This article is an abridged version of Martin Gardner’s (CEO, Trafford Housing Trust) regular blog, in this instance written just before he was due on stage to speak at the Housing Technology 2013 conference in February.
Blog readers will know that I work in social housing and many of you know I follow a certain North London football team – not the ones who capitulate to Bayern Munich, if you want to get specific. In my life, housing and sport represent the sacred and the profane, both elements that are important to who I am, but in radically different ways.
Technology’s primary purpose has to be to improve our efforts – is that true for your technology?
My passion for housing stems from the fact that it provides the foundations – literal and figurative – for everything else in human endeavour. I focus on social housing in particular because of the huge social value it creates. My passion for Spurs is simpler; where I grew up, the teenagers next door supported Arsenal and I was contrary even at that age. A lesser-known fact about me is that I am also something of a petrol-head, not in a car-owning or driving sense, but I do like to watch a bit of Formula One.
I think we can all agree that compared to housing’s critical role in a healthy and fulfilling life and society, football is something of a trivial indulgence and motor-racing a grossly misjudged waste of resources; additionally both sports have the pungent whiff of elitism to them. So, on one side we have social housing – important, meaningful, heavy – and on the other we have two sports – trivial, ephemeral, froth.
So tell me this: why is it that a football manager will have at his fingertips performance statistics for all the players within moments of a match ending? How can football have real-time data on the contribution of each team member? How can something meaningless get a statistical breakdown on the opposition’s key weaknesses and expect all of this information to be present without any time lag between the match ending and the data being available?
And why is it that the team managers of a Formula One pit crew have technology that predicts ‘in race’ results before the race is over, based on sophisticated telemetry, satellites and slick computer systems predicting failures that have not yet happened? Why is it that the same team manager expects to have at his disposal a car that automatically re-tunes its engine to optimise performance depending on whether the car is accelerating, braking, cornering or driving in a straight line, all without any human intervention?
Someone tell me how can it be that the trivial, the elitist and the inconsequential enjoy a level of technological sophistication in its business that the essential, the critical and the vital can only dream of?
Money would be the first response – and it’s true that football and motor-racing are awash with money, but that is to overlook two things.
First, technology is cheap; Prozone (the ‘gold standard’ of football stats packages) costs teams around £200,000 a year, which is less than Gareth Bale spends on hair gel. Additionally, are housing providers so strapped for cash that they can’t see how an investment of this kind would not be repaid over and over again?
Second, we can’t say it’s because the technology does not exist. Although perhaps it’s because as a sector we are a bit pedestrian in specifying our requirements, we are woefully tolerant of the constraints that result from buying ‘off the shelf’ and ‘being in the crowd’. I believe we lack the imagination or passion of our counterparts who measure success in terms of points won. Could anyone begin to describe how the housing version of Prozone would look? Do we really look to the edge that technology could bring our business and declare that it’s worth it? Maybe not.
How tragic and how silly that when we should be measuring success not in terms of league positions or races won, but in terms of families housed, children reaching their potential, young people diverted from crime, our systems would not even be fit for purpose at an ambitious non-league football team, or an entry-level pro go-karting team. Can’t we focus our collective imaginations on everything that a concerted software and hardware revolution could do for housing?
Commissioners – up your game, buy with imagination, ask to be impressed and demand that technology delivers incredible things to your organisations. Suppliers – deliver or disappoint.
If you had an unlimited budget and no technological barriers, what would be the technology you’d like to see available to the housing sector?
Matthew Gardiner is the CEO of Trafford Housing Trust. You can read his blog at www.housingassociations.org.