Any public-sector organisations providing a service, especially those for which people have to pay, such as council tax or parking permits, are expected to provide a seamless, digital solution for technology-savvy users. And as with many areas of the public sector, housing providers are under increasing pressure to meet the challenges and opportunities presented by modern technologies, forcing them to quickly and efficiently adapt to the trend for digital transformation.
There will always be a certain level of resistance, on immediately discounting legacy systems and swiftly deciding to move to another approach to develop customer-facing services. However, lasting, positive changes can be made through using a low-code approach to digital transformation projects, helping housing providers to overcome the problems associated with legacy systems.
Moving away from legacy systems
However, there are a number of challenges that housing providers face, one of which is the resources needed for long-term digital transformation initiatives. Furthermore, the logistical problems of moving from legacy systems to new ways of working, such as collaborating with a digital transformation partner, can prove difficult. With housing providers being squeezed financially, balancing tenants’ demands and doing more with less make it hard for IT teams to deliver.
Housing providers’ IT teams are typically small and are often focused on day-to-day objectives, reducing their ability to foster and deliver innovation. And there is inevitably resistance to immediately discounting legacy systems and moving straight to a hosted approach.
That said, when budgets are spent on new, more efficient technologies, the long-term costs of manual process are reduced. While public sector budgets are challenged by myriad political pressures, the opportunity to innovate can be revolutionary if funding can be found for new digital initiatives. Furthermore, when starting a new project, migrating away from legacy systems will ensure the amount of technical debt is minimised.
While the initial outlay of moving to another provider may be high, the long-term efficiency and financial benefits can be extremely fruitful, saving money in the long-run. However, this will be likely to involve not only a significant technological but also a cultural shift; quickly adjusting to this may require the support of a digital transformation partner, such as OutSystems, to be layered on top of the core IT team.
Furthermore, public-sector budgets are tied to political cycles, which means that new projects must show results quickly. An example of this was OutSystems’ delivery of a brand new app for Worcestershire County Council within eight weeks. This demonstrates that, if approached correctly, new digital transformation projects and new solutions can be quickly introduced using low-code development platforms, helping to deliver a positive return as soon as possible. In addition, moving from a capex to an opex approach to paying for IT equipment and services, where data is migrated from expensive legacy systems, frees up capital and supports scalability for growth.
Although numerous challenges can make it difficult to start a digital transformation project, the opportunity for greater efficiencies and growth can justify the journey. Some of the benefits include:
- Better ability to meet tenant expectations;
- Increased collaboration between departments;
- Improved IT agility to meet the business needs;
- More innovation across the business;
- Faster strategic decision-making;
- Greater productivity in core areas;
- Reduced operational and IT costs.
If housing providers can obtain the required internal support, as well as gain the much-needed funding and showcase a positive RoI, then they will be able to readily make improvements to yield short-term operating efficiencies and lay the groundwork for the long-term process of digital transformation.
Nick Pike is the regional vice-president for the UK and Ireland at OutSystems.