It’s no secret that the UK’s housing providers are under strain. Despite the fact that they’re responsible for approximately 10 per cent of the UK’s total rental stock, they’ve fallen victim to a series of budget cuts, while the increasing cost of living and the pandemic have placed ever-greater demands on their services. The need to run lean and efficient core business services while delivering for tenants is now the choice for housing providers between long-term survival or falling behind targets.
In short, housing providers need to pivot their operations and look again at their efficiency; in this article, I’ll therefore be looking at the benefits of adopting a ‘unified platform’ technology to achieve this goal.
Legacy IT & technical debt
Unlike other sectors which have been able to move faster with the digital curve, many housing providers are still beset with legacy IT and technical debt. Having adopted a disaggregated approach to onboarding new solutions, their business applications, such as housing, repairs, scheduling and tenant communications, are often siloed from each other and are unable to communicate and share data.
It’s vital that housing providers recognise the value of moving their business processes onto one unified platform in the cloud and understand how this can unlock real-time data analytics. For example, with increased access to data from different business operations, they can switch from a reactive to a proactive approach to property management, addressing common issues before they arise and mitigate against expensive and unexpected problems.
In the wake of the pandemic, many housing providers have been left with empty properties and rising costs – a situation that will only be exacerbated with the ongoing rise in the cost of living.
A recent study by accountants RSM reported that almost two-thirds of housing providers have seen an increase in arrears and a rise in the number of void properties in their housing portfolios due to the pandemic. The same survey also highlighted how residents feel that the services provided by housing providers are getting worse, with maintenance and repairs taking longer to fix and difficulties getting through to housing providers’ customer support teams. These factors all indicate a worrying downward trend across the sector.
But there is a way this can be overcome. Housing providers have often been behind the curve when it comes to implementing new technologies due to either limited funds or the sheer size of their operations. The impact of the past two years has highlighted the need for greater efficiency and better communication; this can easily be achieved by deploying the right technologies – it’s not always the case of burning through budgets.
The right technologies can give housing providers almost-instant insights into their entire collection of properties and tenants. By using real-time data analytics in the cloud, they’ll be able to make operational predictions and be proactive before something goes wrong, such as identifying when a boiler is likely to break or when a tenant is likely to go into arrears.
Innovative technologies help housing providers’ staff as well. By being up-to-speed with the latest technologies, they will increase staff retention, attract new workers into the business and ensure better wellbeing. These developments will also create a more sustainable supply chain, helping housing providers to build more properties, support more of the public, and leverage the benefits of collaboration with third-party organisations.
Learning from others
Learning from others should be a priority. If we can’t look at how others are doing things, what they’ve done right and where they’ve gone wrong, we can’t build a successful operation.
One of the UK’s largest housing providers is currently managing more than 100,000 properties across the country. As part of its modernisation, their executive team decided to consolidate its business applications and put data at the heart of its operations.
The housing provider is a great example of how to grow by learning from another. The organisation identified the value of having readily accessible, readable and constantly updated data from the experiences of others who have already made this change and are seeing results, and in turn has experienced its own growth.
The housing provider is using a unified cloud platform, which includes custom applications and sector-specific solutions, to drive innovation across its entire portfolio. Being located in the cloud, the housing provider can quickly and easily make changes across its business, giving its staff immediate access to the relevant data and information while removing the risk of any of this being lost because of on-premise server outages or problems with paper-based storage.
As financial difficulties and uncertainty continue, and people become more reliant on the services of housing providers, embracing and embedding new innovative technologies will be paramount to ensure efficiency and success.
Without adopting all-encompassing solutions that meet industry standards, are accessible to all and clearly display usable data insights, housing providers risk falling behind the curve, which could have serious implications for vulnerable citizens.
Satpal Biant is head of public sector (UKI) for SAP.