the sectors biggest challenges.

The importance of having staff and tenants involved in processes cannot be overlooked particularly when there will be a change in the way those two domains interact with each other. There are two main benefits of involving staff and tenants, using a self-service portal as an example.

The first reason is to ensure the solutions are of high quality and focused on tenant needs. Housing providers and their developers often have ideas of what functions should be included in software builds, for a self-service portal you see the usual suspects of rent, repairs, personal and property information. Since the first wave of self-service portals were created a few years ago, we are now seeing increased functionality being developed as a direct result of tenant user group feedback. Features like community news, ability to report ASB and wellbeing were highly requested features which improve the adoption of services and justify the investment that was made in the first place.

The second is by involving tenants in this process, you not only create better solutions you also create technology champions that drive adoption thereafter – word of mouth is as strong as ever…

 

How do I recruit people that want to be a part of it?

Adopting new technologies brings with it huge changes. Every organisation will educate and upskill their current employees wherever they can but sometimes it’s advantageous to recruit people with the knowledge and skills to take your digital vision forwards.  These people are great for navigating the new world and providing assurance along the way.

Having a well-defined technology strategy and enticing culture makes finding talent that much easier even given the skills shortage in the market. Social housing is a very close-knit sector, the industry innovators are well known and seem to have a magnetic pull for progressive workers and culture is paramount to attracting and retaining good people.

Communicating your technology strategy with your peers ensures a more frictionless adoption of new technology. Whether it’s a leader of a different business unit or a technology leader from another housing provider, rounded perspectives produce rounded results.

Being included in the ideation stage of a transformational project is very motivational and to reduce the nervousness of the unknown offer upskilling opportunities. In some cases, tenants will literally live with solutions so it’s important to get their input, using MVP’s is a great way to test assumptions and tailor experiences.

Something that technology and culture both have in common is they are always evolving, once you have created the initial excitement for transformation, continually instil those values as the next wave of innovation is only around the corner.

Find out more ways we are working with housing provides to deliver the best possible experience to their customers here.

By Harry Stainton, Account Manager at ANS