The housing sector has been good at measuring performance and benchmarking against peer groups but this has often been done in functional silos, using measures imposed by regulation and inspection, to ensure that all fit a particular model.
This behaviour has stifled innovation and individual business plan ownership. Yes, all housing providers have their social and statutory responsibilities, but there are very different ways of interpreting and delivering these, so the key question of “how do we do it?” has been largely trumped by “what is everyone else doing?”.
For good customer service reasons, the housing sector has been focused on operational delivery at the huge expense of strategic planning and investment. IT systems tend to be clunky and hold data in silos by function, so this is how housing providers traditionally report. Yet the sector’s systems do hold a vast array of business intelligence, generally down to property level.
Until now, we haven’t had the right business intelligence tools to look at asset and business performance in a cross-functional way. When was the last time your board had a routine report connecting tenancy lengths, demand, repairs, void turnarounds, arrears, planned investments, management costs, tenant satisfaction and so on, focused on the same assets and tenants at the same time? They will receive reports on all of these, but rarely connected together.
So cross-cutting business analysis is now critical if the current efficiency agenda is to be addressed, which is itself just about efficient business management. It’s simple; just use the information you already have better to understand business and asset performance in market terms, using tools such as Ark’s strategic asset performance model. In turn, this informs where housing providers need to objectively appraise options for under-performing assets and create a platform for sensible investment and disposal decisions.
A competent asset management strategy must take into account the true performance of all assets and have a plan to continue to invest in what are really assets, but also to resolve the shortcomings of liabilities (such as remodelling, reinvestment, tenure changes, disposals and redevelopments). For many housing providers, this can be a 5-10 year programme of key investment decisions.
The government and regulators can signpost the direction, and have now very clearly done that, but individual housing providers need to exercise the leadership and innovation to plan the journey. We have moved quickly from maps to GPS; we just need to up our game to use new technology wisely.
John Fisher is a partner at the Ark Housing Consultancy.