Usable data is the string that connects our modern world. Housing providers have information on available houses and local authorities have never-ending lists of those in need of housing. Unfortunately, the current systems make it almost impossible to efficiently connect these two groups.
For many housing providers, the process of creating and managing clean and connected data feels like an unachievable dream. Many have created a patchwork of fixes which address a variety of symptoms but never the underlying causes of their data woes.
But clean, connected data is achievable, and the steps to reaching that dream are simple and straightforward.
‘User proof’ your data entry
One of the biggest hurdles to getting clean data is the mislabelling or mis-entry of information. For example, the same address field could be filled using Dublin County, Co. Dublin, Dublin Co, Dulbin, Dlubin and so on. While they all mean the same to the human user, the differences create noise and confusion within the data, meaning that housing providers’ systems as well as those of relevant third parties can’t communicate. The mis-entry of data is not the fault of the user, but rather of the tool allowing it to happen.
Imagine I want you to only click the ‘A’ key, all day, every day. No one is perfect, so of course you might sometimes accidentally hit S, Q, or Z. While I can train and remind you to only hit A, isn’t it better to simply remove every other key? You can relax knowing that it’s impossible to make a mistake, and I can relax knowing that your clicking will never go astray.
Housing management applications need the same level of fail-proofing in order to ensure that users are not only comfortable using the system, but that the system protects them from making errors. By creating standardised fields and controlled options, we can ensure that data is entered correctly, allowing different systems to communicate; everyone is clicking ‘A’ and our data is clean.
Put everything in one place
Now that our systems are speaking the same language, they need to put their information in the same place, as a single source of information about a property’s details, tenant history, repair history and required maintenance, and made available to all users. Furthermore, different administrators who might need to retrieve information about properties or tenants should be able to do so quickly.
Picture a world where every time someone interacted with a property, they wrote down on a door what they had done, when they had done it and the next steps needed. This could be the front door, a bathroom door, even a cabinet door. Each person uses a different door and doesn’t specify which door they are using. Information is therefore spread around the property, and it’s difficult to get a complete picture.
Now imagine that instead of writing on a random door, everyone wrote their information on the property’s front door. Each property would have its own record of tenants, repairs, survey results, and needs. And that information would stay with the property from the moment it was built.
Tenants have a similar record, a passport of sorts, with them throughout their housing journey.
Records kept to this level of detail and availability are achievable. It simply requires housing management software that stores information on properties and tenants in a single location. Unfortunately, most existing software solutions segregate departments’ information onto the equivalent of a variety of doors. Thus, when housing becomes available, providers must knock on several doors to find an appropriate tenant. Tenants remain on housing lists for years and houses sit empty.
Instead of cobbling together information sources from different platforms and different departments, housing providers need one reliable source of information. A single source of information means that everyone has the data that they need, when they need it, and tenants can be matched to housing efficiently.
Be proactive and reactive
Lastly, housing providers need to be both proactive and reactive in their data management strategies. Housing providers can proactively implement solutions to prevent data mislabelling and ensure that all the information is stored in a single location, while reactively cleaning the data they already have.
Consider the solutions suggested above: the keyboard, notated front door and passport. Implementing these solutions will prevent future data mislabelling and loss but does nothing to fix past data issues. By reacting to data issues and cleaning their existing data, housing providers can adopt a two-pronged approach to ensure that no more bad data can pollute the system and only the finite amount of previously-entered data needs cleaning.
This is not a ‘pie in the sky’. Bringing all data in to a single location gives housing providers a clear view of issues in their existing data and the steps needed to rectify them. By setting policies that prevent future data issues, housing providers set a firm foundation and create space in the system to clean and connect existing data.
For our part, Bynaric sees the issues around data management in housing as being straightforward and eminently solvable. By developing a housing management system based around a single source of information for all involved, we’re working to bring social housing into the big data age and prevent the pitfalls that many housing providers face when it comes to creating, managing, and using their data.
Aira Pour is the CEO and Caitlin Hafer is the marketing manager of Bynaric.