My experience working with social housing providers regularly highlights what a huge challenge it is to be a ‘good’ landlord. Against a backdrop of regulatory change, budget cuts, skills shortages and the pressure to modernise, IT departments and digital teams struggle to provide the levels of customer service and employee satisfaction needed to deliver a responsive and efficient service.
Thankfully, the determination is there to change this. And one of the ways this is happening is through the adoption of low code.
Developers and system engineers will already know what low code is. Essentially, it’s a platform as a service (PaaS) and, as the name suggests, requires minimal coding. With a user-friendly interface, you can simply ‘drag and drop’ the controls required; it’s a toolset that allows in-house teams to build applications and integrate existing systems.
In this article, I will explore how low code is being used in social housing as well as discussing how we can all collectively use this open source tool to improve services and drive efficiencies.
Compliance and solving the risk problem
Recent high-profile events have revealed that many housing providers don’t have ‘the big picture’ of their risk position, and as a result of new regulations, many are also struggling to be compliant. The problem is that the data needed to assess their risk position, and to report the status of health and safety and other compliance issues, is often spread across different systems, leading to data silos.
Working with technology suppliers to integrate legacy systems and create applications that solve this problem is difficult. Many of the larger IT companies don’t have the flexibility (or desire) to provide open APIs to integrate systems with public cloud platforms, and the cost of working with external companies to develop new solutions can be prohibitive.
There’s also the risk that bespoke solutions will quickly become ineffective if they can’t flex with regulatory change, adding to legacy headaches. What IT and digital teams need is the ability to develop cost-effective solutions in-house that can join up the data and their legacy systems.
That’s what housing provider Optivo has built to monitor its health and safety risk. Working collaboratively with Optivo’s in-house team, Rapid IS helped Optivo develop a low-code health and safety dashboard that provides a real-time view of its risk position and outstanding actions, pulling in data from different IT systems. Low code provides all the controls it requires, including a security layer with single sign-on and Active Directory integration where only authorised parties can perform more sensitive tasks.
Deliver a better service
Optivo’s health and safety dashboard isn’t only a tool for monitoring risk and ticking compliance boxes. It also provides a far more responsive and joined-up approach to managing workflows and ensuring employees and contractors have all the information they need to deliver good customer service.
We’ve also helped the London Borough of Camden achieve this with a repairs call centre solution. Real-time integration of housing management, document management, asset management and appointments, contractors and repairs information ensures that calls are short and the repairs are right first-time. It delivers a singular customer view, with all relevant contact information, property details (including asset specifications and documents), repairs history and any contextual information in one place.
Simple solutions like this not only extend the life of legacy systems but also drive efficiencies, increase productivity and improve the service provided to residents.
Rapid prototyping & deployment
As well as the benefits mentioned above, low code also empowers teams to innovate continuously, providing an agile platform that can keep up with change and disruption and, crucially, deploy solutions very fast.
In-house teams often already have the skillset needed to use low code effectively, and if not, it’s easy to upskill staff with a small investment in training. That facilitates the rapid deployment of prototyping and testing, pilots can also be rolled out quickly and changes made in just a few days or weeks – all much quicker than normal R&D timescales.
Collaborate and empower with open source
As an open-source tool, low code is ripe for collaboration and I think there’s a great opportunity to work together to modernise and drive change in the housing sector. Low-code suppliers, developers and in-house teams could be sharing their experiences across the housing sector and developing solutions that make everyone better landlords.
Rapid IS and other low code suppliers don’t charge a licence fee; instead, users pay for the PaaS and retain the IP of the applications they develop, so there’s nothing to prevent collaboration or even ‘white-label’ solutions. Even though legacy systems will vary between different housing providers, low-code applications can integrate these different systems and solve problems everyone shares using this open-source tool.
Morale & staff retention
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to claim that low code can have a positive impact on morale and staff retention as well. By giving in-house teams the controls to make a real difference to the organisation, they can get involved in rewarding work and see projects through from end-to-end. It can also have a positive impact on IT’s reputation within the organisation; instead of being reactive to problems, IT teams can deliver solutions that make their colleagues’ jobs easier and improve the services they deliver.
Upskilling staff with low-code training also addresses a significant recruitment challenge. Competition with the private sector for experienced developers and coders is often too hot for a housing provider. But if you can upskill existing staff and recruit people who can be turned into low-code developers, it can address a skills gap without wiping out IT budgets.
Looking ahead, I would like to encourage more inter-organisational collaboration between IT and digital teams that are using low code in the housing sector.
If you would like to join the low-code revolution, please get in touch!
Gareth Edwards is managing director of Rapid Information Systems.