Riverside Group’s ‘digital business’ approach is challenging the myth that large housing providers are huge juggernauts – behemoths that are slow to adapt to the pressures of changing market conditions and technological advances.
With more than 75,000 homes across the UK, we have successfully demonstrated the benefits of a new approach for digital business, enabling greater agility and the faster delivery of successful outcomes despite our large size. The last few years have shown that, with the right culture and support, it’s possible to achieve speeds of adoption of new technologies across a large business thought to be only achievable by smaller housing providers.
Our version of a DevOps approach
Riverside’s ‘digital business’ began in 2020. Digital business is about focusing on entire digital product sets, from cradle to grave. This has resulted in a transformational shift from a traditional, siloed ‘plan, build, run and govern’ IT model to a product-centric ‘DevOps’ approach across key areas of technology. Funding in our digital business has moved towards ‘product funding’ rather than ‘project funding’, and our culture was the key to our success.
Our culture is vital because this is at the heart of a successful, productised DevOps model where development and operations aren’t siloed. Colleagues are passionate about delivery – they own the successful, rapid outcome for customers, the full lifecycle and ongoing continuous improvement. In short, they have autonomy and agency.
We flex resources and focus between product sets and deliverables within the digital business programme as needs arise in near-real time. This fundamentally hinges on our strong foundations of trust, transparency, accountability and supportive leadership.
With the rapid pace of technology change, Riverside recognised the need to move away from prescriptive, finite projects for some inter-related technology areas across digital business, moving away from investments associated with narrow project scopes, with their traditional business cases and layers of project governance that can impede agility and limit incremental delivery and continuous change.
The whole process started with developing and agreeing our overarching digital business strategy and roadmap for the next few years. Every year, we reconfirm our progress and assess its affordability for the next 12 months. Our funding and resourcing take account of the ‘whole life’ span of a product set and a holistic view of our business and technology needs in line with our strategy, from architecture and design, through development and testing, to deployment and operations, with colleagues developing skills not limited to a single technical function. We also embed cybersecurity from the outset and build with usability and longevity in mind.
More about culture and our approach
The next stage of our transformation focused on our ways of working and culture. We introduced Lean and DevOps principles throughout our digital business programme.
According to Microsoft, DevOps is, “a compound of development (dev) and operations (ops); DevOps is the union of people, process and technology to continually provide value to customers.” And according to the Lean Enterprise Institute, Lean is, “a way of thinking about creating needed value with fewer resources and less waste.”
In Riverside, large works were broken down into smaller components known as ‘epics’. Any further funding proposals were expressed using the Lean business case, defining the minimal viable product (MVP).
We focused on business outcomes, developing a new approach to pilots and a ‘fail fast’ mentality, enabling us to quickly learn what would and wouldn’t work across our digital business initiatives.
We empowered our product managers and product owners who were held accountable, producing a DevOps definition for Riverside which focuses on a culture of collaboration, empowerment and accountability.
This was an opportunity to reinvigorate our principles to IT colleagues; that everything we do is focused on our customers, created with the end-product in mind. We own our solutions and services from start to finish, sharing as part of cross-functional, autonomous teams, adapting and improving our ways of working continuously. We increasingly experiment, streamline, measure and automate everything we can, and we ‘flow to the work’.
Our Riverside team is committed to continually strive for improvements in how we work, delivering better customer outcomes faster, more safely and in partnership with all stakeholders, underpinning our agile agenda.
Only 18 months ago, we introduced the concept of DevOps across our wider IT team, shifting to productised teams or ‘chapters’, with full cradle-to-grave accountability for their product sets. This has gone from strength to strength.
The outcomes included the continued rationalisation of technology sets, starting to minimise the array of products managed, supported and delivered. Cross-functional ‘squads’ form around deliverables, using the right people to deliver successful business outcomes. ‘Communities of practice’ (or ‘guilds’) were also formed, cutting across the chapters and the broader business as appropriate, providing a vehicle for shared standards, frameworks, innovation and risk; for example, these include cybersecurity and IT architecture.
True digital transformation
Riverside has truly delivered a rapid digital transformation capability, with our new approach enabling many successes to date. These include the continuous delivery of Salesforce as our unified CRM platform, with a dedicated cross-functional squad achieving business and customer benefits in record time.
We’re now close to completing a three-year cloud migration journey, from a traditional on-premise infrastructure to Microsoft Azure in less than two years as a direct result of our tailored DevOps approach!
We’ve also migrated from on-premise contact centre technology to a new CCaaS (contact centre as a service) model in only six months, creating a more future-proof platform and turning on incremental functionalities, coupled with our Salesforce CRM, enabling our customers to connect using channels of their choice at any time.
Furthermore, we have moved from using on-premise Citrix VDI to Azure Virtual Desktop within six months and rolled out Microsoft 365 (Teams, OneDrive, Exchange and SharePoint) within 12 months, as well as rationalising and moving data centres.
Looking forward, we will implement SD-WAN across our 400 locations, extending our Salesforce journey and much more. We continue to drive value from our approach across multiple areas, embedding broader agility in everything we do, and empowering colleagues and customers for the future.
Alison Stock is the group director for digital & technology, and Neil Winn is the head of cloud and infrastructure at Riverside Group.