The Hyde Group’s ICT director,Tim Linsdell, and Northgate Public Services’ director for housing solutions, Trevor Hampton, discuss the future of IT in the housing sector.
How will the current pressures on social housing impact housing providers over the next ten years?
Trevor Hampton, director for housing solutions, Northgate Public Services, said, “There’s a clear trend away from pure social tenure management, and from life tenures, to instead using social housing as a support mechanism for people at specific points in their lives, particularly when they are under financial pressures.
“Government policies are likely to continue reducing the amount of social housing. Housing providers will be raising their own capital by selling part of their stock, but the number of social housing they can build as a result will be much fewer. Pay to Stay will also have an impact by asking people to subsidise their rent and further diminishing the concept of social housing as a ‘right for life’.
“In terms of technology, when you start to look at the management of short-term tenancies and more complicated rental calculations, you need much more data. You need better integrated, holistic systems and big-data analytics which can, for example, look at who should be paying enhanced rents and who is over-staying their tenure. Additionally, the pressure to keep IT costs down is likely to drive housing providers to buy into cloud computing to a greater extent.
“Tenants will be demanding much higher levels of service as a result of changes to the makeup of a provider’s housing. Today, a typical housing provider’s stock might still be 90 per cent social, but in future it will fall to much less in some cases. Those residents paying market rents are likely to demand a very high level of service.”
The Hyde Group has recently announced plans for a large merger; how will these trends affect other mergers?
Tim Linsdell, ICT director, The Hyde Group, said, “We have a very fragmented housing sector, comprising more than 1,500 separate housing providers, with the largest still representing less than three per cent of the sector. Alongside recent political redirections, a series of mergers have been announced, although those mainly affect the larger housing providers who want to leverage the scale to increase their housing development pipelines.
“With a typical merger taking between two and four years to deliver the expected integration goals and with business-critical applications often being the most difficult to rationalise, as a sector this could be a long process of consolidation. Even now, there is little natural pressure for smaller, non-developing housing providers to seek a merger partner. This means considerable financial resources will remain locked up in subscale operations.”
How will customer and workforce interactions change through the use of technology?
Linsdell said, “The government is driving a shift to ‘digital by default’ and with people being increasingly comfortable with digital access, brought about by the consumer shift to online shopping and accessing services through social media, digital is part of the fabric of many people’s lives. They have an expectation that this channel is always available.
“The current demographic reinforces this, with new generations having grown up entirely in a digital world and consequently having different expectations to older generations. We can already see the early adopters in the housing sector and, over the next few years, there will be even more transition, as long as the right investments are made and our businesses change how our teams work together and with our residents to streamline interactions, increase effectiveness and improve standards.
“The basic channels are already in place through call centres and, increasingly, online services for areas such as repair logging and ASB reporting. However, this has the potential to stretch much further and beyond human interaction. The internet of things (IoT), for example, provides the opportunity for the proactive detection of maintenance needs and service failures, which in turn will improve responsiveness, reduce observable service failures and drive up standards without increasing costs.
Northgate’s Hampton said, “Interactions will become much more digital and online. People will fulfil their service requirements, without human interaction, via digital means. They will be able to pay their rent online, deal with problems without engaging in a series of phone calls, and they’ll want to do that at any time of the day or night as digital self-service becomes the norm.”
Is there any kind of customer or demographic shift we need to be aware of over the next ten years?
Hampton said, “The old tradition was 2.4 children, three-bedroom properties with five people living there. Now we are seeing more single parents, with one parent and one child in two bedrooms. Young people will be getting ten-year tenures, so they’ll be moving on. Older people have lifetime tenures and will be able to stay, which will influence the demographics for the next 30 years or so.”
If left unchecked, what will be housing providers’ biggest IT problems in 5-10 years’ time, and how should they be fixed?
Hyde’s Linsdell said, “The Hyde Group increasingly provides seamless integration with our supply chain to reduce the cost to serve and remove unnecessary time-delaying activities. More and more, we are looking to software partners to deliver the systems we need, that have sufficient flexibility to meet the differing needs of housing associations working at different levels of scale and help us to keep one step ahead of the needs of our tenants and customers.
“The future is where customers can link seamlessly and quickly to service providers, removing the necessity for human intervention and the likelihood of failure. This will lead to improved customer experience and faster fulfilment of customers’ needs.
“If similar developments in other sectors are mirrored, within 10 years we can expect a similar scale of technology to be used as we currently see among media and utility companies. This will deliver increased financial efficiency which in turn will enable much the larger scale development of houses and will help to keep social rents affordable.”
Hampton said, “Right now, there is pressure on housing providers to react very, very quickly to all of the government’s legislative and policy changes. There is consequently a temptation for them to buy short-term, niche solutions to immediate problems that they intend to integrate with their main IT solutions over time, but rarely do. This creates more complexity. The data doesn’t flow into the system and the quality of the information falls. It creates a barrier to using cloud computing in the future because it creates too complex an IT estate.
“Housing providers need a longer term IT strategy, with a roadmap for how they’re going to bring all of this information and technology together. A key strategy is to give the IT director control of the budget and of the final decisions. If housing providers let individual departments make their own decisions then there will be a proliferation of disjointed IT systems. Build a strategic partnership with key IT suppliers, and definitely don’t work at arms-length from them.”
Tim Linsdell is the ICT director at The Hyde Group, and Trevor Hampton is the director for housing solutions at Northgate Public Services.