Housing Technology asked housing experts from Civica, FLS – Fast Lean Smart, Manifest Software Solutions and NEC Software Solutions for some of their ideas and predictions for which new business and technology areas housing providers should be considering in the short- and medium-term.
Disruption and innovation
Helen Rogers, product director at Civica, said, “With the increasing cost and volume of disrepair cases, housing providers should be thinking about how to reduce the time, cost and overall fall in customer satisfaction and compliance risk arising from disrepairs. IoT sensors in homes are now so much more affordable, allowing proactive monitoring of domestic environments to trigger alerts and actions.
“In addition, crowd-sourcing technologies are now well established; these can be used to inform housing providers about the state of their properties without needing expensive surveyors in every instance. Furthermore, the use of digital twins coupled with rich asset data can also help with stock-condition processes to improve budgetary forecasting and reduce waste through 3D modelling and data standards.”
Alan Swift, technical director at Manifest Software Solutions, said, “Self-service and automation are the two key areas to consider. That said, self-service portals need to be continually enhanced to deliver to new, value-adding services. For example, data from IoT-based sensors should be available to tenants via their self-service portal, as demonstrated by Optus Homes’ app, and ‘virtual assistants’ from companies such as Converse360 are providing new ways for tenants to interact at any time.
“The integration of IT systems should be the cornerstone of all business activities, with more systems moving to the cloud. For 2023 and beyond, as housing providers continue their business transformation journeys, the integration of new and legacy systems will be vital to meeting their VFM targets through improved process automation.”
Trevor Hampton, director of housing solutions at NEC Software Solutions UK, said, “When you are already busy dealing with compliance and the cost-of-living crisis, it can be tempting to see the implementation of IoT sensors as tomorrow’s problem but it shouldn’t be. IoT sensors have the potential to deliver the smarter, safer and more efficient social housing we all strive for.
“The future of social housing is about achieving greater collaboration and more meaningful engagement with tenants. For this reason, the second game-changing technology housing providers should consider is apps. The latest generation of apps allows housing providers to go beyond simple transactional activities, such as logging repairs or ASB, and move towards more collaboration and giving more of their tenants a voice, rather than just those who turn up at residents’ meetings.”
Jeremy Squire, UK managing director at FLS – Fast Lean Smart, said, “More comprehensive housing services require more predictive analytics and AI in order to provide better business intelligence, alongside augmented reality changing how some housing providers operate. For example, we’re already seeing AR being used in BIM design, with further use of AR helping to improve service delivery and the customer experience.”
Civica’s Rogers said, “The most innovative technologies aren’t necessarily the most complex or cutting-edge; it could be about relatively-simple technologies being applied to a specific problem that result in the most game-changing results because these solutions can help people or processes quickly, effectively and at low risk. For example, connecting devices and connecting communities can be achieved relatively quickly while providing value-adding insights into tenants’ needs and the state of housing providers’ properties.”
Manifest’s Swift said, “The most important thing is integration; none of the technologies that housing providers are considering is possible without systems integration – an integration layer enables any system to exchange data with any other system, simply and easily. However, integration is often seen as a barrier, with housing providers often needing to plead for APIs from their HMS provider, with complex discussions about aspects such as SOAP, REST and XML.
“It doesn’t have to be like that way. An integration layer is composed of microservices that don’t care what format the data is in, and this is the path towards making everything happen. An effective integration layer lets housing providers trial new products and services from cutting-edge cloud companies, opening up thousands of possibilities for delivering new services to tenants and staff alike. The same integration layer can also be used to deliver automation, eliminating the boring, repetitive tasks staff do every day.”
Learning from other business sectors
Civica’s Rogers said, “IoT and asset monitoring has been around for over 20 years. Supermarkets and other food retailers use sensors on refrigerators to monitor food temperate and reduce wastage; for example, Coca-Cola has been using IoT to monitor inventory and temperatures in its vending machines since 1982! This technology is easily adaptable to the housing sector to help inform, predict and control.”
NEC’s Hampton said, “Consider blockchain… this isn’t just about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. At its core blockchain creates an unbroken and unalterable audit trail of transactions. This could be used to build trust because it guarantees the fidelity of data records. Blockchain could be used when raising a repair or making a payment because it would give tenants absolute confidence in the accuracy and veracity of any data records generated between them and their housing provider.”
FLS’s Squire said, “While housing providers are starting to catch up with, say, retailers’ offers to their customers, the demand for ‘servitisation’ in the housing sector is just beginning. Servitisation goes beyond good customer service, with many material products increasingly losing perceived value. For housing providers, software ownership is taking a back seat and they are instead looking for the most cost-effective and inclusive way to complete tasks and solve problems.”
How to introduce new initiatives
NEC’s Hampton said, “For housing providers to introduce any of these ideas (as outlined above) alongside their day-to-day operations, they fundamentally need strong buy-in and unequivocal support from their executive teams; this will set the direction for the rest of the organisation to follow.
“For example, housing teams need a clear strategy and vision to provide a solid foundation on which to start building. Income teams are likely to need to work with the repair teams, who in turn need to work with planned and cyclical maintenance, who then work with the safety teams and so on.
“With a clear strategy at the core, the technological change can then be tackled bit by bit, block by block, rather than all at once. You could start by refining the repairs process by improving the automation, then adding digital logging screens and finally augmented reality.”
Housing Technology would like to thank Helen Rogers (Civica), Jeremy Squire (FLS – Fast Lean Smart), Alan Swift (Manifest Software Solutions) and Trevor Hampton (NEC Software Solutions UK) for their editorial contribution to this article.