Northgate Public Services’ director of housing solutions, Trevor Hampton, explains why meaningful data integration requires a shift in the cultural mindset from the board down.
The pandemic has, arguably, forever changed the way we interact; by limiting our interactions in the real world, it has fast-forwarded us into an altered reality where digital dominates.
We now operate in a world where digital channels have become the primary mechanism to engage with customers, automated processes have maintained ‘business as usual’ and agile working has become the norm. As a result, it’s highlighted that not having a data integration strategy will increase the likelihood of an organisation being caught in the twilight zone.
Some organisations will have already found out the hard way that thinking digital goes beyond just upgrading their website to provide services online. Goals and objectives need to have been agreed from the outset if digital transformation is to be achieved. If not, there is a danger that the right data won’t be captured and integrated, preventing the organisation from offering seamless end-to-end delivery. The reason why the banking and healthcare sectors have fared better than most in responding to customers’ needs during the pandemic is because both already had much of the architecture in place to adapt at pace.
If the same meaningful data integration is to happen in the housing sector, there still needs to be a shift in the cultural mindset from the board down.
Adjusting the mindset
When it comes to digital transformation, the housing sector is something of a mixed bag because IT has traditionally been seen as more of a fixer than an enabler. Those organisations that have created a workplace culture that’s fully up to speed on how data can be used to improve outcomes and, by extension, customer service, will be in a better position to navigate today’s digital landscape.
Understanding the data landscape and the importance of mapping out the customer journey needs to happen at every level of an organisation.
It’s now a given that housing providers need to be able to harness insights in order to make better decisions. But if no one has recorded the repair, logged the call or scanned the letter then they simply can’t be as responsive as they would like to be. This will greatly affect their ability to interact with tenants and will be detrimental to customer service. This is why staff need to be informed and fully engaged with data’s pivotal role in their organisation.
People want solutions to problems and answers to queries and they want them fast.
Data might be the new gold but if it’s held in filing cabinets, disparate systems or someone’s head then it can’t be easily mined. This means its value as a currency to fuel business transformation opportunities will be limited.
Every organisation is chasing that ‘golden thread’ of data, from police services to insurance companies, and housing providers need to adopt the same approach. The technology is there, but what can sometimes be missing in the housing sector is the data-led vision; this should be shared and embraced by everyone from the chief executive downwards.
One reason why data integration can be hard to achieve is because departmental working and siloed business applications remain as barriers. One way to break them down would be to champion data integration from the top; having an IT director at board level could be a good way forward because it would be easier to secure the buy-in needed from internal stakeholders to break down the departmental/siloed barriers and achieve integration.
24/7 service demand
Given that the processing power of the average smartphone is thousands of times more powerful than the computers that landed man on the moon, it’s little wonder that so much of our daily activity takes place online and ‘in hand’.
As a result, customers expect 24/7 services that are personalised to their needs. In order to deliver the same level of service to tenants, housing providers need to have a single view of their tenants and assets to enable accurate and informed decision-making and solutions.
Housing providers need to reimagine their customers’ journeys, particularly because these have radically changed in the past decade as tenants want more control over, for example, booking repairs, maintaining healthy homes and paying their rent. To achieve these things, new digital connections need to be identified and data integration points mapped out.
Organisations that haven’t taken the steps to do so run the risk of being left out in the cold in a fully connected, transparent and integrated IoT world.
Reducing organisational risk
Being able to offer full-service delivery can only happen if the right foundations are in place. It’s as much about people as processes, so investing in the right in-house IT skills is a key enabler.
There’s no doubt about the high-level skills that are needed to achieve data integration because it requires an extensive knowledge of cloud computing and networks. Securing and retaining staff (or buying in the right skills from outside) to ensure they have the right level of knowledge and expertise is vital to the success of any data integration strategy.
Either option will mean an upfront commitment but without it, ‘thinking digital’ will remain just that – all thought and little action.
A cultural and technological lens
Data integration is mission-critical in today’s IoT connected world. Siloed working inhibits collaboration and the agility to respond in the way tenants have come to expect because it is only when all the quality data is collected that customers, stakeholders and contractors’ expectations can be met.
Organisations that haven’t embraced a more cohesive and integrated model of working could find themselves unable to match the accelerated change of pace. Data needs to be in the DNA of the organisation and should be viewed through both a cultural and a technological lens if it is to become the fuel that drives the engine.
Trevor Hampton is director of housing solutions at Northgate Public Services.