The momentum behind our push for technology standards in housing continues to grow. The second Housing Technology Standards meeting, kindly hosted by Saul Stevens from Family Mosaic, in early June was well-attended by both housing providers and, for the first time, representatives from the leading housing technology suppliers.
Given that the focus of the Housing Technology Standards is to ‘simplify the exchange of data between housing providers’ internal business applications and with external organisations and contractors’, we asked the housing providers to explain their current problems with the exchange of data between both internal and external applications, and how they thought standards might alleviate those problems. Our thanks to Affinity Sutton, Amicus Horizon, LHA-ASRA, Notting Hill Housing Group, Orbit Group, Peabody, and Richmond Housing Partnership for their contributions.
Data is hard to transfer between applications. Common data held in different systems is usually stored in different formats and structures, requiring a variety of approaches to extract and transfer the data, resulting in inconsistencies and error-prone processes. Hardly surprising, but we have heard of many instances where it’s very difficult to exchange data between different systems from the same technology supplier.
Our contributors explained that data standards would simplify data transfer between both internal systems, such as between a housing provider’s HMS and CRM systems, and with external partners and contractors. This would reduce costs, as it would remove the need to use either in-house staff or external suppliers’ resources, while improving flexibility, delivering near real-time data sharing, better reporting and greater data accuracy.
Your interface or mine?
The existing situation has resulted in a plethora of interfaces to transfer data between applications. Aside from the cost of such interfaces, whether developed in-house or bought from suppliers, our contributors said that most interfaces rarely work first time and need to be modified. Then, once the interfaces have been developed, it’s difficult to identify business-critical interfaces, understand interface dependencies and be clear about the data being transferred.
Data standards should mean that interfaces work first time without further modifications and that fewer separate interfaces would be required, with a consequent reduction in costs and better data transfer.
Touching the wider world
The majority of housing providers’ internal data needs to be made available, in one form or another, to either other housing providers, regulators or external contractors. At the same time, they need to receive data from the same groups, such as local authorities’ housing benefit details and Choice Based Lettings, to update and populate their internal applications.
Key external processes, such as NROSH and RSR returns, need to be automated, and the typical mixture of data formats and structures within most housing providers’ systems simply can’t support such automation at the moment. Furthermore, we expect the TSA’s requirements to become more stringent and technology-based, so now is the time to start demonstrating the sector’s technological and business maturity.
Counting the cost
While the cost of dealing with the lack of data integration between applications is relevant, it isn’t a significant problem. However, data standards would result in cost savings, at the same time as reducing risk, lowering transaction costs and saving time.
While tenants are very unlikely to be aware of the consequences of the existing lack of data standards, it is clear that the ability to pull data from disparate applications from across an organisation, and potentially including external contractors and LAs, would mean that the delivery of tenant services would be more imaginative, more accurate and more personalised.
The impression from our contributors is that most housing providers feel tied to their existing application suppliers, particularly in the core areas of housing, asset and financial management and CRM, despite the fact that different systems from the same supplier (see above) are often unable to exchange data without additional interfaces.
Data standards would open up the procurement process and make it easier and faster to implement true best-of-breed applications for each business area.
A common theme from our contributors was that, not surprisingly, LSVTs, mergers and stock rationalisations all present massive problems in terms of migrating property and tenant data between organisations.
Data standards would mean that, at the most basic level, the majority of property and tenant data could be relatively seamlessly transferred between housing organisations. It would be unrealistic to think that the process could be entirely automated but we think that data standards would remove a very significant amount of work from the process, particularly from the receiving organisation, and minimise the disruption to tenants during the transfer process.
In summary, it is clear that standards for the interchange of data between housing providers’ various business applications would have both immediate effects on their day-to-day operations and widespread impact on their long-term, strategic planning.
To find out more or put forward your views on data standards, please email email@example.com.
Organisations represented at the second Housing Technology Standards meeting held at Family Mosaic’s London offices. Housing providers attending:
Affinity Sutton, Amicus Horizon, Future Housing, Havebury Housing, Home Group, LHA-ASRA, North Hertfordshire Homes, Notting Hill Housing, Orbit Group, Peabody
Presentation, Richmond Housing Partnership, and Whitefriars Housing. Technology suppliers attending: 1st Touch, Capita, Civica, CorVu, Documotive, Enterprise, Keystone, Northgate, Orchard, and Scout Solutions.
The Housing Technology Standards Board will drive the creation and adoption of open standards to improve and to simplify the exchange of data between housing providers’ internal business applications and with external organisations and contractors.
By removing the complexity of transferring data between different internal and external applications and reducing IT switching costs, the adoption of HTS v1.0 will streamline business processes to deliver better services to tenants, improve communications with external suppliers, accelerate internal decisions, and improve external reporting.