Manningham Housing is a small and dynamic housing provider and we like to think that we punch above our weight – from an IT perspective, we want to be in the vanguard of embracing technologies not often used in the housing sector.
Much of my focus during 2020 was negotiating a new financial facility for us, and its successful completion has underlined how ambitious and confident we feel about the future. The additional funding will enable us to increase our current housing stock by more than 10 per cent over the next five years and to improve our IT capabilities.
My next major challenge is to deliver several major IT transformation projects with support from international IT market leaders. As a small housing provider with a full-time team of around 40 people, this will be quite a feat but I’m confident that we will get there.
I am approaching the task with a series of guiding principles in mind, gained over my long and sometimes unconventional career in finance and IT.
Leave your comfort zone
Top of my list is that housing leaders must step out of their technology comfort zones if performance levels are to truly go up a league. This requires them to look beyond the norms and, indeed, the geographical boundaries in which they operate. By waking up to the unbridled potential of software packages not widely used in UK housing, leaders can access additional functionality, cut process time and enhance data analysis. Progress demands short-term investment but delivers long-term benefits.
Even before the pandemic, my finance colleagues already knew that the administrative burden on us can be as unproductive as it is frustrating. This is not helped by the reality that there are now fewer people in most finance teams, placing an added requirement for finance directors to be more creative in how data is analysed and used within their operations – in short, better data leads to greater efficiency, which is especially important when you have fewer resources available.
To comply with the requirements laid down by the housing regulator, we need to report how much we spend and from where we accessed the cash. However, being able to include more qualitative data to explain why we are spending the money allows us to understand if those decisions are enabling us to meet our strategic objectives.
While I have a career history of delivering digital transformation projects, I don’t think of myself as an IT expert. I’ve worked with some really excellent IT colleagues who have been incredibly well-informed about the latest technological developments, but that hasn’t always been the case.
I’ve often found myself working with individuals possessing an underwhelming appreciation of the core software they are employed to use and promote. It can seem like their mantra is, “I deliver it, but I don’t know what it does.”
Focus on your end game
In relation to IT procurement, it should always be about the ‘end game’. IT and finance leaders must ask themselves what else they can extract from the IT packages at their fingertips. Standard software is no longer what workplace IT should be about; leaders should instead be exploring how they can enable greater functionality and deliver more value.
It should be their professional duty to push the boundaries, try new ideas and, yes, be much more innovative. Finance teams all around the country spend endless hours creating Excel models (and I DO love them), but there is software out there that can do the same thing but better and much more besides.
So through the pages of Housing Technology, I am happy to throw down the gauntlet to IT and finance professionals; push the boundaries, challenge the norms and show the UK housing sector what is truly possible.
We must never feel comfortable with what has gone before. It’s much better to think about what comes next and how the future can deliver better results, increase efficiency and encourage employees at all levels to embrace innovation.
Shendi Keshet is the director of finance and resources at Manningham Housing.