Like many housing providers, Westward Housing has been reviewing and re-planning its digital transformation programme. We believe that digital transformation is a much wider concept than merely ‘channel shift’ or ‘digital by default’; it should be all encompassing, applying digital to everything we do.
With the help of 3C Consultants, our digital journey began in 2018 when we created our two-stage ‘e-volve’ programme spanning 2019/20 and 2021/25, covering:
- Digital culture
- Project management approach (Agile)
- Operating module
We see technology not as the outcome, but as the enabling factor of the programme and to support this, we developed nine key principles. These provide focus to the programme and are underpinned by a clear rationale and strategic statement. Our principles span three categories:
- People (our workforce)
For our customers, it’s about delivering a choice of high-quality services. If we provide a consistent approach to our customers, they will naturally migrate to choosing the easiest and most appropriate way of accessing our services. This can be via many routes, such as online, face-to-face, phone, automated telephony, social media and web chat. To ensure all of these provide a consistent approach, we need to ensure we have a holistic view of the customer and effective digital workflows.
People (our workforce)
Like any change, digital transformation can be daunting for staff, particularly because digital transformation carries with it the perceived double threat of our staff not understanding it and their fears of being replaced by it.
We want to take our staff with us on this exciting journey. When they understand this, embracing the difference technology can make to how they work and the services they can provide by having the right tools and access to the right data, they feel empowered and valued. In addition, what they can provide that technology can’t, are the human traits; empathy, experience and the interpersonal skills which some of our customers require.
However, self-service is not just for our customers, it also applies to our staff to access the information they need and to self-serve internal services such as HR, finance and IT support using online services and apps on their smartphones.
In addition, we have invested in e-learning software to help with staff development, and our plan over the next two or three years is to develop a Westward Housing e-academy. This will also help in developing the skills and requirements for the jobs of the future as our business evolves.
In terms of the underlying technology, this wasn’t about ‘out with the old and in with the new’. It was about consolidating what we had and investing in what we need to develop our enterprise framework.
To do this, we needed to review our existing systems and, more importantly, our suppliers – our eighth principle is ‘trusted digital partners’. Capita is Westward Housing’s largest IT provider with its Open Housing, Open Accounts and Total Mobile software. As part of the programme initiation stage, we needed to consider whether these systems would be suitable in future and, perhaps more importantly, whether Capita could be a trusted digital partner.
For some people, the obvious answer would be to go to the market through a tender or a soft market test. However, as our relationship with Capita was already tenable, we decided to give them the opportunity to prove their worth in terms of their systems, services and client engagement.
Many people in the housing sector will have, at one time or another, experienced poor services and systems from some of the sector’s main IT suppliers. At times, it can often feel like the “tail’s wagging the dog” – many of these providers have rested on their laurels for too long and are now being challenged by the likes of Microsoft Dynamics and other disruptive influences.
However, we didn’t want to tender for and implement new systems without giving Capita this chance. Therefore, over the past eight months we have been engaging with Capita at every level and have completed a full valuation of their new Capita One offering, which from the feedback from staff has been very positive. However, for me it was about creating a new relationship, which was built on trust and sharing of our vision and their development road map.
We have now signed a new partnership contract with Capita, the first of its kind, to help us deliver our enterprise framework for digital transformation. Working with 3C Consultants, in the form of Mick Capern, their programme manager assigned to us, I believe we have the right components to make a digital difference to our customers, staff and business in an ever-evolving world.
Barbara Shaw is the chief executive of Westward Housing.