Disrepairs remain a huge and high-profile issue for social housing. Civica’s Justin Fisher explores how robust data and modelling can make all the difference.
We all want to feel safe and secure in our own homes. Safety was a crucial, up-front feature of the UK government’s White Paper for Social Housing which promised a renewed drive to put residents back at the heart of building safety and go further to deliver real change to ensure residents are safe in their own homes. This would include a stricter regime for construction, day-to-day management and maintenance of higher-risk buildings, with residents having a stronger voice in the system.
But over a year later, there’s still a huge problem of disrepairs in social housing, with the mainstream media focusing on the poor state of properties and the unsatisfactory position tenants find themselves in. Already under immense pressure, housing providers are facing increased legal actions from tenants looking for compensation for poor housing, with projected multi-million-pound bills coming their way. At the same time, the Housing Ombudsman has seen a 139 per cent increase in complaints in the past year. Solutions which look at the problem holistically are needed now more than ever.
A smarter approach
The good news is that data-driven digital technologies and advances in systems such as building information modelling (BIM) and digital twins are already making a big impact. BIM, overlaid with analytics from technologies such as AI and machine learning, can predict and forecast repairs better than solely relying on traditional methods.
In short, 3D models combined with robust, reliable and accessible data can help fix things at the right time in the right order. As we discussed at a recent Civica social housing roundtable, digital twins (virtual representations of physical spaces) have been a key part of the digital journey for some time. They have huge potential to deliver savings, make homes safer and greener, and improve the tenants’ experience.
That said, creating digital twins demands thought and data prioritisation. This can be difficult when household items, such as a boiler, exist in multiple datasets, from the property’s energy profile to safety, servicing and void property records. It’s hard to mesh the data to represent the digital version because each dataset has a different lifespan, purpose and impact. However, once reconciled, the results can be excellent. Services exist to proactively manage the multiple data instances to realise accurate, real-time information, leading to faster response times and increased tenant satisfaction.
Making the abstract real
Many current repair diagnostic tools are abstract, so they don’t resemble the individuality of someone’s home; if a tenant contacts their housing provider to report a fault, they won’t necessarily know how to accurately fix the issue. But 3D models overlaid with the latest data give a much clearer, quicker and accurate picture, so the tenant gets a better repair, completed ‘right first time’. This helps reduce costs because repair teams need to make fewer visits and can get around more properties. In trials run by British Gas linked to its BoilerIQ service, it found that its diagnostic software was 19 hours ahead of the tenant even reporting a problem.
3D modelling can also help organisations to run scenarios visually, not just in data records. For example, when fitting new doors, it can show residents what these could look like in their own property and get approval from the outset. It’s also a misconception that models need to be complex – they don’t. Often a quick-to-load, low-fidelity model will be perfectly fine to illustrate a new feature or service.
Housing technology should always be as close as possible to the products people use in their everyday lives. The Rightmove app is a great example, loaded up with floorplans and property fly-throughs for potential buyers. Housing providers can also use floorplans as 3D models with layered data to show hotspots, such as asbestos assessments in properties colour coded for risk, leading to better decisions.
Safer homes, stronger communities
Bringing all the data and advanced modelling techniques together will result in speedier resolutions to problems and more repairs fixed ‘right first time’. Data-driven digital solutions offer a practical solution to the issue of disrepairs, turning them into a proactive operation rather than a reactive one and increasing tenant satisfaction.
As Mark Weiser, often considered the ‘Godfather of the internet of things’, said, “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”
Nowhere is this more apt than for social housing. This ‘invisible’ technology will help housing providers face an ever-growing number of challenges. Digital solutions will also allow housing providers to adapt and map out the future to ensure tenants are living in the best quality and safest homes.
Justin Fisher is the product manager for housing at Civica.