Let’s not get distracted by shiny new bits of technology while ignoring the fundamentals of what we need to build.
New technology has brought both opportunities and challenges to housing services (including repairs), promising greater efficiencies once they’re in place but requiring patience, investment and cultural shifts to make sure we adopt the right tools in the right ways and for the right reasons. Furthermore, we should remind ourselves that technology is an enabler of change, not a deliverer of change.
Build strong foundations first
Budgets, complicated software and legacy technology are among the main challenges for housing providers’ repairs teams. They are often stuck with numerous legacy systems which haven’t been designed to work with each other. Data doesn’t flow easily between these systems and legacy applications often overpromise features and innovation yet usually under-deliver and are rarely user-centred.
People are being sold a vision that AI and predictive analytics are going to solve all their needs but this isn’t the case. For example, if analytics can predict that a property is likely to have mould in the coming months but you don’t actually have the right systems and processes in place to do something about it then that intelligence isn’t helpful to anyone. These new technologies are not the answer, they are only part of the answer.
Putting people at the centre
We need to remember that humans are and will always be the most powerful tool we have. If we get people using the wrong technology and it doesn’t solve their problems, their scepticism of innovation rises, and their willingness to fully engage with digital tools falls.
For example, if you used a website for a service and that website is confusing to use, you’re likely to pick up the phone to get the answers you need, having lost faith in that particular instance of technology. Putting technology in front of your teams and your end-users can cause a lot more harm than good.
Let’s talk repairs
With an online repairs service, housing providers can empower their tenants to take control of their housing needs. It can help to provide a more efficient and cost-effective service and can be quickly set up and integrated.
It’s important to focus on these three vital steps when creating an online service:
- Interoperability – This is when two or more pieces of technology talk to each other and work together to create something much bigger (n.b. this is different to integration, which is joining two products together and making one service).
- Data – This is often seen as the answer to all our problems but it’s very rarely understood. Getting data right and getting it to flow between systems is the only way to reap its benefits. The success of technologies such as AI and machine learning rely on the right data inputs and data flows. In the same way that a good chef wouldn’t use bad ingredients and expect to produce great food, bad data in means bad data out. Every product we build today needs data portability, where data can move freely and securely.
- Procurement – The way we procure our housing repairs platforms needs to change. At the moment, there’s a tendency to procure one huge system with a very long list of features. We need an outcomes-based approach to procurement; this will only be achieved when housing providers remove themselves from those big contracts and find the right blend of separate suppliers who each concentrate on solving their piece of the puzzle.
In housing and local government, we’re often talking about and focusing on solving the big problems and thinking about the long term. This means we sometimes lose sight of the quick wins and the thin slices of value that can make a big difference when they build up over time. After all, it’s no good in having smart speakers in every room if you have mould on the walls and rotten floorboards.
Glen Ocskó is head of local government at Made Tech.