From tragic headlines to fractured relationships between providers and tenants, the repercussions of poor data management are far-reaching. Missing key information about a tenant’s situation or the condition of their property can incur a human and monetary cost that can make the price for getting it wrong incalculable.
Poor information management was identified by the Housing Ombudsman as, “such a strong and recurring theme across service areas” in its most recent report that the conclusion was, “getting knowledge and information management right is the closest thing the sector could get to a silver bullet”.
What can social housing providers do to manage and improve data management?
Simplify, improve & consolidate
The Housing Ombudsman has warned that without better data management processes, housing providers might struggle to meet their obligations under the Landlords and Tenants Act and potentially see the introduction of ‘Awaab’s Law’.
One of 21 key recommendations in the ‘On the Record Starlight’ report is that housing providers should take steps to ensure staff can easily access the information they need; they should be able to interrogate systems to access the crucial insights they need to identify, “patterns, themes and potential shortfalls”.
Having different systems in place makes this difficult. It increases the likelihood of not linking complaint correspondence together and reduces the opportunity for housing staff to provide continuity.
What housing staff need is a single 360-degree view of the tenant and the asset. To notice signs that could signal a tenant needs support or an urgent repair needs to be carried out, they must have access to the right information at the right time. This isn’t easy if systems and databases have mushroomed over the years to anything from 30 to over 100 disparate systems.
A fragmented IT system makes it harder for staff to support tenants as well as they want to, can lead to a weakened complaints process and a disjointed repair system, all of which erode trust.
Ineffective data management is the main culprit behind many maladministration investigations. A couple of cases highlighted in the report included one where a tenant waited eight years for a leak to be repaired, while another lost 14 days of annual leave due to missed repair appointments. In most cases, either residents’ needs weren’t recognised or the problem wasn’t recorded appropriately.
‘Old wine in new bottles’
But simply implementing a new IT system won’t solve the problem and could make it even worse by increasing fragmentation further. This is where consolidation comes to the fore because there is less danger of duplicated and/or missing data so staff can spot hidden issues and patterns.
A unified and consolidated system provides the right environment to improve data capture mechanisms and maintain data quality. This makes it easier to identify and fix problems faster and help housing providers make the shift from reactive to proactive services.
Plan to plan
However, any idea that a new IT system will solve the problem of not enough data in the right place at the right time is misplaced.
Making sure housing staff have access to timely and accurate data to comply with regulations, uphold standards and make more informed decisions to improve residents’ lives isn’t something that technology can do on its own.
In tandem with the technology, housing staff need to be trained and the correct processes set up. This includes developing a clear data management strategy. This is in line with the Housing Ombudsman’s view that data management in the sector is a collective effort, stating that, “the data analysed is only as good as the data entered and the decision in the boardroom relates directly to the log made in the resident’s home.”
A clear data management strategy is essential for improving information management. It should encompass data governance, integration, quality and security, as well as define who is accountable for and has ownership of data management processes and policy.
The lack of a comprehensive data strategy can lead to information being unavailable when needed, privacy breaches (such as personal information about a former tenant’s circumstances being sent to the current tenant) and non-compliance with GDPR.
The data strategy must align with the organisation’s overall goals and objectives and ensure the data collected is relevant and closely-tied to the social purpose and workflows. It should also set out at what points data should be captured and how it should then be stored and accessed.
It should provide the roadmap needed to ensure housing staff have access to the right data when and where they need it; for example, 88 per cent of complaint handlers spoken to by the Housing Ombudsman said that poor information, such as missing reports or incomplete repair logs, had undermined their responses.
Imagine having to explain a problem again and again – 15 times, in fact. Such was the plight of one tenant who took their grievance to the Housing Ombudsman, which aims to ensure future generations of housing providers’ staff have, “a legacy of information that’s better than the one inherited by this one”.
A data management strategy will help support this aim and will reduce the risk of maladministration by improving continuity in the handling of complaints or requests.
In plain sight
Effective data management plays a critical role in avoiding dire consequences. Tempting though a shiny bit of new technology kit might be when it comes to improving information management, data management is about consolidation, not proliferation.
Trevor Hampton is the director of housing solutions at NEC Software Solutions UK.