Cloud technologies and digital transformation are undoubtedly shaping the world around us. In the last few years, we have seen industries radically disrupted by these trends. Social housing is not immune to this, but housing providers can successfully navigate this sea of changes by keeping a few things in mind.
The social housing sector has traditionally lacked a long-term strategy and vision for technology, resulting in IT estates with a patchwork of disjointed, task-centric applications. One of the most significant consequences of this issue is the complexity of integration between systems, often resulting in siloed data and costly, time-consuming reporting practices.
Another critical impact on organisations using legacy technology is the effects on productivity and staff retention. Given the current financial context, it’s critical that organisations become more productive so they can achieve more and rationalise staff costs.
However, the most overlooked impact of technical debt is innovation. IT departments are often too busy keeping legacy systems and integrations running and can’t focus on delivering innovative technologies. Therefore, the focus needs to be on creating a roadmap to replace disjointed legacy solutions with modern business platforms that deliver a seamless experience for users and business processes.
It’s not new that the housing sector has to work hard to find new revenue sources to make up for the drop in public funding. Organisations are striving to “think commercially, but act socially.” Over the last few years, we have seen increased efforts to introduce or expand commercial operations in the sector. This is particularly true for private sales and rentals, but also for schools, social care, leisure centres and others.
Yet, in many cases, commercial ventures have not been accompanied by adequate technology solutions to support them. With new systems in place, organisations can perform better in client-facing, revenue-generating activities. Housing organisations should look at the commercial sector (such as real estate, utilities, retail and financial services) and the technologies used there if they want to transform and deliver value from their commercial operations.
Thanks to cloud-based offerings, the sector has easier and cheaper access to fully-featured commercial sales, marketing and intelligence systems that can quickly transform operations and deliver increased revenue for social purposes. Modern commercial management software helps to bolster the growing development opportunities in the sector to drive revenue for social housing.
Offering exceptional service for individuals and communities is a key driver for the sector. However, many organisations struggle to optimise their front-line operations to deliver a consistent level of service across different channels. This isn’t just about offering access via multiple channels, but about optimising the delivery of services and empowering staff and customers to solve problems. The faster staff and customers can deal with a request or problem without having to rely on middle-office operations, the lower the cost and better customer experience you will provide.
There is also an increased demand for self-service capabilities and new channels. Customer experience in the consumer sectors sets the expectations that we now take as normal. This is even more acute for those organisations trying to start or expand their commercial activities. It’s critical to evaluate your front-office solutions from the perspective of their capability for delivering outstanding omni-channel customer experiences as well as their capability to support efficiencies and service optimisation, rather than focusing on the housing-specific processes.
Functions that enable a multi-skilled staff to resolve issues at the first point of contact should be a key driver. In this regard, modern cloud-based CRM platforms deliver ready-made solutions that can be quickly adopted by housing providers to radically transform their front-office operations.
Repairs and maintenance
We often see organisations focusing on achieving a ‘single customer view’. Yet, many often neglect the ‘single asset view,’ which should be a key driver for any asset-intensive business such as housing. Offering a great customer experience while delivering value also involves having a thorough understanding of your assets as well as long-term visibility into maintenance requirements and planning. Planned maintenance and major projects are usually the single most expensive expenditure a housing organisation faces; having the tools and systems to optimise these costs and investments should be paramount.
The second most expensive cost in housing is responsive repairs and voids. Yet, many organisations still don’t have a clear strategy to manage these costs and rationalise their internal and external providers. If we consider that many customer issues and complaints arise from these areas, it should be clear that housing organisations need to look at tools and systems to improve the coordination and delivery of repairs and maintenance.
The good news is that organisations now have access to low-cost, enterprise-ready solutions to improve asset management and manage repairs and maintenance. Traditionally, this software needed a substantial capital investment, but today, it’s possible to deploy field- and project-service automation solutions at a fraction of the cost. Organisations can now deliver customer-centric services while optimising their repairs and maintenance operations and have options for bringing outsourced services back in-house.
IoT, machine learning and innovation
The internet of things (IoT) and machine learning offer benefits such as environmental property monitoring, remote diagnostics, and usage monitoring, thereby reducing service costs due to a shift from reactive to predictive maintenance. It also extends to other offerings such as telecare or services which could offer new revenue streams. We have already started seeing the benefits of machine learning and IoT, and now we are also seeing success with robotic process automation (RPA) where automating back- and middle-office processes can reduce staff efforts by up to 80 per cent.
It’s essential that housing organisations start defining technology strategies that have clear paths to benefit from innovations. When assessing new business applications, housing organisations should have a vision for the capabilities they offer for future aspirations and be mindful of opportunities to introduce innovation at scale. Cloud platforms enable organisations to quickly test innovative technologies with proof of concept solutions and scale them up if successful.
In summary, technical debt causes frustration for the organisation and can be perceived as a cost centre without sufficient added value. Housing organisations should consider using cloud-based technologies to transform their operations at scale. The focus should be to reinvent your IT department into a strategic and innovative part of your organisation. This can only be achieved by eliminating technical debt and focusing on delivering innovation that will be an asset to the business with the introduction of modern technology platforms.
Marco Amoedo is CTO of EMEA for PowerObjects, an HCL Technologies Company.