Smartphones are now out-selling toothbrushes, and a number of digitally-focused businesses that didn’t even exist a decade ago are now among the most successful in the world.
In today’s digital age, it has become a necessity for organisations to embrace the benefits that a digitally-focused business strategy can provide. The recent ‘Vision of Housing in 2025’ report demonstrates that almost all housing providers have started or are intending to adopt a business transformation strategy that will facilitate a customer-focused, leaner and more digital operating model.
While most housing providers are still in the early stages of this process, those who are advanced, both inside and outside the sector, tend to display the same characteristics and follow a similar methodology.
Below are the 12 golden rules that we believe can help you in your journey towards digital transformation. You will note that the first and last rules are focused on cultural change, but I would emphasise that the management of cultural change and how to achieve it is the ‘golden thread’ that runs throughout every rule. After all, cultural transformation sits at the heart of any business transformation strategy.
Lead from the top
In addition to a clear leadership vision, cultural change will be critical to the transformational process. Change needs to occur across the business, transcending departmental silos, so leadership from the top is critical. The CEO doesn’t need to directly manage the transformation process, but if not, they need to guide and provide their full support to those who do, assisting and challenging all stakeholders throughout the journey.
In order to measure and celebrate achievement, you need to understand and quantify your current position. Targets and objectives can then be agreed and their success measured. Interview management, staff, customers and stakeholders as part of this process; this will provide insights into the challenges and how processes can be improved. It is not uncommon for early, unexpected and valuable improvements to be achieved as part of this process.
Don’t recreate the wheel
Many mistakes have already been made by your predecessors. Achievable targets and milestones can be set once you have established what successful transformation looks like. Interviewing consultants who have worked with other housing providers that are more advanced in their transformation processes might not provide you with specific detail, but they can provide a relatively quick and simple way of discovering who the successful pioneers are and what cost-effective, proven and reliable solutions are available. In some cases, particularly around initiatives that create social return on investment (SRoI), you can relatively easily raise grant funding that will significantly improve the financial return on investment.
Create the digital vision
Once you have an understanding of what you want to achieve, produce and publish your digital strategy. Specific objectives are not necessarily needed at this stage, but the strategy will help ensure that stakeholders understand your vision and appreciate what is ultimately to be achieved.
Return on investment and prioritise
Identify transformation projects and develop an implementation plan, considering the return on investment from each project in terms of economies, improving services and solving current challenges. Once this is understood, prioritise the order in which to address them for greatest short-and medium-term gains. Quick wins will often be identified and these in themselves can often fund any investment made in creating and implementing the digital strategy. The output of this phase should be a defined list of projects along with their expected outcomes, providing the foundation for the project plan.
Digital by choice
If a tenant feels that digital services provide a quicker and easier method of achieving their goal, they will select digital channels by choice. Solutions and processes must have tenants in mind and promote online, 24/7 self-service, while ensuring that non-digital channels still remain available for those who need them.
Ensure where possible that all processes involve truly automated self-service; the necessity for manual involvement should be removed. Digital services can be carried out manually, but it doesn’t work the other way around. Manual involvement at just one point in the process can completely defeat the object of what is trying to be achieved.
As mentioned earlier, smartphones now outsell toothbrushes. Experience indicates that the majority of your tenant engagements will be via their smartphone so ensure that anything designed for tenants’ use assumes this medium first.
Incentivise, motivate & assist
Never assume that if you develop something it will be used, regardless of how wonderful you think it might be. To achieve adoption, it needs to be promoted and the motivations considered of those targeted. Both a carrot and stick approach is usually needed. Financial incentives and penalties are often introduced and other channels of communication are commonly made less attractive. Channel-shifting services online will liberate staff for other duties and they can then help and train those who need support to use digital services. Many who struggle initially will embrace digital channels with time; they just need help and encouragement.
Use online tools, such as Google Analytics, to quantify what is being achieved. If the analytics show that specific services or web pages are not being used, then change or dispose of them. If changes are made or digital initiatives are promoted, use analytics to provide evidence of what improvements have been achieved. Analytics can also provide a wealth of information about those that engage with you; their demographic; the device they use; how long they take to perform tasks and any key search words that they use.
Data is king
To succeed, it is essential that your data is accurate, available and secure. This is not only a fundamental component of digital engagement, but will also help provide both the information you need to run your business and ensure that you are compliant with security legislation.
- Ensure your data is complete and accurate; data cleansing support and tools are available for this.
- Ensure data held in multiple systems is consistent so that there is just one version of the truth; map the data and gather it into a single location if you need to.
- Ensure that data is held in the right place and in the right format; review your data, complete an audit of data sources, provide data definitions and standards, and create a data management strategy.
- Ensure that you have reports that give you valuable information; carefully consider and specify your reporting requirements and only then develop the reports.
For the introduction of digital services to achieve their true potential, cultural change will be needed. Make sure that you involve those people that are important to the success of projects, particularly if there is a fear that they will resist change. Celebrate success wherever possible as this will counter the challenges you will inevitably encounter, promoting what is being achieved and recognising and rewarding those that have been fundamental to its success.
Colin Sales is managing director of 3C Consultants.