By 2025, all housing providers will need to be fully digital, according to recent research from Altair & 3C Consultants. That’s a bold statement to make, but one that makes you sit up and think.
Imagine the clock has turned back a few years; not long ago, losing a laptop meant losing your data. In just a few years, cloud infrastructure has allowed us to complete our working day from any device and location. Cloud storage means that your data is accessible, secure and safe, regardless of where you might have left your laptop.
People, processes & places
Many things that seemed like a pipe dream five years ago are now a reality, and emerging technologies have changed our lives in so many ways. When Amazon introduced Alexa in 2014, it brought the internet of things (IoT) into our homes. This technology gave us immediate access to information without us even having to lift a finger. But it brought so much more than that; it’s given us seamless communication between people, processes and places. And that’s giving housing providers a promising future, with real transformation opportunities.
For example, take the Dutch housing provider Qlinker, with fully-digital operations that have cut housing applications from six days to six hours, with the all-time fastest approval being just 10 minutes. And how has Qlinker done this? It reshaped the traditional housing business model and it challenged established ways of operating and legacy housing conventions. It thought like its tenants and worked in partnership with them. Equally importantly, Qlinker did it by embracing technology to deliver what it needed, rather than being led by technology.
Digital isn’t just about designing a strategy
Delivering fully-digital housing providers by 2025 sounds like hard work, and it will be. But if we don’t start now, there could be serious consequences. Old analogue connections are being phased out all the time and will cease to exist within the next four years.
Qlinker was fortunate that it could start from scratch and create a 100 per cent digital business model. But what if that’s not an option and you need to work with what you’ve got? Embracing digital isn’t just about defining a strategy, and it’s not just about putting in some new technology and hoping that people will use it.
Nearly two-thirds of housing providers believe their digital strategy is already defined. Yet this can be misaligned if it focuses too much on implementing the technology without delivering tangible value for tenants, stakeholders or making operations more effective. It can be a delicate balance to get this right.
Tenant portals are already popular among housing providers but their use by tenants has been sporadic. Investing in technology is all well and good but if no one uses it the way you expect, it points to something not being right in the process – for example, 63 per cent of tenants still contact their housing provider via traditional channels such as call centres.
Balancing the digital focus
We know that we need to get better at listening to tenants’ voices. Developing a meaningful way to understand their needs is vital, but that’s just lip service if their insights don’t underpin our digital strategies. The digital transformation of a housing provider needs investment in all the right places; there are many parts of the puzzle that need to fit together, and technology is just one piece of it.
The government’s 2020 social housing white paper highlighted a need to increase the supply of affordable homes, but it also talked about a focus on a new shared ownership model to help residents afford a stake in their own homes. This sense of partnership and thinking about how people want to live in the future is perhaps the key to ensuring our digital journeys don’t come off the rails. So before you decide which exciting new piece of IT kit to buy, you need to:
- Focus on the tenant journey;
- Think about investing in digital skills for people;
- Look at your business processes as strategic assets;
- Understand where your critical risks and potential supply chain failures might be;
- Use all the data you have at your fingertips;
- Assess how your existing systems talk to each other.
A third of housing providers class themselves as being ‘digital beginners’ and know there is work to do. If you’re interested in joining your peers in the discussion, we’d love to welcome you to Waterstons’ social housing forum. Regardless of where you are on the digital journey, get in touch if you’d like to chat about taking the first step or want help to pick up speed.
Helen McMillan is a digital housing advisor at Waterstons.