Housing Technology interviewed data experts from Aareon, Civica, FLS (Fast Lean Smart), Incline-IT, Mobysoft, NEC Software Solutions, Riskhub and Socitm Advisory about how housing providers can implement a ‘golden thread of data’ within their extended operations.
What is a golden thread of data?
Aareon UK’s solution manger, Jack McLean, said, “Critical core data that acts as a central source of the truth is paramount for any organisation in any sector. The golden thread of data is an uncompromised, singular dataset attributed to all buildings, people and operations from their dependent systems and processes. Without a golden thread of data, it becomes almost impossible to get a clear and concise picture or analysis of the viewpoint associated with the specific dataset, regardless of whether it’s to get a 360-degree view of tenants or buildings.”
Socitm Advisory’s client services director for housing, Tim Cowland, said, “Good data, used well, provides a single version of the truth regarding an organisation and its customers. It means that every decision and every outcome can be linked back to the organisation’s mission and values, and performance can be measured accurately. Data acts as a compass to help individuals, teams and leaders know they are heading for the same destination.”
Mobysoft’s CTO, James Davison, said, “The whole idea of a ‘golden thread’ is really about the intelligent use of data because it can shine a light on hidden trends and answer many of an organisation’s questions. Defining a golden thread is merely a case of identifying which strands of data are the most pertinent and valuable.”
Jeremy Squire, UK managing director of FLS – Fast Lean Smart, said, “The real nuggets in the data are when wider information is held regarding, say, the repairs history and rent payments for a property, resulting in more complete pictures of tenants’ end-to-end journeys. Growing numbers of housing providers are becoming fully data-driven, where technology can be used to manage their assets proactively, such as providing ‘home MOTs’, and helping to tackle the widely-publicised, post-pandemic backlogs.”
From building & construction data to all housing operations…
Trevor Hampton, director of Housing Solutions at NEC Software Solutions UK, said, “Golden threads should definitely go beyond building and construction data. Incorporating data to include who is occupying the property and how they are occupying it into the golden thread could raise the safety bar even higher. It would strengthen the chain and give housing providers the total visibility they need to make better safety decisions.
“You might have the most perfectly-maintained asset but if, for example, it is occupied by a frail tenant with dementia and they are in a block without an easy fire escape then we need to know that; the asset maybe safe, but it might not be safe for a particular tenant.”
Civica’s client relationship manager, Alex Oldman, said, “To understand the building as-is, you need up-to-date, preferably real-time information, with the ability to act on that information. A more holistic view is that of the building as a wider system comprising the structure and fabric, its residents and the community who interact with the site.
“Tenant concerns must be taken on board, and this is where the building safety manager is vital to the overall ‘golden thread’ process. They have specific knowledge about the whole building system and can be flexible. Workflows will support 80 per cent of operations, but oversight is needed on the remaining 20 per cent.”
Sarah Herbison, CEO of Riskhub, said, “We must remind ourselves that data means postcodes, door numbers and floor plans, and that the documents needed as part of your golden thread are individual accounts of the safety of the families living in your properties. This audit trail must be more than just a compliance checkbox; it’s about raising the bar for the whole housing sector and ensuring tenants are sleeping safely in their beds.”
Socitm Advisory’s Cowland said, “The golden thread of well-managed data touches all parts of an organisation, and the government and the regulator are demanding we go beyond using data to understand how our buildings are working.
“The forthcoming tenant satisfaction measures (TSMs) mean housing providers will need to be able to easily access data to show how their services and staff are performing and how tenants feel about the homes and communities they live in. That can only happen with good data architectures, allowing us to capture, store and analyse information in the right way and enabling all of a housing provider’s different teams to work with the same information.”
Aareon’s McLean said, “The golden thread shouldn’t just be about the features, condition and maintenance of physical assets. It must also include the relationship with the customer, financial histories, complaints’ handling, feedback and other considerations, giving housing staff a clear overview of all aspects of their tenants.”
Helping with business operations
Mobysoft’s Davison said, “Housing providers have access to huge amounts of data about their assets and customers. However, the sheer volume of data can make it difficult to determine the potential value of specific datasets. By implementing a golden thread, they can join the dots for more reliable and informed insights, leading to better outcomes for tenants.
“For example, tenants’ behaviour can inform housing providers about the optimal time to replace a boiler rather than after a set period. A young family of five will use more central heating and hot water than a single elderly resident, so measuring boiler usage is arguably a better metric than elapsed time when considering replacement lifecycles.”
Andy McLaughlin, managing director of Incline-IT, said, “Following the Grenfell tragedy, housing providers would have needed access to information about the cladding used in their buildings because cladding was cited as the main cause of the rapid spread of flames. The use of a building information management (BIM) system would have helped housing providers to find this information faster because they would be able to access all information about their buildings and assets, including their manufacturing specifications. The team responsible for the physical assets would then be able to see all of the essential information in one place, enabling them to identify safety information quickly.
“Adding BIM references within a housing management system will enable housing providers to improve the monitoring and maintenance of their assets and therefore the safety of their tenants, make better decisions, streamline compliance, boost productivity and collaboration, and save money overall.”
NEC’s Hampton said, “Scheduled repairs and cyclical maintenance form part of every housing provider’s operations. The golden thread provides the backbone because it contains all the information needed to drive the scheduling to guarantee the assets are safely maintained.
“For example, if a manufacturer issues an alert about concerns with a specific boiler, it’s important that housing providers can act immediately to inspect, service and potentially recall them. Having a golden thread makes it easier to do this because housing providers can immediately pull up a list of all the properties with those particular boilers and arrange for emergency inspections and servicing.”
Socitm Advisory’s Cowland said, “Housing providers have traditionally used the data at their disposal to look backwards; we might look at performance data from the last week, quarter or year and then base decisions about how we adapt services from them.
“But data doesn’t have to point backwards. By being smarter with the information we capture, we can look into the future, so that we’re predicting and adapting to trends and issues rather than reacting to them.”
Improving tenants’ lives
Aareon’s McLean said, “With new and emerging legislation associated with tenant satisfaction, disrepair and building safety, it will be absolutely vital to collect, manage and use the right actionable data. That golden thread of data can be used to create complete views of housing providers’ tenants and then as an efficient means of managing all aspects of an individual tenant’s situation.”
Civica’s Oldman said, “Who doesn’t expect their home to be safe? Tenants rightly demand easy access to clear information about their home. They need to know about emergency plans, they deserve to know how their home will be kept safe and they want to know what preventative measures are in place. A properly executed golden thread will accommodate tenants’ needs, furnish them with the right information on initial occupation and then refresh that information over time.”
FLS’s Squire said, “A golden thread of data provides a single source of truth, enabling service delivery to be prioritised and personalised to tenants’ needs. Repairs and maintenance operatives visiting a home won’t just know everything about the property but also be aware of any specific needs of the tenant. The power of data combines tenants’ behavioural patterns or the asset’s performance with analytics to provide a holistic view of the tenancy or asset, enabling proactive maintenance or interventions.”
Incline-IT’s McLaughlin said, “How can housing providers support tenants or manage assets to the highest possible standard without the clear insights that come from good data? It is in-depth insights that open the door to greater tenant satisfaction. For example, a golden thread of data will help to make housing providers’ repairs processes as effective as possible, reducing tenant health and safety concerns.”
Riskhub’s Herbison said, “A golden thread is only useful to tenants if that thread is stored and accessed in such a way that it can be used to for greater communication and transparency. Data needs to be democratised at a housing provider level so that the sector understands that data is everyone’s responsibility, not just that of the IT team. And in turn, the ease of information transfer to tenants will have less friction; the dream is one click of a button that pulls it all together.”
Data management requirements
Socitm Advisory’s Cowland said, “We are each ultimately aiming to create a single version of the truth across our own organisations. We need systems and processes that are joined up and designed around the strategic needs of the organisation, not dictated by temporary trends and ad-hoc workarounds. Good data governance structures are absolutely vital and these need to be developed by skilled people who understand the process in collaboration with the data owners, alongside very clear housekeeping rules on how to manage data.
“Built into all of this is the absolute need for training and education right across an organisation. You can’t have a golden thread of data if people don’t understand why it’s important and what that means for them individually.”
NEC’s Hampton said, “It’s important to think beyond having a robust and secure database when considering the data management requirements for a golden thread – that should be a given. When we consider the data relating to tenants, there is a strong argument for building a level of automation and notification into the golden thread to bring it alive.
“How much automation, intelligence and AI is built in is what sets one golden thread from another. It turns the golden thread into an intelligent source of data with the capability to constantly check if safety and compliance requirement are being met and issue alerts if not. This is the golden thread at its most valuable because it enables housing providers to be proactive and preventative in their approaches.”
Civica’s Oldman said, “Data management is the biggest challenge, beginning with data quality. After all, if you have poor-quality data, you have bad information and can only make bad decisions. Data shouldn’t be too specific – to have value, data should have multiple uses – but data must be unique because duplication frequently leads to data conflicts.
“This is when a ‘golden key’ comes into play, to uniquely identify the master record for all information, using technologies such as blockchain to ensure that data conflicts are avoided. In an ideal world, all information would be timestamped with an effective ‘valid for’ period.”
FLS’s Squire said, “The seamless, friction-free integration of software partners is one of the keys to good data management. The result is accurate, reliable and streamlined processes, leading to cost savings and core activities being able to be moved online, freeing up staff for more value-adding activities.”
Barriers to golden threads
NEC’s Hampton said, “The main barrier is cultural rather than technological. Siloed working is still widespread, with not all employees understanding the benefits of sharing data across departments.
“The biggest threat to achieving a golden thread is when employees make duplicate copies or don’t disclose data because this breaks the chain and compromises the overall integrity of the data; it is the exact opposite of what the golden thread concept is all about.”
Mobysoft’s Davison said, “Local solutions and working in silos, where information is not efficiently shared, are the two biggest obstacles to overcome when instigating a golden thread. Adopting a cloud-based central system, with open APIs for best-of-breed systems, is the key to achieving this.”
Application and system requirements
Civica’s Oldman said, “Any IT system should offer a single source of the truth, although it’s unrealistic to say that a single system will hold all the information; the data will be in numerous systems and in varied formats, including non-machine-readable formats such as PDF. The different systems should offer real-time information exchange, such as web service integration, in order to keep the information current and prevent duplication.”
Aareon’s McLean said, “You need access controls so the right people always have access to the right data wherever they are, sitting on a flexible iPaaS-based platform to allow data distribution into a central source of truth data.”
FLS’s Squire said, “Systems integration is the key to achieving golden threads of data. Integration provides transparency – removing the walls between datasets will greatly help housing providers’ overall preparation for the forthcoming tenant satisfaction measures.”
NEC’s Hampton said, “Openness and the ability to collaborate are key IT application and system requirements for golden threads. In any golden thread, there are multiple stakeholders and suppliers so it can’t operate with only one solution.
“A good database and a fully joined-up system are prerequisites. Having an open architecture platform that prevents supplier lock-in and enables collaboration so data can be shared more easily is the way forward.”
Mobysoft’s Davison said, “A cloud infrastructure is the biggest enabler for golden threads, followed by the ability to retain structured and unstructured data in storage such as a data lake. The final piece is having the right business intelligence tools so that housing providers can make sense of their data.”
Housing Technology would like to thank Jack McLean (Aareon UK), Alex Oldman (Civica), Jeremy Squire (FLS – Fast Lean Smart), Andy McLaughlin (Incline-IT), James Davison (Mobysoft), Trevor Hampton (NEC Software Solutions UK), Sarah Herbison (Riskhub) and Tim Cowland (Socitm Advisory) for their comments and editorial contributions to this article.