If there’s one thing that characterises the social housing technology market, it’s the impact that new technologies have been able to make in driving greater efficiencies and value for money. Given the current economic and political climate, this impact has come at just the right time, as budgets are now progressively tighter. What is particularly interesting to me is that the evolution of technology itself seems still to promise even greater support for cost savings and value.
As technologies have evolved, the areas of the business they impact along with the type of impact made have changed significantly. Originally, of course, the technology market for social housing was primarily centred on mobile systems. These were introduced to support the responsive repairs function and the software was accessed through ruggedised hand-held devices. Then as tablet and smartphone usage spread though the housing world, the technology followed suit and supported each function in turn. From housing officers to income managers and from care providers to estate managers, all these roles became increasingly mobile, each seeking to use the most relevant data on their device when visiting tenants.
Since then though, with the evolution of technology moving apace, there are ever-more exciting opportunities. From the smart housing technologies driven by developments in the Internet of Things world, to a range of new payment systems, there are many new innovations now available across the sector. And following the impact of the recent budget, the adoption of these technologies is, in part, being driven by the same value for money requirements.
One of the most significant changes is that the technology being used has now grown far beyond ‘just mobile’. For example, we have noticed a significant growth in tenant self-service options and portals. These are spreading rapidly as they can provide a superior level of service that’s incredibly convenient to tenants. They can access the system 24/7 using their own device at a time that suits them. The other major benefit is the cost savings; while a typical personal visit might cost around £15 and a phone call £6, the cost of resolving something through a self-service system is usually less than £1. This again satisfies even the most stringent value for money criteria.
And as more and more tenant-facing functions become mobilised and more staff can access more and more information from their mobile devices, the most important thing has become the data itself. How data is accessed or used to deliver better tenant support and drive greater value for money is now a paramount consideration, regardless of the technology needed to achieve it.
Right across the enterprise, different roles now have broader requirements for access to shared data. As a result, we have seen a significant demand for a 360-degree view of key data. At my own company, 1st Touch, we have always seen this as a dashboard solution that could streamline processes and deliver all the key information in an easily accessible on-screen format.
To us, this 360-degree system should provide an all-round view of all key metrics, KPIs and tenant data access points. This ensures that all the information needed to conduct any tenant visit is collated in a single, central and easily-navigable location. With such cross-functional visibility, tasks that would previously have required numerous tenant visits by different role-specific teams can now be resolved in one visit from a staff member operating in a multi-functional role. This can greatly reduce the number of tenant visits required. And by significantly reducing the number of visits, the resources that are freed up can be redirected to areas of greater need. Tenants benefit here too, as outstanding issues can now be resolved far faster and more effectively than before.
For example, housing officers can now record and request reactive repairs, update tenant profiling information or liaise with the housing provider’s Supporting People team. Similarly, responsive repairs operatives could request a gas check, take a rent payment or report related issues such as anti-social behaviour and vandalism. Senior management would also have far superior information to base key decisions on, through in-depth insights into service efficiency and monitoring KPIs such as productivity and costs more effectively. In my view, all normal mobile functions should be incorporated, from estate management, care services, incomes and payment history to social and technical inclusion status, planned maintenance and more. An innovative real-time GPS function should also be included to ensure lone worker safety and to enable operatives to call for further help while on site.
Social media can play a major part here too. I’ve always felt that there’s a role for other social technologies to be part of this 360-degree revolution and there has to be room for a collaborative and social toolkit in any such approach. This would allow different workplace colleagues to message, update and post to others on the system and even to identify and communicate with approved suppliers in real time.
By exploiting the advantages of technology, such 360-degree solutions can positively change the interface between housing providers and their tenants and raise service levels significantly. Our own 360-degree dashboard helps to achieve all these aims, streamlining tenant-facing processes by enabling housing staff to become multi-functional.
When you add in the impact of 360-degree systems to the other positive changes that technology has brought recently, then there are many clear ways in which housing providers can benefit. Whether, in the longer term, future technology developments will continue to be just as useful is a subject of conjecture; however the chances are that they just might.
Greg Johns is CEO of 1st Touch.