The internet of things is going to begin providing huge amounts of data about our assets and customers, but how do we prevent data fatigue and turn this torrent of data into actionable business outcomes?
What do you mean by ‘democratising information and knowledge’?
In my experience, access to data has traditionally been in the realm of IT or business intelligence teams who sometimes act as gatekeepers, fiercely guarding the secrets within. The ‘democratisation of data’ is a mindset that begins to allow access to data at all levels of the business so that easily accessible insights are available for decision-making by everyone. Many organisations aspire to have a data-driven business, but don’t give their staff the tools to actually achieve this.
How are most housing providers using data at the moment, and what are the problems with that?
Most providers are really good at saying what happened yesterday but not many can really answer the ‘why’ questions or predict what will happen tomorrow, so we end up with all the focus on the KPIs but not what the data can tell us about customer behaviours and which processes aren’t effective.
That seems to be a massive waste because we all collect millions of lines of data every day and can follow a customer’s journey from initiation to resolution, but this is very rarely used in activities such as root-cause analysis of complaints or where a service problem has occurred.
How can housing providers deal with the mass of data spread across siloed business applications and spreadsheets?
The obvious answer to that is for housing providers to rationalise their applications and reduce the number of potential data sources. Although that isn’t always a practical solution for most housing providers, what we can all do is start understanding why our core applications are not providing the information colleagues need to do their jobs effectively, thereby forcing them to find new solutions themselves; siloed data is a symptom of a wider issue, not the problem itself.
We need to create more collaborative corporate cultures where these issues are highlighted, taken seriously and dealt with. I consider every business-critical spreadsheet as a business process or application failure. Furthermore, housing mergers usually exacerbate these data issues because data consolidation isn’t usually at the forefront of people’s minds during the planning stage of mergers.
How does data transition from being a local (or task-specific) phenomenon to becoming a strategic, operation-wide asset?
We need to start making data quality more visible, at both executive and board levels. There are a number of complementary ways of achieving this, but initially good data quality must be integral to the overall business strategy. For that to happen, we need to highlight the actual cost to the business that poor data causes, whether that’s through missing contact details for a customer or making business decisions based on incomplete, incorrect or downright misleading information.
I also think it’s important to define a clear data and analytics strategy for the organisation that will set the stall out for the stewardship of information and put in clear controls to ensure data quality. Finally, define the metrics and parameters for data quality, but make them have real business impact not just numbers – ‘data storytelling’ is a good model for this.
What are the next ‘data intensive’ technologies and how do they help housing providers?
IoT and smart homes will bring in reams of information, but we need to be careful not to get overwhelmed with it all and lose sight of the things that actually add value. As a starting point, it’s important to focus on the business outcomes you want and go from there.
The real opportunity is around ‘automated responsivity’ – using your data to automatically trigger calls to action within your business operations, such as a lack of movement scheduling a welfare visit or humidity levels scheduling a phone call from a housing officer.
However, I think a big mistake would be expecting housing staff to react to alerts on top of their existing day jobs – that’s a recipe for things getting missed.
Why and how should housing providers protect their data?
Customers entrust us with some of the most personal information that there is, such as their medical conditions or income. Apart from the legal implications, we have moral duty to make sure that data is safe.
This starts and ends with the culture of your organisation. You can have all the technology you like, but you need engaged and knowledgeable staff who can act as your eyes and ears. Most statistics indicate that over 90 per cent of successful cyberattacks begin with human error, yet this seems to be the one area that many organisations ignore and put complete trust in their IT defence solutions.
One of the other big questions is: can you say with absolutely certainty what data your organisation regularly shares with third parties and whether this is done securely (i.e. with suitable privacy impact assessments and data-sharing agreements)?
How does data change the customer experience?
The main goal of housing providers is to deliver a great customer experience, and we can learn lessons from organisations that do that really well.
Our customers live in a 24-hour world and transact with organisations such as Amazon and Uber on a daily basis. As people move into our properties for the first time, they will expect their housing provider to offer equally fast, tailored services.
Data is the only way that we can do that. Knowing a customer’s preferred contact method is a simple and obvious example, but the real benefit is when we move into customer behaviour analysis where we can see how different segments of customers interact with us and then begin tailoring content that is meaningful and useful to them via a communication channel they prefer.
Can you give us five tips for housing providers to transform their data operations?
- Invest in a data and analytics strategy – have clear stewardship of your information and plan for how you are going to manage and use it.
- Communicate with senior colleagues on the value of good data – make it real and show how it will help them provide a better service.
- Find your business-critical spreadsheets and transfer them to your core systems before the creator leaves your organisation.
- Open up your data for everyone to access, at the same time as having a clear framework detailing who it is shared with and how.
- Train your business users on cyber security and use them as your first line of defence.
Jon Cocker is the chief information officer at Platform Housing Group.